The Minimalist Sailor

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On how to do the dishes with jellyfish and fall asleep to home’s lullaby

It’s strange. I’ve been living on Splendid for only three months and I find it so hard to go to the land already. Yesterday we traveled to Panama to pick up our visitor, Bruce. Now we are on the way back, we just stopped in Portobelo to grab a bite for dinner and everything in the menu looks fatty and unhealthy. I do not order anything and decide I’ll make myself a nice salad with nuts and honey later. I’m all twitchy, I can’t stay still, I need to go back home. To kill time while Alex and Bruce eat their hamburgers I walk around town looking for some plantains. Portobelo is one of my favorite towns around here but still I’m ready to leave. It’s not only that I don’t like the cars, the rubbish on the floor, the loud music or the smell of greasy food. It’s not even the fact that it’s so hot and we have to wear clothes and can’t jump in the water. The most amazing thing to me right now is how stiff the ground feels. With each step I can feel the impact on my knees and it feels strange and it makes me laugh out loud. What have I become? An alien?

The magical thing about living in an anchorage is that, apart from the fact that you are away from all noise, pollution and stress, you live in a home that is floating on water. If you jump inside, it bounces with you. You feel the wooden boards bend under your feet just a little as you walk. You get on the dinghy and it drifts and rolls. We live in a very protected bay and the rolling is very mild. I can tell you, on very calm days you miss it. It’s so lovely when you go to bed and it feels like a rocking chair, or a hammock, it reminds you of when you were a little child, you fall asleep to your home’s lullaby. And there is always an ocean breeze, and the sound of birds in the jungle, and your skin is soft and clean from the sand and the salt water. Your nails are always immaculate, they are constantly being washed and filed by nature. There are no bugs if you anchor a certain distance away from the shore or if, like us, you keep a couple of little lizards on board. You drink spring or rain water without chemicals. You leave your flip-flops in the dinghy and walk barefoot all day. These factors give our life a particular smoothness that you only realize once you are back on the land. Everything feels kind of stiff, rough and loud. You smell the fumes and contamination long before you get there. You feel sweaty and dirty (cause you are!). And you see everybody running around, working, partying, complaining and it feels surreal. Our life is so much simpler and quieter here.

So you unplug, leave the crazy city life behind and move to a boat. A lot of things change. It’s like a dream come true to me, but I know, like Alex, I’m a traveler and a minimalist. It’s not for everyone. If you don’t really know what to do with your free time or if you like getting everything delivered to your home or if you find comfort in having a microwave oven or opening the tap and getting gallons and gallons of water then of course this lifestyle will be a bit awkward for you. I guess boat life is for those who love simple things, surprises, living the present moment. You have to make the most of everyday, ready and willing to learn and adapt and enjoy whatever the universe brings.

Some stuff gets a bit more complicated. Especially when you “retire” in your thirties. The fact that you will live on a very little income usually means that your boat won’t have a water maker for example, at least until you can save up. During the rainy season it’s no problem at all, you just need to collect the falling water, there are plenty of different options to do this easily enough. But during the dry season you have to get your fresh water somewhere in the land and bring it to the boat in jugs. It takes some time and energy and it is not always available in your local spot so you really want to use it wisely. After swimming all day, you generally just rinse with a little water and soap. You cannot wash your hair everyday or ever take a relaxing long bath. But, truth be told, you’re not really that dirty, just salty and you don’t have much stress you need to relax from. And using salt water can be quite entertaining I tell you. Our toilets work with a mechanical system that pumps water from the ocean. It’s nice to look while you’re flushing because you get to see all kinds of algae and sometimes even a little fish might get caught and you want to pump quickly so that it makes it back home safe and sound. Now when it comes to doing the dishes, some boats have a faucet with ocean water so that they can use their kitchen sink. This is not our case, we only have fresh water inside and so we do our dishes outside on the deck. I have two buckets, a bigger one where we put our plates, pots and pans as soon as we finish eating and a smaller one tied with a rope that I throw into the ocean to collect the water I’m going to use. One night I threw the bucket and when I pulled it up I saw there was something in there. I was so amazed! It was two beautiful jellyfish that looked like eyes! I made a little video, you can watch it here (the quality’s not the best, our internet connection is very slow, it takes forever to upload stuff):

http://youtu.be/ID8p0xX_gN0

 

Everyday brings something new. It’s hard for me not to see the poetry of nature living here. You are part of the ecosystem, everything is generally so quiet around you that you can hear every time a fish brings as much as its nose out of the water. You can easily see the little ripple it leaves behind in the reflection of the sun or the moon. When these sounds turn into a little splash then you run out onto the deck, no matter what you’re doing, because you just know it might be a curious dolphin swimming by or a big graceful stingray leaping out of the water. Or it may be a turtle. Or a lizard. Have you ever seen a lizard swim? I didn’t even know they did. We are so spoiled here, so used to the calm around us, that when a lancha or a jet ski zooms by during the weekend you can just see all the cruisers cursing and throwing their arms in the air. It’s really funny.

