Gott nytt år, as they say here in the north of Sweden. A time to reflect…
In 2006 I cut my ties with what passes as normal in today’s world. I sold everything I owned and raised my middle finger to the managers in my work place; they couldn’t believe their luck to finally remove another irritant from the workforce. Phase two in this descent into madness consisted of buying and living on a boat, trusting everything to fate and leaping over the metaphorical cliff into the abyss – and what a deep hole it was; I didn’t stop falling until two years later, and some would say that I’ve yet to hit the bottom. Who knows? I certainly don’t. What I do know is that this Saga consists of more life in eleven years than in most of my previous existence.
Many folk have a highly romantic vision of the life of a single-handed, live-aboard sailor. To be fair it does have a highly enchanting component, but a great deal of it is tough, unrelenting and downright dangerous; the sea is a savage mistress for her minions. There are very few sailors who really understand this, as most have homes and use their vessels for recreational periods in summer and the occasional jaunt in early spring and late autumn. From my experience I would estimate that the majority sail the counter in their club’s bar and talk sea miles. I don’t claim to be the world’ greatest sailor but I have had a lot of water under my keel these past ten years. There can never be a substitute for experience and no amount of crewing with others or collecting certificates from sailing schools can alter this. A single-handed sailor is just that – alone.
Up here in Scandinavia, there is no option to live afloat in winter unless you have a highly expensive, well insulated craft and a huge amount of money for fuel. I have experienced three savage winters in Amsterdam and England where I lived aboard for the whole winter in 2010, 2011 and 2012. The temperatures dropped to minus twelve and although it was a grim battle to stay warm, it did finally end; however, up here in Northern Sweden temperatures often drop as low as minus 35°. This is a completely different scenario, not only for physical discomfort, but the solitude in a culture that hibernates around its family hearths leaving very little social life outside of the main festivals. It is a time requiring true mental toughness and stability. Poor old Free is just not up to the task, despite her strength and resilience in rough weather and reliable, faithful seaworthiness.
My experience these past eleven years has been that a live-aboard sailor’s life consists of two voyages: External – the one revealed to the interested party – and an internal version deep into the realm of the psyche, almost impossible to share unless your reader has been there. Sometimes a meeting of two experienced solo-saiIors involves periods of contented silence over a few beers. No words are needed.
I have had conversations with those who want to live this life, and have tended to avoid this part because one’s adult development into a worthy human being depends on the ability to take full responsibility for life, which in these days of ‘health and safety’, litigation and freeloading off the state, seem to be almost non-existent. One may as well be speaking in another language.
To conclude, if one has the strength of character to exist on the periphery of modern ‘society’ and become highly integrated on an elemental level, then the life of a live-aboard sailor is worthwhile and highly satisfying. On reflection I feel so fortunate and privileged to have weathered the physical and psychological storms of this life. I would not have swapped it for the world of comfort and illusory security, even during the worst moments. I have witness so much procrastination and quiet, polite despair in this modern world; folk drowning in self-delusion.
When my time comes, whether on my deathbed or out there in the ‘Big blue’, I will know that I have lived life to the full as a viking would have.
How many can say that?