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Mastery and independence

Oct 25, 2006 Living onboard for extended voyages by small boat is not the most comfortable way to live or travel. There is a real element of risk ranging from the unnerving tedium of being becalmed to the panic of storms and unfriendly shores. However, surviving is an unparalleled experience. It is a return to basics, while surrounded by exotic sail and hull materials; space-age communication and navigation equipment; and the amenities of a microwave oven, stereo, refrigera-tion, and an auxiliary motor. For every gadget and modern convenience on board, making sailing friendlier and safer there is an emergency plan in the captain’s mind of how to survive without it. Breaking down, getting lost, or learning to live without are acceptable risks taken in exchange for the rewards of a successful passage and the feeling of mastery and independence.

In a less dramatic sense, ocean sailing is also a wonderfully healthy activity. First, there is the constant physical exercise of living on a small rocking sailboat. There are many moments of physical exertion such as handling heavy anchors, hauling someone up the mast, winching in a large sail in a blow, launching or retrieving a dinghy, moving supplies on or off the boat, fending off pilings, and so forth. In between these moments, is the constant flexing of muscles to stay upright in a rolling boat, or the stretching of tendons to grab handholds. These small exercises often go unnoticed compared to the strain of pushing, pulling, or lifting, but their constancy makes them equally important.

Boat voyaging is also mental exercise in staying on top of, and managing, a myriad of boat systems: diesel mechanics, meteorology, navigation, electrical circuitry, fresh-water plumbing, and rigging. Conscientious captains and crews take pleasure in meeting the challenge of mastering their small, but intricate, domain and learning to live safely and comfortably by their wits.