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Madness of Modern Civilization vs. the Joy of Offshore

Cap’n Fatty working in the aft cabin of Ganesh, his Wauquiez 43
Cap’n Fatty working in the aft cabin of Ganesh, his Wauquiez 43

A note from Fatty: I wrote this one year ago, just after returning from my second circumnavigation. I did not publish it. I found it too shrill, too truthful. Yes, circumnavigating is a dangerous addiction. Returning addles you. It is easier to start than stop. But I’ve decided to release this column because it perfectly illustrates the confused state of mind of a contented sailor rejoining the dreaded rat race. Read on:  

It is impossible to convey how crazy today’s America is to its land-lubbing, dirt-dwelling, rock-riding shore inhabitants—only offshore sailors seem to be able to accurately gauge its madness.

We recently wrapped up our second circumnavigation—and are frantically preparing for our third—before the hooks of consumerism bury too deep. This means that, despite our better judgment, we’ve had to mingle with the Common Folk Ashore—people whose genetic pre-disposition towards sea sickness have condemned them to a life of misery among the worms, bugs, and snakes. (The worst pests, of course, are the politicians.)

We had a wonderful 26-day passage westward from the Canaries—and then, suddenly, we were in the very Belly of the Beast.

From every angle, we were bombarded with commercials. Our heads were filled with dancing dollar signs. We’d been perfectly happy without a lot of plastic crap cluttering our lives—and we are now learning that, in reality, we simply couldn’t live without all that chintzy Chinese stuff from Kmart, Walmart, and Home Depot.

If that wasn’t bad enough—fear was shouted from every roof top. We were going to lose our precious cyber identity by innocently mistyping a password, Google was going to report what type of perversions we preferred and, hence, the Christian Right (or Liberal Left) was going to burn us at the stake.

… which might not be so bad because of all the new, trendy diseases. True, we’d never heard of them before—but we need to be immediately protected from them nonetheless. One day some doctors (who were completely independent yet funded by a drug company) would announce a horrible new disease which millions were dying from or going to die from soon … and the following day—lucky break!—that same drug company would announce the cure!

… well, not a cure, really—but if you took it for the rest of your life, well, you’d have one … a life, I mean.

Nobody seems smart enough to say, “Actually, I feel fine. And I’d prefer not to be a life-long drug addict. So, thanks-but-no-thanks.”

Alas, even the marine community isn’t immune from this fear-mongering. Many Western offshore sailors are petrified by the Somali pirates—who are half-the-world away. Hence, they huddle together in convoys and shake in fear as a local person of color rows by.

… how crazy is that? To sail a third of the way around the world to visit Vanuatu—and then scowl when a Vanuatuan rows by!

I was born in Chicago. I laugh when I meet up with boats from major American cities while circumnavigating—who have a ‘no locals aboard’ policy. We on Wild Card almost have exactly the opposite concept—no Westerners aboard!

Yes, people from New Jersey scare me.

The whole reason we sail to Borneo, Madagascar, and Africa is to meet the people—not avoid them. No, we don’t travel in packs of self-reinforcing paranoia. No, we don’t spend all our time comparing weapons, cleaning our guns, or checking our cockpit grenades. (We cruised with one boat with a milk-crate full of NATO grenades in the cockpit. “You never know,” said its skipper—as if that explained everything.)

It is so easy to fall into this ‘Them-and-Us’ fear trap. We know two lovely people, Chris and Des, who are almost peace-niks in normal life—who were ordered by their ‘buddy boat’ leader to make a batch of Molotov Cocktails for their Indian Ocean passage, and actually did! (They now are full of guilt and remorse but at the time, they felt they had to be ready to kill … to survive recreational boating!)

Insurance is another issue. You have to have it, of course. No, you shouldn’t spend money on your anchors and ground tackle … put it into insurance instead so that, when you drag, you can recoup some of your investment.

I find it amazing that so many of my shore friends are betting (via their insurance payments) that they will be sick, ripped off, and/or have an accident. In fact, many of them have paid so much money into the system for so long—that it is almost a relief when they get cancer and are able to recoup some of their losses.

