I first saw Solitaire in July of 1995, when an acquaintance from work asked me if I knew anyone who could hotwire a car. I found it odd that she would ask me, as I was a manager of an Account Reconcilement unit for a bank... What was it about my personna that led her to believe that I associated with such derelict types (nevermind that it was true!)?
Well, I consulted my Li'l Black Book of ex-boyfriends to determine who was on parole at the time (okay okay, I'm kidding already!!). Actually, I did have one good friend with a checkered past who was willing to oblige so we drove up to St. Francis Yacht Harbor and tried to give her a hand with starting the engines... Sherry had ripped up the floor of the boat, revealing twin Ford 302's glistening with some indescribable blackish ooze that can only be found in the bilge of a 20+ year old boat...
The batteries, as it turned out, were dead so we availed ourselves of the Deep Cycle Marine battery I had brought along "just in case." Sherry and I peered down into the mire as Michael wriggled back and forth between the engine compartment and the galley, tweaking wires and swearing under his breath all the while...
After about half an hour of this, Michael managed to get the engines to groan...crank...BANG!!! "OH F**K!!"... a puff of white smoke and that smell... That electrical meltdown smell...
Michael was shaking his hand out, apparently having received a bit of a jolt from the experience and I couldn't help but notice that the battery terminals had melted. At that point, he declared that this was a job beyond *his* scope of expertise (trust me when I say that Michael NEVER admits defeat!!!). Sherry shook her head, shrugged her shoulders and then went on to extoll the virtues of boat living... I looked around the little boat, with boxes piled up everywhere, clothes hanging in the galley, "Stuff" overflowing everywhere I looked and shuddered "How could ANYBODY live like this?!!"
But then Sherry expertly put everything away... It looked a little like assembling one of those puzzle cubes... Miraculously, everything seemed to have a proper place. And once everything was put away, I began to appreciate the openness of this sweet little boat... The big picture windows in the back... The seagulls circling overhead... The gentle rocking of the boat as the tide rolled in... The sun beginning to set past the Golden Gate... A truly idyllic day...
Then, as Sherry passed out the KFC, she happened to mention that she was thinking of moving... She had her eye on a larger boat and did I happen to know anyone who might be interested in buying this one?
I found myself thinking wistfully... But only for a moment... I shook myself back into reality and reminded myself that *I* was the only person I knew who couldn't close the door to her Walk-In closet. "Get REAL!!"
Michael's mom was a good friend of mine, and had often mentioned her dream of someday living on a boat, so I began a valiant, but fruitless effort to try to get Mike's mom to meet Sherry and strike a deal... Alas, it just wasn't meant to be...
A month or two went by and Sherry, eternally optimistic, had just negotiated the purchase of a newer, larger boat. Not the one she had originally wanted, but she was eagerly making plans to move aboard... Then the boat she originally wanted became available so she bought that one too! She was now the proud owner of three boats (and the not-so-happy renter of three slips) and was QUITE eager to sell...
I think I was struck with some form of temporary insanity because somehow or other (and I SWEAR I don't know how) I ended up striking up a conversation that went along the lines of:
"Well, hypothetically speaking, *if* I were interested in buying the boat - and I'm NOT saying I am - what is your asking price?"
She told me.
I told her I didn't have that much.
She said "How much have you got?"
I told her.
She said "Perfect!"
I then began the process of agonizing over my decision. In the end, I just couldn't find a compelling argument AGAINST buying the boat, justifying my decision with the realization that I really didn't have anything to lose... If, after a couple of months, I decided that I really didn't like it, I could move back to land and sell the boat for what I'd paid for her. Most likely, I would be ahead of the game financially since the slip fees were FAR less than I was paying in rent. I think the final convincing argument was something akin to a midlife crisis (albeit a premature midlife crisis, but I digress...) "What if I passed up this opportunity then spent the REST OF MY LIFE wondering if it was the right thing to do?!!"
I acquired Solitaire in February 1996 and began spending weekends on her to acclimate myself and the dogs to the whole idea. The decision to purchase her had been agonizing and I was still afraid I had gotten in over my head. But the weekends on her were soooo soothing. It felt totally escapist and decadent and I found it easy to hide out on her... Even to the point where I allowed myself to fall shamefully behind on my packing schedule.
I allowed myself 2 months to make the transition, thinking that would give me ample time to sift through my belongings and set up my storage locker in a neat and orderly fashion - HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. God I kill me!!! Naturally, the last two weeks were stress-filled as I hurriedly packed away 32 years' worth of accumulated crap. Moving time is always a test of true friendship and I am happy to say that I consider myself very very fortunate in that regard... Even to the point where one pal actually hung around long enough to help with the scrubbing and carpet shampooing and all the grungy stuff that NOBODY likes to do...!
I had originally opted to store all of my "stuff" since I wasn't entirely convinced that living on a boat was something I could *do.* I figured I'd better hold onto everything in case I ended up moving back to land. Two years later, at roughly \\$150/month, I can't say that I am completely comfortable with my decision to store everything. But the fact is, I really do have a lot of nice stuff (italian leather sofas, marble tables, lots of artwork, sculptures and such) and, even though I can't readily avail myself of it, I can't bear to part with it. I'm thinking of buying a cabin someday, just so I'll have a place to store it all!!
