Thursday, May 03, 2007

If Not You, Then Who?

Naturally, a question posed and answered in the memoirs of every author about the cruising life is: "Why did you do it?" Since I’ve consumed a good fraction of that literature, it strikes me that the motivation can be categorized into three nouns: escape, dream, or challenge.

#1 – Run Away! Run Away!
In this category we have those who take a deep breath, look around at the wonders of modern civilization, and ask themselves why the hell they are here. What does it all mean? Is there a better life? On balance, what happens if I trade my wide screen TV and daily shower for poverty, quiet, and ports unknown?

These are the people who work 60 hours a week to pay for their “things,” only to realize that the one with the most toys doesn't actually win. In fact, the game has rules no one explained when we were young and ambitious and on our way up the corporate ladder. These are people who watched their parents work hard their entire lives only to die within months of retirement. They pull up the profit and loss statement on their lives to realize that they spend four months working for the IRS, one month for the state, three months for the bank, and one month for their health insurer. They see their children growing up without them, maturing more rapidly than a parent would have thought possible during those early sleepless nights.

Squeezed in with these folks, I will also lump those folks who have more money than God and decide to run away just because they can. I suppose technically they could have their own category, but let's face it. I'm not one of them. You're not one of them. All we know about those folks is that they made money somehow, some way, and it would be very nice if we knew they did it illegally so we could feel morally superior. Instead, we're just going to drink rum in their cockpit because it's the most spacious and has the ice cubes and pretend they are like us. Running away from it all.

#2 – A Star to Sail Her By
The seas are awash with boats owned by dreamers. Actually, the marinas are afloat with them. I'm not clear that there are a large number of these owners actually living the dream. For many, the mere fact of the boat is enough. However, for every boat full of people running away from the busy life (see #1 above), you have at least two with a sailor on board who always longed to go to sea and live the cruising life.

It is an unfortunate statistic that the majority of sailor dreamers are men. A depressing number of these men are accompanied by women who have been dragged aboard against all their objections to the contrary. In fact, an entire sub-genre of cruising literature is devoted to the reluctant female spouse: How to get her on the boat, how to keep her there, how to make her feel empowered. To date, the small cadre of intrepid female sailor dreamers is lost in the cacophony of put-upon spouses.

Never mind.

A sailor dreamer buys a boat and, if all the stars are in alignment, eventually lives the dream. By far the majority of these dreams are a retirement plan. “When I get my pension and fund the IRA and we sell the house for a tremendous profit, we'll leave!” Cutting the lines on a sailor dreamer's boat can be a difficult process. Dreamers have rather high standards which makes sense when you think about it. Your dreams should be bigger and better than life. It is unfortunate when your boat cannot be.

#3 -- Because It's There
Of course, there are still heroes and madmen in the world. These are the ones who like to throw on a backpack and hike the Appalachian Trail for fun. They take a year off to live in Nepal or volunteer to help victims of natural disasters in mosquito-infested places with unpronounceable names. We admire these bold adventurers while simultaneously thinking to ourselves, "Holy bananas, that guy is a fruitcake!"

And there are a lot of adventurers dinking around in boats out there. They are often young with no roots and a taste for danger. I think the more fascinating ones are the folks trying something different -- a single-handed trip never before attempted, a voyage in a boat patterned after something from 2000 years ago, a cruise entirely funded on the proceeds of an unproven educational Web site. To me, their stories hold a horrible fascination much like that of a multi-car wreck on the autobahn.

#4 – Other
I take it back. It's four not three. No categorical list is actually complete without the elastic clause of “other.” In the boating world, it is hard to describe these others. They are the genetic anomalies for whom Darwinian principles were established. Either they make it in this world and reproduce more oddities like themselves who eventually build AI robots to take over the world, or they don't. Simplicity itself. So far I've met only one, and even after roughly half a bottle of rum and a bag full of limes, I'm still not clear how this individual ticks. You just have to take it as an article of blind faith that these folks know what they are doing.

* * *

Ultimately, why you do something is less important than the established fact that you have. Why did you go to college? Daddy made me. Does that diminish the value of the lessons you learned there? Does it diminish your accomplishments -- mastering the separation of laundry, frying of eggs, or drinking a beer bong without vomiting on your shoes? Of course not. If delusional fantasies were a deterrent to garnering respect, we would never have dot com CEOs, toaster strudel, or shoes that tell you whether you’ve had a good workout.

So don't ask me why I do it! Simply marvel that it can be done by people less capable, less grounded, and less stable than you.

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