The cabin interior of the Thomsons’ Hunter 31 sailboat (after five weeks living aboard). Photo by Barb Thomson

The cabin interior of the Thomsons’ Hunter 31 sailboat (after five weeks living aboard). Photo by Barb Thomson

BOATING WITH BARB: Life on a boat is incomparable

Just imagine this: one day the COVID-19 pandemic is finally over. To celebrate, you invite a couple of friends to join you on a weekend sailboat trip.

First thing, you quote a nautical proverb: “One hand for yourself, one hand for the ship.” Boats can suddenly rock and tip people overboard. “Here’s how to safely move around,” you demonstrate, with one hand on the boat and the other hand in a bag of chips.

Your guests nod obediently, while you say don’t do this, always do that. Possibly one guest has beautiful white teeth. Veneers. Such a shame to see one get knocked out. In some ways, your boat is a prizefighter, contending with wind and water, while you and your guests climb into the ring. Why do we do it?

Think of Yannick Bestaven, recent winner of the 2020 Vendée Globe, a non-stop solo round-the-world race. Bestaven described “living like a wild boar” for 80 days alone on Maître CoQ IV, a hi-tech 60-foot carbon-fibre foiling yacht designed more for onboard computers than human needs.

You too fit yourself to the form and purpose of the vessel that holds you. Children go bananas on boats because everything fits them. Itty-bitty stairs. Tiny teeny toilets. Cool little cubbies you can only reach by hanging upside down. “Here is where you’ll sleep,” you say to your guests, pointing to the V-berth, the pointy part of the boat. They will have to haul themselves up onto a triangle wedge of mattress pie, without driving their skulls through the forward hatch.

Or consider Joshua Slocum, who wrote Sailing Alone Around the World, his book a personal account of the first all-under-sail world circumnavigation in 1895. On a 36-foot wooden sloop named Spray, Slocum sailed alone for three years with nothing more than a compass, charts and his sea-wit.

“We yield to kayaks and paddleboards,” you explain to your guests from the helm, leaving the harbour to enter the open waters and bigger picture.

Over the span of 125 years, Bestaven and Slocum are the outliers we find ourselves located between, somewhere on the curve, trying not to get our teeth knocked out, navigating a pandemic with a proverb: One hand for kind and the other hand for safe, and hope for calm. Why do we do it? Because on reflection, for the love of it, we are all guests.

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