I feel compelled to share a couple of interesting observations, however:
First, I spent a great deal of time and money amassing much of (what I considered to be) the finer things in life. I had a nice, Yupscale apartment and all the accoutrements of success (except, instead of a BMW in the garage, I had a cheap two-seat Pervertible in the carport!). Yet, I never really felt "at peace" with myself until I, essentially, gave it all up and moved onto the boat. Part of it, I think, comes from that quasi-Zen Eastern-Philosophy, New Agey Mumbo-Jumbo way of thinking (I can belittle it now that I subscribe to a lot of it!) But much of it was also driven by the fact that I had to work my ass off just to make ends meet and my life was a constant pressure-cooker. There is something liberating about knowing that I don't *have* to stay in the fast track in order to survive... And of course, all I have to do is watch one sunset from the salon, or spend the afternoon feeding the ducks and seagulls through the back window to remind myself of just how lucky I am...
The second observation has to do with thinking "Gee, I'd sure like to re-read [insert name of book here], or watch [whatever videotape]" followed by visualization of my storage locker... Followed by "Ah screw it... I'll just go buy a new one!!"
Just food for thought :-)
For a frighteningly accurate depiction of what it's like to move from Land to Sea, you really *must* read Shellie Taylor's LiveaboardMagazine - Pincoyan Journals. I really can't express it any better than she can.
One of the first things I noticed about boats is that you really don't have a lot of "normal" storage - Not that I was ever exceedingly organized to begin with, but it's hard to get a sense of "This belongs HERE." Shellie captured it brilliantly:
"I have empty lockers. Behind settees, under berths. I'm afraid to put anything in them, because I'll forget it's there, and if I need it I won't be able to find it, and if I don't need it, it will breed in the dark and make six more just like it, and there will be a thousand pounds of junk in hidey-holes that I'll never get to. I've developed a phobia against hidden junk; I'm discovering whole truck loads of it as I weed through stuff I can't imagine why I ever wanted, and as I weed through stuff my boat's former owner deemed precious enough to store forever. I don't want to store anything forever. I don't want to store anything at all; I want to strip life to its essentials so there are fewer things to own me and claim my time and my energy and space in my head and in my lockers. Things are a trap; they'll eat me alive if I let them"
So the first order of business was, of course, to figure out "where things go." That took several months (and is still a Work in Progress)... Tools live under the aft bench, heavier power tools under the salon floor... The blender lives under the galley bench, along with my food-processor and serving dishes. My non-functional oven has become an extension of my midget pantry... The list goes on and on... The interesting thing is, I've discovered a whole new way of looking at things - prioritizing by need. And I have finally accepted the fact that for every one thing I want, I will need to move six things to get to it...
And I have become positively anal about putting things away (Mom would be so proud!!)... It really doesn't take much to turn the entire boat into a disaster area. The good news is, when it is at it's worst, it only takes about 15 minutes to clean up!
The next order of business was to start on the "fru-fru decorating" stuff. Beginning with - Ach! - these kitchen cabinets have GOT to go! Within a week of taking custody of the boat, I had ripped one of the cabinet doors off - only to discover that woodworking was NOT one of my natural talents... Two years later, I still have a gaping hole under my sink!
Only somewhat daunted, I decided I'd better start out with something I knew I *could* do... I painted the salon. Followed by a fanatical attempt at removing all traces of orange from the boat's decor... Did I mention that Solitaire looked like a "Love Pad" circa 1968? The bench cushions were ORANGE... The shag carpet, ORANGE... The trim paint on the exterior, ORANGE... At one point, I decided to pull out the grey industrial carpeting that covered the walls of the berth. Know what I found underneath? FUR!!! And guess what color it was?!! Yep... BRIGHT ORANGE!!!
Much as I hate to admit it, there are still traces of orange left on the boat. The support beams in the berth have orange shag carpet GLUED to them. But, for the most part, I have replaced almost all of the orange with teal. I *have* decided to stick with the Latent-Hippy Retro theme in decorating, though... Complete with lava lamp and "Love Beads" strung across the opening to the galley...
So, I did it!. Everyone in my family thought I was nuts... Of course, they thought that *before* I bought the boat. Moving aboard just kind of confirmed it. I think that Boat Folks just march to the beat of a different drummer. I am a student of Human Nature, and thought I could identify some common thread amongst Boat Dwellers when I first moved here. Aside from the obvious love of boating, and perhaps a bit of a masochistic streak, I still haven't really figured it out since there is quite a diversity of people out here... Singles... couples... gay... straight... white... black... asian... people in their 20's... people approaching retirement age... You name it, we got it : ) Some have no life beyond the dock gates (doing odd jobs for cash around the marina) and others, lead a normal 9-5 existence (or 8-6, with the occasional telecommute day, like me).
Ironically, I think one of the things that bonds us is our sense of "community" when I bet that outwardly, most of us would like to think that we don't care to deal within the rules of "standard" human culture (not sure quite how to articulate what I am saying here... It's like we all want to be apart from Society, yet we create our own society in the process???)...
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