What is Voyaging?

It’s been about four weeks since I started voyaging and the lack of a clear goal, the mentality of conventional ‘productivity’, is starting to get to me; as I knew it would. It’s like a mini existential crisis. I keep asking myself roundabout question about my ‘purpose’ and what I’m ‘doing’.

Voyaging on a Small Income

Annie Hill’s Voyaging On A Small Income, 2nd EditionVoyaging On a Small Income, a sailing classic.

I tried to take solace in Annie Hills book Voyaging on a Small Income which I pilfered from a friend a few days before crossing the border. Here is a woman who has been voyaging her entire life. She doesn’t ‘do’ anything other than enjoy her life. So simple. So elegant.

But why voyage? What makes an island over here better than one over there? Why am I even out here?

I have a vague sense of destination, but why am I taking my time? Is it really exploring if I have digital, GPS enabled charts, backup paper charts, and cruising guidebooks for everywhere I go?

To turn the question on its head, what is the point of not voyaging? What is it, exactly, that people are generally trying to accomplish with all their non-voyaging energy? Sex, children, power, career; these are all common motivating desires that I don’t have. What is it that I lack, or possess, when not voyaging that drives me back to my islands and the solitude of sailing?

Cooking Oysters

Cooking oysters on the half shell while playing my guitar around the fire.

Peace and contentment are two emotions that I find in short supply in society yet possess in spades out here. Free time to enjoy intellectual pursuits is another important aspect of voyaging. Playing guitar, reading, writing, programming, wildlife watching, cooking. These are how I entertain myself. I’ve always burned out easily on the company of other people. Out here, seeing another person is a treat and a welcome break from the solitude.

The biggest difference though is the lack of a job. I’ve always hated hourly work. Watching the clock. Spending my day on an activity for no other reason than to make money. I’ll have to go back to work at some point, but voyaging allows me to shave my cost of living to a fraction of that of most people, without sacrificing my quality of life. In actuality, it improves my quality of life. I’ve never eaten healthier or been as content with my day-to-day life as I am now.

Full Moon Rising

Watching the full moon rise over Reid Harbor on Stuart Island.

With the money I’ve saved and the financial defense that living on a boat provides, I have a real shot at perusing meaningful, intellectually stimulating work like freelance programming and writing a book. If I go back to unpleasant hourly work, I shouldn’t have a problem covering my annual cost of living with only a few months of seasonal work. At the moment, I’m contemplating working as a deck hand on a cruise ship in the winter, if my freelance programming plans don’t pan out.

But back to my original question: why voyage? I suppose the honest answer is that it is the best thing I can think of to do with myself.

I may or may not end my voyage at the intended destination. The end point is superfluous. What matters is that I am comfortable and content during the journey. When discontent rears its ugly head, I have to embrace it. I have to hug it close to my chest and nuzzle it with my chin. Only then will it purr it’s secret to me. Only then can I release it and let it fly away, leaving me wiser and once again content.

Be Curious

My dandelion root tea always has inspirational quotes. I thought this one was apt.

Carrot Quinn laments in her book that the wilderness of the PCT is an illusion. “It is a little strip of habitat for us to navigate, hidden in the mountains between the sprawling endless cities.” It made me blink in surprise to realize she is right. My wilderness on the other hand is true wilderness. All I have to do to prove it to myself is to continue west or north as far as I can. It doesn’t end. It just gets wilder. And all throughout it amazing, wild events are taking place like my dolphin experience last summer or my fur seal experience a few days ago. It’s not something you walk through, it’s something you retreat from… or give yourself to completely. I’m interested to see which of those two choices I make at the end of this summer.

Every book I read about hiking has redundant themes, like the pain of feet and knees and hopefully the adaptation of the author’s body to deal with the strain. I used to think that sailing followed the same pattern. I used to joke that I needed to go to work on the weekdays to let my body rest from the weekend. My hands would be swollen and cracked from the constant chafing of salt water and rough rope handling. My body would be pockmarked with cuts and bruises. I wore them like badges of honor.

The Office

Another day at the office. Watching an Osprey fish from the cliff while working on the computer.

It wasn’t until I started voyaging full time that I realized I was doing it wrong. My punishment was caused by ignorance and moving too fast. Now, I’m never in a rush. I’m willing to sacrifice a knot or two of speed to keep the ride smooth and comfortable. I think of the boat as an extension of my body. I’m gentle with her and she is with me. I wear leather sailing gloves and liberally apply hand lotion to deal with the salt water and rope work. I’m a big, strong man, but I go out of my way to use the winches on the boat. I save my strength for when I really need it.

Voyaging is not about the destination. It’s not about achieving a goal. It’s a non-stop journey. It’s about living a lifestyle of contentment and peace, in harmony with nature’s bipolar mood swings, reveling in both the storms and the sunsets. It’s about feeling comfortable in your own skin.

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Comments
One Response to “What is Voyaging?”
  1. Gary says:

    Chris,

    Wonderful. So thoughtful and well written. These are thoughts most of us have, boaters or not, yet few take the time to lay them out so clearly. Thank you for doing so.

    Gary

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