It’s no surprise to me that so many sailors are also writers, nor that the best of these often live out secluded lives. Not a few classics in the genre include passages about the glorious solitude of sailing singlehanded over great distances, of living alone in a small cabin with only an oil lamp, a molding library, and a notepad for company. For us who have never crossed an ocean, but want to, have yet to single-hand, but quietly carry big plans, have barely started books, but dream of finishing them, these sea stories carry a fair weight, amplified of course by certain moods. I find inspiration even in the ones that are a mere guilty pleasures, tall tales written by authors we know not to have done quite what their stories tell us. Facts aside, one thing that these stories show clearly, unassailably, is the power of a sailboat as a mental space, a place to think and to write.
For most of us writing requires solitude, or at least an illusion of it. Words fall into order more easily in a calm, quiet place with time and space to think uninterrupted. And sailboats, especially those that are never raced, aspire to be just such an environment. When I was living on my boat, before the trip, my favorite part of the day was waking up to make coffee and sip it alone at my tiny table. I loved being ensconced in a space completely my own, hearing only the sounds of the lake: wavelets, wind, the shake and slap of halyards and poorly-furled sails. It was the best place I’ve ever found for writing, and even when I was sailing it, living with three others in twenty-eight feet of space I still often felt that same productive solitude.
A half-finished house is quite a different beast. From May of last year clear through November I was living almost all the time in small sailboats, and was writing regularly. Now I’ve returned to New Orleans and I’m renovating a house with my parents. From the quiet comfort of a boat I’ve come to live in a space clouded with dust, jumbled with construction debris, and ringing with work at a frenetic pace which comes far more naturally to them than it does me. On ‘good’ days I’m up at seven with the sound of the tile saw and, unless I escape on some pretext, working until we wind down with the dwindling light. On bad days I’m at home, picking up books and as quickly setting them down, or staring for hours at a few words on a computer screen, fretting about my lack of productivity while my parents work tirelessly on the house.
Mardi Gras was a welcome break. For a week the whole city pauses, drops any pretense at work and boils with an ecstatic and stunningly creative sense of play. It’s a sight to behold. Then comes the end of Carnival, Ash Wednesday arriving with the plodding, lenten pace of the policemen tasked with clearing Bourbon street at midnight on Fat Tuesday. With or without religion, lent in New Orleans is a time of moderation and focus. It always comes too soon for the tourists but for many of us who live here it’s just on time, and it’s a time for fresh starts.
For me Mardi Gras was also a return to boats. After being sucked so completely into projects on land, this celebration finally got me back out on the water for the first time in months. I had a lovely sail one morning on good old Margaret and I got to attend maybe my favorite parade of the season, the Loupe Garou Boat Parade in City Park. This year was the best we’ve had, with maybe twenty boats swirling down the bayou, bumping to the Balkan brass music of the Slow Danger Brass Band who were riding on the homemade ‘band boat’ and distributed throughout the parade in canoes. It was a perfect day, and a great return to this activity I love.
This article was syndicated from Safe At Harbour But Meant For The Sea: DIY Sailing with Paul Calder