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I have been diligently living in isolation for almost a month and a half now. The only thing that has helped me remain calm and happy has been Dove, a little sailboat I am looking after while her owner is away overseas.
Despite my initial enthusiasm, there is still quite a bit of work to be done before I can sail her out to sea… But the list of things to do is getting shorter. Meanwhile, taking care of her every day is teaching me many things.
Here are a few lessons I’ve learned.
1) It’s important to have a passion that brings you closer to your soul. When you find it, your mind lightens up.
Many sailing and “sea writers” (some, poets) have described beautifully what it feels like to sail. But for me, the serenity that the boat brings me begins well before leaving the mooring.
It starts when my feet touch the concrete of the jetty. When my nostrils breathe the smell of a port–a mixture of sea, algae, and gasoline. When my ears get used to the new sounds, the chains’ squeaks, the flapping of the water on the hulls, the clinging of the shrouds against the masts. The port is a microcosm, with its microclimate and its micro population. Here, I feel at home.
Since I met Dove, walking down the Yacht Club jetty every day produces an immediate sedative effect on me. A calm that continues to invade me, gently, when I glimpse her blue protective cover, when I get in front of her, take off my shoes, bend over to pull the mooring line. When I get on board, open the hatch’s padlock, change into the orange overalls that I use to work, and turn the music on, the magic is complete. The mind is emptied of the swirling thoughts of the day and focuses, lightly, on the present: sandpapering, tidying up, repainting, or thinking about new jobs to do, it doesn’t matter.
I am fascinated by the idea of how a passion is born. Does it come from the stimuli we receive as children? From our character? From what we read? From the people we meet? Perhaps, from all of it. In any case, this trying time has made me appreciate once more the luck of having one passion, which brings me closer to what I feel being my true “self”, often buried under inessentiality.
2. Don’t underestimate the time it takes to get things right.
Many athletes and those who have achieved a very high degree of success in something, always say it: it takes time and dedication to do something right.
The first day I went to Dove on my own, I gave a superficial clean of the areas I could reach. I wanted to make it my nest. But on day two, it was clear to me that I had to change strategy if I wanted my nest to be livable. To make Dove “habitable,” in fact, I needed to lift everything, move things from one side to the other, and clean–a hundred times.
I realized, afternoon after afternoon, how long this would take. Some days I got a little discouraged, but it was clear to me that, to do things right, once and for all, I would have had to be patient, (not a usual virtue of mine) .
3. When you think you’re done, new challenges may pop up and you have to start all over. Never get discouraged!
The above teaching has led me to a new awareness. Even when you think you have almost achieved a goal, something can happen that makes you go back a few squares. Like in the game of the goose. When this happens, you should never get discouraged. Roll up your sleeves and get back on the road, even if the light at the end of the tunnel is a bit further away!
After I finished cleaning all the bow storage lockers, I repainted them. Two coats of primer, then two coats of paint. It took five days. I then tidied a bit the big mess that had invaded the cabin, stored the sails, and put the paints and brushes into the cabinets. After this was done, I started to have a little more living space.
“Now I can start cleaning the cockpit lockers!” I told myself, thinking that I was very close to finally being able to finish painting the deck, put the stanchions back and, god willing, finally sail.
Wrong! The cockpit lockers housed a bunch of things that, once pulled out, had to be put somewhere in order to clean-wipe-paint. Now, Dove is small, the space is limited, so I had to put everything inside. And the dance started: move, move again, reassemble, rearrange. New dust. New mess. But I finally finished with the cockpit lockers (in four days) and I was able to transfer many things from inside to outside.
“Ah, now the light at the end of the tunnel really seems closer!” Wrong, again. Because at that point Pedro, a nice Fijian electrician who works on a nearby boat and who has been watching Dove’s progress for months, offered to help me out with the on-board electronics. So, off I was: remove the wooden bow seats, move the sails back to the stern, blow the dust away from the electrical circuits… the mess had started again! Pedro has not finished yet, so inside Dove, the mess reigns. A new mess, but still a mess. That’s okay, I learned that things evolve and that the only way to cope with these situations is to be patient and adapt to the new circumstances.
And never get discouraged.
4. Be persistent and open to changing techniques to achieve a goal.
When we do something for the first time, we proceed by attempts. When I started to work on the bow lockers, for example, I started cleaning them with water. Then, with water and vinegar. Then, I changed the type of sponge… all before realizing that I wasn’t getting the result I wanted (making them white again after twenty years of dust).
So, I started using sandpaper, but I was going too slowly, so I tried with a chisel. Bingo! Finally, I finished cleaning and I was able to paint. The two bow lockers took me ten days total. The stern bow lockers? Four days. By then, I had refined the technique!
Every day I observed the way my brain freely suggested new ways to achieve the goal I had set up, congratulating myself on the progress I was making! I learned that if we have a set destination, the first road we take might not always lead us where we want to go and that we must persevere until we reach the right path.
5. If you don’t enjoy the journey, the destination won’t taste as sweet.
Dove it’s still far away from being ready to sail, beautiful and safe. But it doesn’t matter, because this journey to make her fit is giving me great joy and satisfaction.
I know that every little step forward, every item crossed out from the to-do list, will make me enjoying being at sea even more.