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Fatty and Dave say it with flags
Fatty and Dave say it with flags

Sanuk and Other Great Concepts

“I’m not sure I get it,” said Dave Lovik, an old sailing friend who was cruising Thailand with us. He scratched his head and stroked his long white beard. “It’s like fun?”

“Yeah,” I said, “except that the concept of sanuk is also much more than that. It’s like joy—but the joy which is within every act, if we look hard enough.”

Dave looked skeptical. He’s a sailor’s sailor, not an eastern philosopher. So he did what he always does when puzzled—he turned the conversation back to something he understood, like sailing.

“What’s the key to circumnavigating-as-lifestyle?” he asked me. “How do you and Carolyn manage to keep it fresh decade after decade?”

“… you mean, besides inviting wonderful guests like you aboard?”

He smiled. “You’re not getting older, Fatty, you’re getting smoother!”

“I always flatter,” I admitted. “Ninety-nine percent of folks won’t realize you’re doing it, and the other one percent will appreciate it.”

It was a grey, rainy morning in Phang Nga Bay. We were having ‘second breakfast’ in the cockpit of our 43-foot ketch Ganesh, while deciding if we should get underway or just devote the remainder of the lazy day to napping and reading. We didn’t need to make any sea miles. We were already in paradise. And, hey, our damp anchorage was visually spectacular and extremely verdant. This part of Southeast Asia is like cruising Jurassic Park.

Monkeys chattered ashore. Fish hawks wheeled overhead. Longtails flitted by. Just inland was a gushing, roaring waterfall.

Our two weeks together were winding down—only three days of coastal cruising left.

Just then Carolyn came on deck, wearing an unfamiliar frown. “I’ve got good and bad news,” she said, “We may have to cut things short.”

“Let’s hear the bad first,” I said.

“Our forward bilge is full of water,” she said, hesitated, then added, “but the good news is that it’s fresh.”

“Well,” I said, trying to put a good spin on it, “a leaky water tank is better than a hole in the hull.”

“True,” she said, “but that means we’re out of fresh water for drinking. We’ve still got 40 gallons of semi-fresh water from our deck collection system—but that tastes of anchor mud and deck slime.”

I sighed. It is always something. A captain’s job is never done. Boats require maintenance, 24/7. I’d replaced three of our four water tanks last year in New Zealand—but cheaped-out on replacing the fourth. Damn! That frugal decision was coming back to haunt me. We’d have to return to Babylon (Phuket) to fill our fresh water tanks.

“Okay,” I said to Carolyn, “please stow the galley dishes. Dave and I will get the anchor up …”

“Let’s wait,” Carolyn said, nodding astern of us at the dark clouds, “at least until this weather passes.”

It was yet another monsoonal squall. June is rainy season in Thailand—or, at least it was this year. Within minutes, Ganesh was surging on her anchor rode, while the sky opened up in tropical deluge.

While waiting, I was ruminating about being captain, and the concept of sanuk, and Dave’s thoughtful final question—the one about circumnavigating-as-lifestyle.

And, for good measure, what being a captain was about—
really about? To command? To inspire? To lead by example?

Or to just play the fool in an agreeable manner?

Suddenly I realized the squall was lasting far longer than anticipated. “String theory!” I shouted aloud, “String Theory!”

Carolyn groaned.

Dave looked bewildered and said, “What does physics have to do with anything?”

I immediately threw on my foul weather jacket, grabbed a handful of small sport’s towels, some kite string—and dashed out on deck.

Dave and Carolyn remained at the galley table below—totally puzzled by this sudden burst of activity and obvious enthusiasm.

It was still raining hard, but it was a warm, equatorial rain.

I draped various strings from our Bimini top down to our deck, attempting to place the strings in the major path-flows of rainwater. Next, I put small buckets, jugs, and empty plastic water bottles at the end of the strings.

Our cockpit Bimini top is clean and fresh, unlike our mud-smeared decks.

The rainwater, being cohesive and having considerable surface tension, followed the strings into the buckets. Sure, lots of the water was lost, but lots of it was captured, too. And the price and availability was right.

Yes, physical effort was required—but this is true of everything worthwhile in life.

There was a lot of water flowing off the dodger as well. “Funnel, please,” I shouted down to Carolyn. “And Dave, bring up some water glasses.”

They came up—reluctantly at first. They didn’t want to get wet. They had social inertia.They still had half-full coffee cups. They still weren’t fully awake. But the rain was warm and my little-boy enthusiasm infectious.

“Dave,” I shouted gleefully, “hold a glass under the corner of that solar cell—GREAT!”

Each time his water glass would fill, Dave would empty it into a bucket.

“I’ve already collected almost half a gallon,” I said, “So coffee-water at breakfast tomorrow is already assured.”