Squalls are always welcome not only because they bring a different vibe and are so beautiful but also for practical reasons: your water tanks fill up, you can hang your salty clothes and towels outside and they get rinsed and you yourself can go and take a fresh water shower on the deck. I love the sea when it rains, everything turns grey and green and you cannot tell where the ocean ends and the sky begins.

Now strong winds… that’s a different story. They bring weird energy sometimes, especially at night, things creak and bang and we wake up worried or have strange dreams. I hope I get used to them but even if I don’t, it’s not like I have to wake up in the morning to do anything hahaaa I can sleep till noon if I want to, or take a nap in the afternoon. We do not need to have a regular job to live here, so any effort we might have to make on Splendid always seems insignificant. We feel so fortunate we can’t really complain about silly things anymore.

Life here is simple and healthy. It’s nature and its kingdoms living together in harmony. We only take what we need: two or three fish a week, some rain or spring water, local papayas, grapefruits and mangoes… you know. All organic waste goes back to the ocean right away, food leftovers are brought to the monkeys, cooking oil is used to lubricate the toilets, and we do not buy many things other than bulk and fresh food, screws and paint so there’s no much packaging in our home and we re-use every jar and container we get. A little bag of dry garbage lasts us a week or two. And most people around us live in the same way.

Here you can see short videos of our animal friends:

a school of fish around Splendid: http://youtu.be/Ps7kV49YUXk

a dolphin swimming by: http://youtu.be/kZd15DV8hXE

us giving banana bread to the spider monkeys: http://youtu.be/VUHuvGiqH8E

Dougar, Binnie’s sloth: http://youtu.be/B3xqRJwM6E0

another one with Dougar: http://youtu.be/O_gSftM7Qp8

 

Cruising is not only a great way for humans to walk away from stress, out-of-hand consumption and scary police reports and go back to having time to read, cook, love and swim; it is also great news for the environment. The world is suddenly yours but in the best sense of the word. All you own is the 30 or 40 feet of wood, fiberglass or steel you call your home. Everything else, our breathtaking Planet Earth and all its landscapes, cultures and creatures, including yourself, are out there to be shared, explored and enjoyed.  I’m in awe and I still haven’t left this anchorage. Let me get back to you when I look out of our bedroom window and there’s the Polynesia, Hong Kong or South Africa. I can’t wait to go sailing. This can be your life: easier, better and more exciting than your favorite film. Pure bliss.

Updated: January 9, 2015 — 15:49

4 Comments

  1. Carla,
    Great read, good to see a different point of view on living aboard. We live and cruise every summer for 6 weeks and when we get back home we are always asked how our summer was. The very first thing we talk about is feeling like an alien. In so many ways like the sore knees and back from walking on a hard surface to trying to fit into the so called life on land with all of the hustle and bustle. You articulated it so perfectly and only after 3 months aboard. I have always thought that “Timing” and time itself is just a man made concept, being in touch with your surroundings and becoming one (or two) with the universe. An alignment of everything, the stars, the planets, the tides, the bus, all together with Alex’s world and your world came together at one exact moment. If one little thing was out of allignment you may not have met at all. You have come across your own little “Big Bang Theory” and a new life has just begun. Good for you guys.
    We are moving onto the boat full time and cutting the dock lines in July. Heading down the west coast and will be in Mexico by November. If you guys make it through the ditch and everything is in alignment maybe we will meet up in the Pacific.
    Looking forward to readingmore of both blogs. All for now. Hi Alex..

    JR.

  2. Hi JR : )

    It’d be nice to cross paths with you! It’s amazing, isn’t it? No matter where you come from, what your socioeconomic background is, what age you are, you know that if somebody else is also living on a boat, (and I feel the same way about free-spirits traveling around the world with no attachments to material things) you’ve got something huge in common and it makes you feel close… Like… There’s another alien over there!

    I think it’s that we have discovered this amazing key to freedom, health, happiness, adventure and just feel so fortunate it makes us happy to see others who have also left behind of all the hassle and toxicity of the big urban centers. Man, it’s so hard to live there!! I can’t believe people not only put up with it but also defend it. That they need to be in the system to have all this stuff and have access to all this comfort. The price is so high! Your mind rushing constantly and no time to be with your loved ones or do the things you love doing.

    I like your idea of the universe aligned for things to happen. You wouldn’t believe the amount of coincidences our encounter had! I’ll make sure I write a blog about it, Alex and I are so pig-headed we really tried our best but reality just made us bump into each other, it really was something special.

    So July you’ll be floating out there full time! Super! I’m itching to cross to the Pacific, very interested in Galapagos and all the islands beyond, but also right here in Panama and Costa Rica there’s many more beach breaks for me to learn to surf on that coast. As soon as Alex finishes his film we’ll be crossing the canal I think.

    Take care, JR! And thanks for sharing!

    C.

  3. Simply splendid. This is the stuff that inpsires me keep doing the things I have to do, that I can very soon be doing the things that you are doing. Bless you both.

  4. Lucky there’s a time for everything but it’s great to know you’re headed towards your dreams, doing what you have to do to make it happen. Keep pushing and soon you’ll be floating ; )

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