November 1, 2013

4 Things I Learned About Life…While Living on a Boat. ~ Guenevere Neufeld

It seemed romantic when it was a far-off idea, when I was cozy in my home with electricity, a bed I stepped up into, and toilets that flushed.

I would live a few months on a sailboat.

Full of adventure and intrigue; I’d figure out how I’d do my laundry once I got there. In the end, it was far more fulfilling than I’d hoped, but perhaps not in the ways I expected. My valuable life lessons:

1. When rowing (done backwards), have someone steering who can see where you are going.

Yes, a rowboat, powered simply by human energy, is unlikely to cause much damage if it collides with  another boat, moored in the harbor like a mine in a field, but it is nonetheless better to avoid said crash. Sure, I worried if I caused any permanent damage to my own boat, or theirs, the first time I crashed into a small, sitting boat, but my second thought – “I hope no one saw me do that!” – shows how I could use a shift in my perspective.

I want to live as to utilize the help of others around me, not in fear of their censure.

I don’t always have the perspective to see what is best for me, but if I surround myself with people who know where it is that I’m going, they can help point me in the right direction when I can’t see it for myself. I’m learning to make use of the support I have along the way. Most often I had another person in the boat, helping to steer as we rowed home, ready to call out “port” or “starboard” when seeing an impending collision I couldn’t. I’ve learned to surround myself with people who know where I want to go and to listen to their advice.

2. Step into the middle of the boat.

Transitions are tough. And life is full of them. Whether it’s  the beginning or ending of school, a relationship, or job, moving or committing to a new way of life, it seems as though transition has been an integral part of my human experience. I don’t always get to choose experience but I do get to choose how I respond.

Living on a boat showed me just how integral the way I approach the transitional experience is. This way of life required me to transition to and from my launch around four times a day. Sometimes, those transitions were a little rocky. The weather might create rolling seas or I was distracted and late, frantically loading my little dinghy, hoping to shorten the usual 15 minute trip into town.

Regardless, the lesson is to always step into the middle of the boat. I will inevitably experience transitions in life, so I might as well make them easier to navigate. Stepping into the middle of the boat means doing everything in my power to center and ground myself. It also means taking stock of my circumstance and going forward in the most supported way I can manage. By stepping into the middle of the boat I can ensure that even that in-between place of disequilibrium, both of my feet are on solid ground.

3. Don’t untie my dinghy and leave it unsupervised.

I’ll never forget the sight of watching Pea Pod, my beloved dinghy, float merrily away from me, down the throughway in the harbor. It was dark and the water had barely a ripple as I watched my vessel slip further and further into the glassy night. Apparently, untying her and taking my feet out to lie more comfortably on the dock was not a good idea.

My dinghy is what I need to take me from the harbor to my boat. To me, it represents having a goal and a vision. If I leave it unattended and unfettered I can’t be surprised when I find it in a different oplace than I left it, far off in the distance.

I’ve learned that having a goal is particularly important when living in such a unique place as a boat. Do I want to get to a place on time? I better plan for all sorts of weather. Not only true when applied to the daily tasks of living, having a goal is necessary on the broad scope of what I want my life to look like. If I’m letting the vehicle for my ideals slip away, it’s unlikely I’ll be able to get to where I want to go.

When I do find that I’ve ignored the means to my goal,  I now know I need not despair! I’ve found simply another opportunity to rely on the kindness of others. Reaching out to a nearby seafarer to hitch a ride to my intrepidly empty adventurer opened prospects for friendship as well as getting myself back on track.

4. Don’t fish over the anchor line.

One great aspect of boat life was my ability to procure my food straight from the source. Yet while attempting to do so, I faced obstacles around me time and time again. When fishing, there are kayakers, canoers, anchor and mooring lines hanging about. As in life, they are the aspects of my mind that keep me from my goals. I know what is good for me. Another beer and sleeping in? Or an early, practice-filled morning? What’s not always so easy is implementing that knowledge into my life, yet what I can do is avoid obvious pitfalls.

Fishing off of a boat quickly taught me to not cast my line directly over one of those pitfalls: an anchor line. It can be difficult to learn from the mistakes of others, so I pondered my next steps when the inevitable occurred. Should I yank until something gets free? Doing so would likely end in getting the hook lodged even further in. Was there any hope of getting into Pea Pod with the rod and pulling in the opposite direction? Seemed worthwhile to give it a try.

How perfectly symbolic – taking this step freed my line and saved my jig from being permanently embedded in the underwater rope. I went in the exact opposite direction and I was able to remove myself from the mess I’d gotten into. Sometimes disadvantageous things happen. I’ll get into trouble and need to back-track to get my way out. But why not just identify potential problems right away and take steps to avoid them?

There’s a whole ocean out there on the other side of the boat; I don’t need to fish in obstacle-infested waters.

My summer of boat life offered me many gems of expansion. They lay nestled between bouts of an extreme natural beauty rivalled only by the depth of such an extreme way of life. I continue to be in awe of the way life can seem to randomly unfold and am happy to take the treasures I’ve learned with me as the adventures of life continue on.


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Assistant Ed: Zenna James/Ed: Bryonie Wise


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