At first both Dave and Carolyn looked a little put-upon. But the little-kid inside them soon came out as well—everyone enjoys playing watersports games or jumping in mud puddles. And, if there’s a good reason, so much the better.

“Carolyn, put the funnel in that big yellow Jerry can,” I shouted to her, “and I’ll arrange the towels so that most of the waterfall is diverted there!”

“I’ll get more towels,” Carolyn said, a smile appearing at the corners of her sweet mouth. “I think we’ve already trapped over a gallon…”

“… more string, if you have it,” called out Dave.

We were all soaked at this point—but intent on our fill-the-buckets game.

Carolyn lined the deck with various pots and pans—with all three of us regularly emptying them into our larger jugs as required. At one point, Dave had a water glass filling in each hand and was diverting another stream of rainwater into a jug with his leg.

“… you’re a natural!” I shouted at him.

He grinned back.

Carolyn said, “If only Ganesh was heeled a bit more to port…”

Quick as a wink, I pulled the dinghy alongside, clapped on a halyard, and hoisted it midway up the topsides.

Since there was considerable water in it, Ganesh heeled sharply to port.

“Perfect,” cried out Carolyn happily, “I’m losing very little of the stream now.”

“Later, we can take turns bathing in the freshwater of the dinghy—waste not, want not!” I said.

I grabbed the bitter end of some pre-rinsed halyards, uncoiled them, and used them to redirect even more water flow into our numerous catchment devices.

Still there were erratic streams of water sheeting off the Bimini we were missing.

“I gotta idea,” said Dave. “Do we have something like a dustbin?”

Carolyn did, and, while Dave lashed it to a stainless steel supporting tube, I duct-taped on a plastic trough to transport the water even more laterally.

We were all deeply into it now—each of us furiously thinking how to capture the precious drops. It was fun. Not only were we catching water, we were using our brains. We were winning. And competing with each other. And cooperating, too.

Our faces were alight with celestial glow, despite the raindrops dripping off our noses.

“We’ve got eight crystal-clear gallons of pure rainwater already,” Carolyn sang out. “This is plenty for drinking-only purposes.”

“Let’s go for two more,” Dave said, unwilling to quit now that his catchment systems were reaching perfection, “and claim an even ten gallons.”

“There’s certainly no need to return to Phuket now,” I noted while dragging another full jug to port so the boat heeled even more. “And we’re no longer victims, either.”

“Victims?” Carolyn asked.

“Yeah,” I said, “losing the fresh water out of that fourth tank kinda bummed me. For a moment there, I felt … like … victimized by fate. As if the gods were angry. And I don’t like that feeling. I’m a vicTOR, not a vicTIM—right Carolyn?”

“Right,” she said to Dave Lovik with a grin. “Fatty’s always saying, ‘the secret is to get off your ass!’”

“It is,” I said.“And, besides, I wanted to answer Dave’s question—to show him sanuk in action, rather than explain it as a concept.”

“I gotta admit,” Carolyn said ruefully, “when you first clumsily arranged for us to come on deck Fatty, I promised myself I wouldn’t fall for it. You were a bit too obvious—at least to me. But, hey, once we started collecting the water, I forgot all about my initial reluctance. I, too, was swept up—despite myself.”

“Tom Sawyer’s fence,” I said in simple explanation, as the rain lightened. “Mark Twain might not have called it sanuk—but he certainly understood the concept.”

“And that’s how we do it,” Carolyn said to Dave, smoothly switching gears into the circumnavigating question. “We take turns finding the sanuk, the joy of sailing. We turn cruising into a game—especially the less-fun aspects of circumnavigating.”

“And everyone loves to play games,” I agreed. “Well … everyone who hasn’t killed off his inner child. Besides, this is our job as well.”

Dave Lovik looked totally mystified now. “Job?”

“Yeah,” I said, hanging my foul weather jacket on the cockpit steering pedestal. “I’ve got to put food on the galley table somehow. So I’ll write up this little sanuk episode as simply and clearly as possible—and see if I can hustle it to one of the sailing mags. Hopefully, the yin and yang will balance out. We’ll get the sanuk of the water collecting, the sanuk of the creative writing, and the sanuk of cashing our salt-stained paycheck.”

Dave didn’t say anything for awhile, just chewed his lip and stared off at the horizon. “And you planned all this?”

“Not at all,” I admitted. “Before I went cruising, I was too busy grubbing for a living to have a career—or to even think straight, for that matter.”

“Or to find the sanuk,” Carolyn chimed in.

Dave grinned.

“Now you’re getting it,” I said.

Editor’s note: Carolyn and Fatty continue to enjoy a summer of guests in the Land of Smiles.

Cap’n Fatty Goodlander is the author of Chasing the Horizon and numerous other marine books. His latest, Creative Anchoring, is out now. Visit: fattygoodlander.com

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