Therapeutic function of living aboard a small boat

“My name is Ou,” said an older man in trainers, chequered shirt and pants that hang down from his scrawny waist. “How much for your boat?”

“Who says we are selling?” I snapped at him. I have to confess I don’t enjoy uninvited guests that wander off the touristic paths on their quest for the Attraction all the way to our boat. The worst kind does not even say hello and demands to know how much it all costs and how much for a ride. This one at least introduced himself. So much for mitigating circumstances.

“And if you wanted to sell, how much would you be asking?” said the old man. I looked him over real good – and slow. In Taiwan you never know if that dirty hobo walking around in the cheapest kind of flip flops the money can buy isn’t a moneybags. We didn’t want to sell Janna anyway, even though I do check out other floating beauties from time to time, just in case, for future reference you know. In fact it was me who said it aloud one day, that if someone offered us a lot of money for Janna we could sell with profit and go to the USA to find us a new boat. The truth is, that I probably couldn’t part with Janna just yet. Too much sweat has been shed to give her up so soon.

“Because we don’t want to sell our boat, you would have to pay a lot.” And then I have said some ridiculously high price and considered the whole matter closed.

“That’s not so much. I could do that,” replied that man. “I like your boat very much. It’s the most beatiful boat I’ve seen here. I wouldn’t drive it very often, but I would like to have it. OK, see you later.”

I felt weakness in my knees. What did I do? Is this bloke really going to give us all that money?

“You should have only told him, that we don’t want to sell her and nothing more. What if he comes around tomorrow with a plastic bag full of cash!” said Jana.

This might sound a bit exaggerated, but everyone who has ever visited the Taiwan Post, whose banking services are very popular among the elder Taiwanese, has most likely seen such a plastic bag. Money is a definite measure of one’s success in the Chinese culture and therefore it’s more than common to see elder citizen pulling out a bag full of banknotes bound by dirty rubber band and lining up couple of such paper bricks on the counter. While doing so, they would look around. Not to spot potential attackers, but to check if all the people in the office are giving them appropriate amount of attention. Usually they would speak loudly so that everyone knows that they are bringing a lot of money into the bank.

We toyed with the idea of getting instantly quite rich for a while and quickly went through all the internet servers listing yachts for sale to look for Janna’s replacement. Could we even sell her? Basically both of us were against the idea, but just to make sure, we agreed upon the lowest price for which we would be willing just to start thinking about it.

Back then, we still lived in the small one-room apartment near the harbor and would only from time to time come to relax on our boat, to make some small repairs, etc. And so we haven’t seen Mr. Ou for several days. One afternoon we came on the boat to read for a while and put our mind of the thesis that both of us were still working on at that time.

Suddenly we heard a loud “hello”. Once we waved back, Mr. Ou started walking quickly towards us, plastic bag in his hand. That’s it then! We quickly reviewed our agreement that we don’t want to sell, only if…

But Mr. Ou didn’t speak about buying any boat anymore. Instead he invited us to dine with his family. Finally we had the chance to learn a bit about this man, who is a local patriot, bird watcher, owner of several factories and a millionaire.

“This is a very famous painting.” We nodded politely, trying to appear appreciative of that fine art. “It was really expensive,” took us Mr. Ou off guard.

From that day, Mr. Ou started to irregularly visit us at the dock and invite us for dinners with his family or friends. He turned out to be a great and caring person. Only from time to time we would hear that the soup we are just eating is the best in town and that it’s really expensive, or he would point to a work of a famous sculptor in a park and inform us that he has his sculpture at home, and of course every other famous female writer that Jana would mention would turn out to be his good friend. To prove it he would pick a phone and call her right away. As soon as the unsuspecting writer picked up the phone he would just say “Hello, I have someone here who wants to speak with you” and put the phone into Jana’s hands so that she can have a chat with the famous friend of his. After a while we got used to Mr. Ou’s surprises and really appreciated his friendship.

And then the visitations started.

