Time is something we have become very rich in, during this sailing life. Yet, it ticks forward, onward, never pausing just the same. Boy George sings, “time won’t give me time…” and no it does not. Here we are in 2022 and as Paul said during our New Year’s toast, “I’m still getting used to Y2K.” In terms of quantity, it’s all the same. We’re still confined to the finite human experience. More than quantity, it’s a quality of how we spend time that has seemed to have changed. Being aboard molts and melts time’s conventions. Being aboard s/v Rita Kathryn transforms time. Perhaps it’s the perspective you get when surrounded by vastness of ocean or on a clear night, gazillions of stars that dome around you, tiny beings floating.
Certainly, this lifestyle allows for greater amounts of play and adventure. Most notably there’s quite a bit of spontaneity involved. Serendipity becomes a part of life. Though we need to be meticulous about weather and timing of our passaging plans and staying on top of the boat’s integrity from bow to stern, fortuitous opportunities present themselves often. Previously, enjoyment was scheduled, often meticulously. You could either design a life to bring surprise or choose a lifestyle where it’s more intrinsic. “When we encounter joy we didn’t expect to receive, it feels a bit like luck or grace, as if a benevolent universe is looking out for us” (I.F. Lee). Who couldn’t use a little more grace?
Sailing, time is demarcated strongly by the sunrise and set, the phases of the moon, and seasons. Seasons tell you where you need to be to try and avoid the most severe weather events and we are beholden to these time frames. Though we do not use celestial navigation, but rather technology and charts, a full moon can dramatically affect our visibility when night sailing, as does the lack of one. The moon’s phases also effect the extremes of tide shifts. We’re much more in touch with circadian rhythms often stopping to watch daily the sunrise and sunset on an ocean horizon or water filled bay. There is a degree of surrendering or rather falling into symbiosis with time, instead of stretching or bending it to our will. As if that were possible. But what is time? We’re all familiar with it, these cycles, the passing of it. We have calendars and clocks and reminders to measure it, that require us to make note of the concept of it passing by. We can’t touch time but in this setting its cadence is unmistakable and becomes experiential rather than an external factor that needs reigning in. It’s an experiential living style with unquantifiable returns.
There are not just novels written about time, but songs sung, poems recited, melting clock portraits painted, philosophers’ reasonings pontificated. How is time actually explained without falling into bottomless explanations or the theory of relativity or the Big Bang, physics or thermodynamics? How is it different now that we live on a sailboat? When considering the philosophers and scientists who say it’s infinite and its constraints man-made perhaps it’s about how we’ve changed our relationship to time aboard.
The concept of time is a muse for so many and for good reason. Metaphor does well in trying to explain time. I think my favorite might be that time is a flowering river, maybe because it references two favorites: water and flowers. Time doesn’t move in one direction when regarding the greatest of its scales, though that’s how we may experience it without deeper observation. The idea of event space renders the belief that you can’t make a mistake, only a choice, very gratifying. It’s believed since linear time does not exist and there are parallel universes of ourselves, we’re just course correcting with the choices we make. So simply do what you enjoy with the least amount of harm and don’t agonize over decision making.
While passaging and polishing, I get to catch up on podcasts. Many hours of passaging I surrender to the rhythm of the rolling waters and prefer no other stimuli. That’s when briefly Einstein’s belief in a space-time continuum, that space and time are interwoven and not really separate, makes sense. Very, very briefly. It’s more of a visceral understanding than one I can articulate, when enveloped in the grandeur and serenity of ocean sailing. Then my inner NYker gets the best of me and whispers now is a great time to catch up on those 473.5 podcasts you’ve downloaded.
Polishing fiberglass or stainless is definitely enhanced by the ability to listen to hours of podcasts I would never otherwise have listened to, but there is not enough time in a life to listen to them all. I find myself returning to old favorites that usually don’t disappoint and are the richest; the biggest reward for the time taken to listen. Just like there’s not enough time to cook all the meals I’d like to eat, read all the books I’d like to read, see all the movies I’d like to see, visit all the places I’d like to experience, learn all the languages I’d like to speak. Choices need to be made in our limited human experience. Having a 360 degree water view is a perk too. There’s tons of bird activity, a few weeks ago owls came to the marina. And just the other morning I saw a mink. The osprey hunting and seagulls diving around the boat are enchanting and draw me into awe. Polishing becomes so much more.
We’ve met all walks of life choosing this lifestyle. Many persist by any means necessary. For those, it’s a choice of how to exist during this earthly time we’re graciously given. In sum, the sailing life is a choice many could make if that is what they truly wanted to do with their time. We have met families who sold everything to sail around the world and raise their kids in this way. Selling cars, home, all possessions, to live on a budget that falls around the poverty line for a family of 5. Think of not having car payments, insurance payments, mortgage payments. There are those that stop and work along the way of their cruising. Some will charter out and be the captain/cook for guests. There are also those who have made a business out of their lifestyle. A very successful one. You can see exactly how successful since earnings from Patreon are a matter of public information. Mind you, Patreon’s often only one stream of income as well.
