Boating Adventures | "A Little Water Never Hurt Anyone" | Story and Photo by Vicki Totten

Drip. Drip. Drip...drip. This was the sound I woke up to - accompanied by a sudden experience of something wet on my pillow. As I slowly began to remember where I was, I began to track down the source of the wetness. I was sleeping on our sailboat in the quarter berth, which is right beside the companionway. On a boat, the companionway is the stairs leading out of the cabin and at the top of it is the door to the outside of the boat. The way our companionway doors work is that you have to first close the two saloon type doors before sliding the overhead portion shut. Apparently, however, this had not been shut tightly the night before, so the outside rain had joined me inside - on my bed.

The thing that continues to surprise me about discoveries such as this when I am on the boat, is just how little they bother me. Now my husband would tell you - but only if you pressed him - that if something bothers me, everyone is going to know about it. I say he wouldn't tell you unless pressed, because almost nothing bothers him - including the fact that I am always so vocal about those things that bother me. Maybe that's why our relationship has survived for 29 years - we just happen to fit together nicely that way. But based on my usual practice of being the one who normally would complain if she woke up in a wet bed and saw water dripping onto my bed, why didn't it bother me? To tell the truth, I'm not sure. But I think there is something about living on a boat that is helping me to become more tolerant of things not being exactly right. Maybe that's because if I didn't develop that tolerance, I wouldn't last very long living on a boat - even if we are just living part time on ours.

Don't get me wrong. I still adore boat living. I sleep better on the boat than anywhere else. I get excited every single time we pull into the harbor where our boat is docked, knowing that I'm about to be reunited with our boat Alegria - the name which translates to "state of joy." I am able to relax better on our boat than I can ever relax when I am in my house. But, boat life is not perfect. Especially if that boat happens to be a 30 year old one. Take this recent trip for example .

The plan was to be on the boat for a glorious week. I was so looking forward to having that expanse of time to sip my coffee out on the cockpit as the sun was rising, and to riding my bike down Water Street, the beach park and to breakfast. I was looking forward to hanging out at The Daily Grind and sitting in my favorite dark corner while I did some writing. And I was looking forward to finally getting to take the boat out sailing, since the past few times we had been on it, either the weather had not cooperated, or we had some issue with the boat that kept us docked.

Well, you can forget that thing I said earlier about me being more tolerant when I'm on the boat. We all have our limits. Apparently I reached mine on the second day of this particular trip on the boat. We knew that the holding tank was getting dangerously full and that it was the number one priority that we needed to deal with. We had made sure the bottom had been cleaned of the barnacles so we could stear the boat, but we hadn't planned for our boat to suddenly start sounding an alarm as soon as we started it up. Now, in the past, when an alarm sounded, that meant the engine was overheating - and we knew to immediately turn the engine off in order to avoid any potential damage due to overheating. So, after returning to dock to inspect the source of the problem, we abandoned plans to go to the pump out station, and instead spent the day trying to trace down the problem. Well, actually Stan spent the day that way - I spent the day trying to stay out of his way while offering him appropriate quantities of food, caffeine, and encouragement. But the whole ordeal ate up most of our day and created a great deal of stress.

To ramp the stress up even more, as the day had worn on, the wind had been steadily increasing. It was now at a level beyond our normal comfort zone for ease of getting docked and undocked at the pump out station. However, since Stan had traced the alarm problem enough to feel confident that it would be safe to go as far as the pump out station, and we knew we couldn't use the head for the rest of the week if we didn't get it pumped, we decided to turn the alarm off and motor over.

Now docking under ideal circumstances is not my favorite part of boat life. But, docking in high winds somehow causes the rational part of my brain to shut down and the anxious, unconfident, fearful part of my brain to click into high gear. Visions of ramming other boats or the dock had replaced ones that would have been more helpful - like for example, visions of safely docking and successfully emptying out the holding tank. It also didn't help that my dear husband - knowing that I lacked confidence in this area - then decided that the best way to assist me would be to narrate every single detail of what I should be doing - as I was in the middle of attempting to do it. So, as I was getting my lines ready to throw over the piling at the pump out station, my unhelpful visions of a collision, combined with his narration, just served to underscore my belief in that moment that I didn't know what I was doing. This then fueled such thoughts as "I wonder how much we could sell the boat for?" and "what in the world made me think I could become a sailor at my age?"

Amazingly, however, we were successful anyway. I managed to throw and tie the lines just as we needed them. No boats were harmed in the process. The holding tank was pumped and cleaned. And, we safely made our way back to our dock without damaging the engine or one another. So, here's the thing I have learned about boat life. It's not that different than life off the boat.

As a former teacher of adult students, one of the most freeing moments in my teaching occurred when I realized that it was ok for me to not know the answer to a student's question. Being able to respond without embarrassment that I didn't know the answer, instead of feeling as though I had failed them, was a great reminder that not only did I not know all the answers, but, just like them, I was still learning. This discovery freed me up to enjoy teaching in a way I hadn't before that point.

So while I haven't learned everything I need to know about boats, if I can remember what I learned as a teacher and be ok with what I do know, I may have a chance at continuing to enjoy the discovery - since I'm pretty sure learning about boats will be a lifetime endeavor. If I can remember to respond to those every day challenges - whether it is water dripping on my bed - or an alarm going off when we turn the engine on - with an attitude of acceptance and curiosity rather than fear and frustration - then I am much more likely to appreciate that joy of discovery. And by continuing to stretch myself beyond my comfort zone, I am pretty sure I will also stand a chance of enjoying and appreciating this incredible journey we are on at the moment. It still helps, however, to remember to shut the companionway door securely before retiring at night.
Vicki and husband, ceramic artist Stan Irvin, are both retired professors who have discovered the joys of Rockport and living part-time on their 33' sailboat and are still working up the nerve to venture further out into the Gulf.

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