“I will bring over few of my friends,” said Mr. Ou one day. “You don’t have to prepare anything, they will bring food and I will buy beer.”

Mr. Ou would introduce us as qikuaide ren – weirdos. At first, we were not entirely sure how he means that. Neither were his friends that he brought with him. Mr. Ou quickly explained:

“They are very nice people. By qikuai I don’t mean any bad. Simply they live very differently from you and me. But mostly you. You have no idea what they can do. You couldn’t do any of that. And also they are always together. If you see one, the other is somewhere nearby. They are together 24 hours a day on this small boat. See! Could you do that?!”

We were speechless. The first time anyway. I thought about the famous sculpture cowering in the corner of Mr. Ou’s living room. The rest of the audience wasn’t as surprised, obviously they knew Mr. Ou much better and knew about his jokes. Mr. Ou kept on gushing about us for a little while and then announced the next item on the agenda – he always had everything quite well planned – a talk about our lives performed by us.

We were not unprepared for that, since we had to tell “our story” several times before. Mr. Ou has interrupted us from time to time and supplemented our narration where we failed to sufficiently glorify ourselves.

After about three such visitations. During the last one, one lady, a dentist, told us how glad she is to know us. She has two daughters studying abroad and she was worried all the time if she didn’t do a mistake to send them away. She was worried what will become of them, if they won’t get corrupted, etc. When she saw how we live and that we are happy, she said she felt relieved. Her daughters will definitely find their own way in life, she can see now that there are many ways one can live and be happy. Even if it means to stray from the stereotypical path of the masses.

The next day Mr. Our came to tell us that that he will be away, that he has no plans for us and that we have a time off. “But for the next week I have started to plan a visit with a family of my friends. They will bring their daughter, who’s about 30 years old. She sits by the computer all day long, at work during the day and at home during the night. She has no live whatsoever and they are very worried about her. It’s obvious that you have a positive effect on others. Not that everyone must live on the boat and wander around, but many Taiwanese need to see that there are other things to live for, not just work and food and Facebook. So we will bring her here and maybe it will open up her eyes.”

The very next day came Mr. Lin, a professor at local polytechnic, who recently bought an old 30’ racing boat from Japan.

“Would you give a talk at my university?” he blurted out. What would we talk about? He must have noticed our dull expression.

“I am trying to explain to them in the school that it makes whole lot of sense to sail a boat and to go to the sea and that there are other ways to live different from the way most of us live here in Taiwan. So I thought that you could come and talk about your lives, what you did and what your plans are. It’s always on Friday.”

Naturally we’ve heard from our friends who sailed with us how great sailing is, how soothing are the waves and the rocking of the boat, the wonderful sense of space and the lack of noise, which is so pervasive in Taiwan. Many would say that for those few hours they forgot about their daily troubles and stress at home and at work.

But now it appears that not only the sailing and the sea, but our lifestyle became the part and parcel of Janna’s therapeutic function. Actually it shouldn’t be that surprising. After all, we have also felt the big change when we moved aboard Janna fulltime.

To set the record straight, those few first days aboard were not so cheerful. But mostly because we haven’t organized the living space inside well ahead. Once we sorted out that tiny heap of our possessions and threw away bit more crap that we didn’t need, we started to really enjoy our life aboard. So what that we need to buy a block of ice every two days so that our cheeses stay fresh? So what that we carry our drinking water in jerry cans and we have to pump up our water tank first before we can have service water in the galley, which we have to pump out using a foot pump? So what that we have to wait till it’s dark so that the hordes of tourists don’t bother us when we take cold showers using a hose on Janna’s deck and that every time it starts to rain we have to run about the boat and check that everything is closed and there are no leaks. In exchange for the little discomfort we become more free in several respects:

