It’s Friday afternoon and the cruise ships are steaming north. More than 190 cruises start and stop in Seattle every year. My house has a nice enough view that I get to see them go by. Sometimes three of them head out at the same time the shipping lane looks like a ponderous and immaculate drag race. Maybe someday I’ll take a cruise to Canada and Alaska. For the price of some of those trips, I’d rather have a sailboat.
Sailing and frugality have a lot in common. Sailors can’t be extravagant. Boats don’t have as much storage as a house. After stowing emergency supplies, maintenance gear, safety equipment, tools, and navigation charts, there isn’t much room left for food and clothing. Every pound slows the boat and every item has to be lashed down or stepped around. Sailors are very definite and aware of needs versus wants, and the value of time. Sailing is an experience, not always a calm one, but always a memorable one. The stuff involved are the tools, not the goal. As for time, ocean coastal sailors are very aware that the time of the tides is not negotiable. The connection with this world, the sun, and the moon can’t be ignored.
Sailing and frugality are also famously embattled opposites. Catch phrases for boat ownership probably go back centuries. “The happiest days for a sailor are when they buy their boat and when they sell their boat.” “A boat is a hole in the water into which money is poured.” Sailing isn’t cheap. Owning a boat takes a lot of time and effort. Many of them have rigging turned into spider catchers, decks turned into moss carpets and sea gull depositories, and in my neighborhood, otters turn cockpits into diners that lack busboy services. And boats can sink.
I want a boat. I want a sailboat. My neighborhood has one of the few marinas on Whidbey Island, and from here, as my neighbor pointed out, it’s possible to sail any ocean by walking down the hill, climbing aboard, casting off and setting sail, assuming the tide’s in and the wind is blowing in the right direction. My ambitions are less global. Between here and Alaska is more than enough water and wilderness for me. Shorter trips on Puget Sound could connect me to the cities of Seattle, Tacoma, and Bellingham; and also to the smaller, quieter places like the San Juans, Port Townsend, the southern tip of Canada, and the South Sound. As long as there’s wind, which is a grand assumption, I could get to all of those places without burning fuel. I could avoid the pavement enabled anxiety attacks of Seattle’s traffic and still get to see Pike Place Market and attend “the theater” (spoken theatrically).
Sail boats are cheaper than usual. I suspect that new sailboats depreciate more than new cars, and in an economy like this used sailboats are being unloaded by people fed up with moorage fees, insurance, and maintenance charges on something they rarely use. The hulls of some are more kelp garden than hydrodynamic marvel. I’ve found a few that have asking prices about 1/4th the price of a new one.
Unfortunately, my economy isn’t very robust either. My stocks aren’t doing as well as I’d like. I think most of the stocks are undervalued, so selling a thousand shares to buy a boat now would get me a small boat while selling a thousand shares at my guesstimate of their true value would get me a boat that I might even be able to stand up in. Boats with more than 6 foot 2 inches of headroom are bigger and more expensive than my self-imposed allowance.
I could rationalize owning a boat. Besides cruising, it acts as guest quarters (especially because it is in the neighborhood), a self-contained emergency backup home (earthquakes happen), a camera platform (my Twelve Month Whidbey series of photos are all from water front locales), and buying now is buying low.
Emotionally, I want a boat; but, I recognize that my rationalizations are excuses, not reasons. As long as I own a house I don’t need a boat. I might follow the example of various friends and buy a boat to live aboard, but I’m not planning to sell my house in this market. Who knows? Maybe someone will knock on my door and offer me a million dollars for this house that I bought for $300,000 four years ago. It could happen. (Evidently extreme optimism continues too.)
Frugality is not about an impeccably rational life, constant denial, getting by on the least amount possible. For me frugality is respecting the resources within my world: time, money, and what the world provides, including community. So, I don’t just say No for the sake of saying No.
One of the reasons I might say Yes, is because sailing, like frugal living, is conscious living. Even deciding to sit still requires an action of setting an anchor or deciding to stay in harbor. I like to think that I live my life consciously. I don’t try to consider every moment, because the constantly examined life is spent in constant examination, not in being alive. Balancing examination with living is one way to respect the resources available to me: time alive versus applying intellect and wisdom towards a better life. Sailing requires attention, opens access to other ways of living, and can do so using the wind provided by nature (but make sure there’s a motor on board.)
One of the boats that fits my style is for sale on the island. It is a rugged cruiser, build for function, not for looks. The price is about the same that some folks on those cruise ships are spending for a nicer cabin as they take a few days to sail from Seattle to Seattle. Of course the reason they do that is to see the very sites that I want to cruise to too. The sailboat needs some work. So does my portfolio. The sailboat needs some money poured into that hole in the water. My portfolio needs patience. Patience is easier to come by than money, and with enough patience I might be able to afford a boat that doesn’t require as much work.
Someday my ship will come in, after the financial tide reaches into my little harbor and lifts my portfolio. Until then, I’ve got my kayak, my bicycle, my feet, and occasional forays to the mountains via my Jeep. I may not cruise the world this way, but the world I cruise through is simple and easy to enjoy. And I’ll watch the horizon for ships heading my way.