I recently listened to a trustily thought-provoking podcast called Making Sense hosted by Sam Harris. In this episode, Sam was interviewing Oliver Burkeman who wrote a book about humans’ fruitless attempts to command time and be more efficient, Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals. The most significant take away for me was that we simply can’t do it all. Trying to make ourselves more efficient is ineffective in achieving an end goal of being able to spend more time on things that we may enjoy or value the most. In fact, the more efficient you are, it is argued, the more work you will find yourself doing. Meanwhile, the original intention was to try and lessen the load. So essentially there are choices we have to make about what and how we want to do things and it boils down to the quality of time we might want to spend on this earth, as fleeting as it is. We are simply too busy to pay attention to life if we allow ourselves to be. Perhaps it’s the gift of contemplation we’re given in this sailing life. The gift of being able to pay closer attention.
“You are here for but an instant, and you mustn’t take yourself too seriously” (E.R. Burroughs). I agree with Burroughs, life is way too short and intense to not have a sense of humor. It’s thanks to Paul’s eternal optimism and sharp wit, laughing comes daily. There’s always a time to laugh with Paul. He makes me a better person with his levity and readiness to giggle when I let myself get caught up in a grinding state of mind. He brings me back to my heart. The now, this blessing. To observe time, as is, rather than being lost in the anxiety and anticipation of the future or the regrets and ruminations of the past. Joy becomes our footing. A daily practice. Paul reminds me the waves, they come and go, but we’re still part of the great and unspeakably beautiful ocean.
Sailing life has reconfigured time and how we spend it by changing the frame of this human existence and consequently seems to keep our perspectives more forgiving, patient and open-hearted. Our relationship to time in this sailing life is more like an Alice in Wonderland sort of experience, “Either the well was very deep or she fell very slowly, for she had plenty of time as she went down to look about her and wonder what was going to happen next” (L. Carroll). It’s there, slipping by just the same, but there’s an added dimension that provides us time to wonder, taste, see, feel, laugh and simply live by living simply in the moment. Living in the moment is a gift, called the “present” for a reason, many will say. My favorite pop culture figure, Ted Lasso, (a subscription to Apple TV is worth every penny just to stream this heart-twinkling comedy) makes this observation coaching his players to optimize not just their performance, but their ability to be the best humans they can possibly be. Neither lofty nor pollyannish but a humbly honorable goal. Like the Byrds sang, “a time to every purpose under heaven” and what better way to spend your time than becoming a good human being. Living each moment with a deeper observation does offer a perspective of the power of now which opens the heart, quiets the mind and warms the soul. It makes room for gratitude and awareness.
Planning Paul’s recent birthday celebration was a lesson in time and a reminder of my previous antagonistic relationship with it. Naturally, it’s the observation of time passing, as any birthday gives us pause. But it’s also the time spent planning and arranging to make this particular (big one), special for the man I love. Then, there’s the time you’re requesting of others to help make this celebration uniquely special, dependent on their taking the time to give their contributions. The process reminded me of deadlines and time constraints I no longer have, and simply don’t feel so terribly pressing on a daily basis, any longer. It’s dramatically different. The absence of constraints made by a bell; even if made for good reason, these imposed constraints, were not so easily lived by my inner free spirit. “This above all: to thine own self be true…” (Shakespeare). Perhaps it’s the ability to live more authentically.
“Father Time is not always a hard parent, and, though he tarries for none of his children, often lays his hand lightly upon those who have used him well; making them old men and women inexorably enough, but leaving their hearts and spirits young and in full vigor. With such people the grey head is but the impression of the old fellow’s hand in giving them his blessing, and every wrinkle but a notch in the quiet calendar of a well-spent life” (Charles Dickens). Life aboard does present challenges of the mind body and soul not otherwise encountered. In stoic philosophy challenge is how you learn what it is you’re capable of. Living a life that doesn’t cause some level of disturbance allows for little “spontaneous joy, enthusiasm, and excitement” for life (M.A. Singer). Paul and I might have extra “notches” but we hope to come to the end of a life well-spent with plenty of notches, bumps and bruises from living it. Life is fragile. We have control over nothing but our own reactions to its vicissitudes.
Daniel Defoe writes in Robinson Crusoe that, “Today we love what tomorrow we hate, today we seek what tomorrow we shun, today we desire what tomorrow we fear.” Though I believe we love/hate, seek/shun, desire/fear most everything in life to some degree simultaneously, living more closely to the present moment and not clinging to the future or the past, we find the equilibrium we need. Time becomes more of a friend. If our earthly time were to end tomorrow we’d have few regrets about how we’ve chosen to spend it and hope that we inspire, at least our children, to live closer to their hearts’ desires when relating to this thing called time.