The craziest part is how inconvenient ‘having all the conveniences’ really is.

I don’t have a car not because of the expense it entails—but because it makes me less free, not more free.

And my personal freedom is something I cherish highly—something which can’t be purchased but must be earned—something which is central to my life.

Or, to put it another way, personal freedom is my core value.

Marinas often take forever to check you in and out—and quiz you rudely upon entrance and exit by foot as well. Shipyards used to primarily charge you to haul … now that’s just one of the ‘menu’ of choices offered: do you want your boat to stand upright or fall over? If you don’t want it to fall over then fork of some more cash, sucker! One airline is exploring the concept of in-flight pay toilets. (Revolt … Pee in your seat, squat in the aisle, puke in the magazine pouch)!

No, that office full of people isn’t to provide you with the corporate services promised but rather to invent new ‘profit centers’ such as, well, billing fees.

“Why should we bill you for free?” asks the modern business manager. “Billing is a service, and so the customer should pay.”

Even worse is the two-tier system emerging: one for the highly-sought-after one percenters, and the other for the less desirable second class citizens.

I can remember when citizenship in many countries wasn’t based on income—but that was a long, long time ago!

I blame the airlines for this—they are constantly telling me I can’t have the level of service I deserve unless I pay them an additional ‘Golden Rube’ bribe as well. And, like the mobile phone companies, they attempt to muddy the waters with such nonsense as ‘frequent flier miles’ and ‘minutes’ instead of the truth.

Okay.

End of my back-rubbing-shoulders-with-the-dirt-dwellers rant.

The Good News is that all of this silliness is ashore. We sailors can escape at will. Freedom is only a few miles away in the heart of Mother Ocean. The wind is, as yet, nontaxable. We only need be corporate lackeys if we choose to be. There are alternatives.

… like circumnavigating.

It is easy and it is cheap.

Here’s all the technical info you need to know:

  • in the tropics, the wind generally blows to the west.
  • If you shove your boat away from the dock or lift up its anchor, its bow will turn away from the wind—and it will broad-reach away.

It’s that simple. Yes, you can make it more complicated, and many people do. But there’s no need to. There’s nothing you need aboard in 2012 that Josh Slocum didn’t have in the late 1800s.

You can buy a used GPS for less than $20, and numerous people will give you charts for free. What else do you need? An electric bilge pump? Fine! Toss in another $50 or so.

The trick is to shove off—to chop the umbilical cord to all this shore madness.

To wake up. To tune in. To live! Once you are at sea, you will sober up from all this consumerism. The scales will fall away from your eyes. You’ll realize you don’t have to work to pay for a car (and other deteriorating stuff) to get you to work—that it is all a vicious cycle, a sucker’s bet for none-too-bright herd animals.

No yachtsman has ever starved to death while sailing around the world. I live like a king on about one-third of what it costs me to be a stressed lower class American.

We hold the future in our own hands. We have choices. We can empower ourselves. We can seize control. We can choose a completely different, completely fresh route. We don’t have to follow the herd. There is nothing that you really have to do. You are in charge of your life—you and only you.

Why be your own jailer?

Why slip the velvet handcuffs of society onto yourself?

Why not just say “No!”

Why not just refuse to be pigeon-holed by your consumer choices, to be labeled by what watch you wear, the car you drive, which computer you boot.

Aren’t you going to hate yourself when the Grim Reaper arrives—and you haven’t yet truly lived?

Do you really believe you have ‘to spend more time’ at the office? Are you that indoctrinated? Docile? Lulled?

For some of us, the ocean calls. If you hear that call, I hope you respond with all deliberate speed. A sailor ashore is a fish out of water—and a fish out of water soon dies.

I reach lustily for freedom—and the last place it can be found is just over the horizon, just beyond our watery reach.

Life isn’t a destination, it is journey. Why not begin yours today? Why not Chase the Horizon forever onward? Why not fully live while you’re completely alive?

Cap’n Fatty Goodlander has lived aboard for 52 of his 60 years, and has circumnavigated twice. He is the author of Chasing the Horizon and numerous other marine books. His latest, Buy, Outfit, and Sail is out now. Visit: fattygoodlander.com

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