  1. Since there is only so much storage space on our boat, we don’t accumulate useless stuff and other belongings that would otherwise limit our freedom – I would like to go on vacation, but who will look after my house, water the flowers, walk my dog? Where to put all that stuff? Is there really no place left? Logical solution would be to chuck some of it out, but usually what people do is they get themselves a new cabinet and continue buying even more stuff. Luckily, aboard Janna we have adopted a rule that we picked up from one of L&L Pardeys’ books – if you come across something that you wanna buy, try to resist the temptation and wait for a few days. If, after a week, you still feel that you need it, you go on and buy it.
  2. The second kind of freedom our floating home affords us could be called the “freedom of the snail’s shell”. Like a snail, we can also move around together with our home. Moreover, unlike the poor snail who has to carry his house on his back, we let our home to carry us around. Not to mention that we get to be rocked in the process! If we don’t like some place, we can just heave the anchor and move to another bay or port.
  3. The third item is not so much about freedom but about a possibility to live closer to nature and return back to the physical world that surrounds us. In an essay called Cruising Blues and Their Cure, it’s author speaks about how through our current lifestyle we get more and more entangled in the virtual reality, which pulls us away from the real physical world behind the windows of our air-conditioned homes and offices. On the other hand, life aboard a boat constantly makes us aware of that sometimes rather cruel and stormy world out there and forces us to live in a closer relationship with it.
  4. Related to this is also the ability to rejoice in and cherish the ordinary things that we usually take for granted. I remember a scene from the movie With Jean-du-sud Around the World, in which Yves Gélinas, attempting a nonstop voyage around the world, after he left from Canada, crossed the Atlantic and arrived in Cape of Good Hope is meeting with people from a TV company and in exchange for his film footage is given some fresh strawberries and other fruits. His joy, while he bites into those ripe strawberries, the juice from the fruit dripping down his beard, is hard to describe. Admittedly, this example is a bit extreme, but let’s take water instead. We got used to just turning on the water tap. Most of us don’t think about where the water comes from, how much water do we use during one shower or that we leave the water running while brushing our teeth. However, when the capacity of your water tank is limited and you’re not sure when and where you’ll be able to top it up next time, you start to literally cherish each drop. As worldwide awareness of water management is concerned, maybe it would be a good idea to make a short-term stay aboard a sailboat part of basic school curriculum.

The list could go on but that is not necessary. Nor is it our intention to force our lifestyle upon anyone, on the other hand we should probably not be that surprised that our life aboard Janna is therapeutic not only for us, but that the encounter with two “weirdos”, who live aboard a small sailboat without a TV-set, shower and fridge but are apparently contended anyway, seems to have the same positive influence on our overworked, stressed out Taiwanese friends, who have been since their early childhood raised to believe that a person’s success is measured by a successful career and the amount of valuables that he or she manages to accumulate. In other words, when four years ago we bought Janna and repaired her, it’s not only her, who benefited from our care, we actually gained so much more.

4 comments to Therapeutic function of living aboard a small boat

  • Jan Duben

    Ahoj, navrhuji zaradit tenhle clanek do sekce Manifest, obsahove mi tam opravdu sedi. Honza

  • I dream of such a boat but just for weekends at first, dip a toe and see how it goes..

    Regarding the rocking, I may have some physical condition or perhaps everyone gets this, but I find after a few hours on a boat I still feel like I’m rocking on dry land? Can sit in an armchair at home and “feel” it moving around, though I know it’s not. Not sure if I could handle a rocking boat for days at a time.

    Regarding the bragging about wealth, I too have a Chinese friend who won’t shut up about how much things cost, how much money he made today etc. Yet I consider him poor, as he rarely has time to do anything, poor soul.

  • May your dream come true! Mostly it’s just about taking the plunge and the rolling up the sleeves…

    Ad rocking: I think it’s called “land sickness”, it’s a real thing. Happens to a lot of people. Few hours on a rocky sea can do it, some people even get sick not on water, but when they step back. You’ll know if you’re going to be sick at sea for longer periods only after you give it a try. Again, most people get used it after two or three days, so no worries, since the state of mind is one of the crucial factors.

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