What Do You Do All Day?

5 May

This is one of the most common questions I get from land folks.  It is usually accompanied by a wide-eyed look and a shake of the head, as though we wake up every morning in our floating prison cell, wondering how to fill the dark and heavy hours until lights-out.

Never.  Erik and I wake up every day, roll over, say good morning, and wonder, “What is going to break today?”  There are few things you can count on in this world, my friends, but I can promise you this: on a boat, there is always something advancing along the ‘breaking’ continuum.  And usually more than one thing.  Owning a boat is much like what I imagine being an assistant for a very demanding and unstable celebrity must be like.  You fulfill strange and unreasonable requests at all hours of the day and night, working yourself to exhaustion trying to please someone who will never, ever be satisfied.  But, sometimes, you get to do something incredibly cool and amazing as a result of working for this crazy person, and it all becomes worthwhile.  So you stay, living for those moments.  And the rest of the time you live head down in the bilge, dreaming.

In short, filling the hours is rarely an issue.


Fixing something?  Nah, I just felt like climbing the mast.

Over time, I have come to realize that people are really asking me, “How do you fill your time without a tight and action-packed pre-determined schedule?”  Because if there is one area where the first world shines, it is in scheduling.  School, work, appointments, soccer, gymnastics, piano lessons, dinner with the in-laws: all of these things are keyed into your Blackberry/iPhone/cranial implant on a minute-by-minute basis to ensure you maximize your quality-of-life output.  Or something like that.

Rather than living in the future like that (“Great, Sherry; we’ll see you for dinner at 8pm, seven weeks from Saturday,”) we live almost solely in the present.  When the water pump breaks, that becomes Erik’s job for the morning.  When we hear about a festival in town, that takes care of our afternoon.  Friends from another boat just sailed into port?  Invite them over for dinner.

Oh, sure, when it is time to see a dentist, we’ll find one and make an appointment, but, for the most part, planning doesn’t work very well.  When we consider sailing on, we wait for the wind and weather to be right.  Sometimes, we wait for weeks.  That stopped stressing me out years ago.  I now enjoy the peace of sipping my morning Darjeeling, and wondering what the day will hold.  I enjoy being wrong about what the day will hold.  Surprises are good things.

“Fine,” you say.  “Good for you and your zen-like state, Amy.  But what do you guys do?

Our main fixed task for the day is school.  When breakfast is done, Erik heads off to fix whatever he is fixing that day, and the girls and I break out the school books.  Except when we don’t.  If something great comes along first thing in the morning, we will delay (read: skip) school.  Since we don’t take weekends or summer holidays, it all works out in the end.  But on a regular morning, we do some combination of math, history, reading, science, music, etc. until lunch.

Preparing to separate out pigments from plants we found in Tonga.

The afternoon is when “let’s see what is happening today,” comes into its own.  Stylish and Indy may call a friend on the VHF, and arrange to play aboard or ashore.  They often delve into the recycling to make crafts.  They dress up.  They invent elaborate games and make-believe worlds.  Stylish writes books – sometimes on paper, sometimes written in Sharpie on a scrap piece of blueboard, the words wrapped around a 3-D model from the story.  Indy swings on the halyards, often in her ballet gear.  They swim.  They snorkel.  They snack.  They set up restaurants on deck, selling to us and each other.  They help Erik and me with our jobs, both the fun and the icky.  They run around inventing and exploring until it is time for bed.


How high can I get, do you think?

The kids don’t do these things because we tell them to.  It is a rare day they look to us for suggestions.  As long as they can spend most of the day outside, using their imaginations, they are happy kids… without a scheduled hockey practice in sight.

But, surely, without the need to hover over the kids, that leaves Erik and me with oodles of leisure time?  I chortle.  Yes, of course we have down time.  We lay down our tools when something good crops up, just like the kids do.  Part of the fun of cruising is learning to be spontaneous and say ‘yes’.  But we also have the aforementioned fixing of things to accomplish.  Also, people need to be fed, laundry washed, floors de-crumbed, dodgers repaired, books read to small people, articles written… it amounts to a busy day.

Father-son bonding via windlass repair.

There is no typical day on Papillon.  On passage we do our sailing things, and at anchor we do our port things.  But those vary widely.  The only reason I know the day of the week is that I write it on the school board every morning.

So, what do we do all day?  We take care of our basic needs, and we have fun.  No Blackberries required.


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