October 11, 2009

Less Is More Like It


He Who Must Be Obeyed has ordered up yet another of his writing projects (is there no end?). This one has something to do with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. That alone told me I'd better take it very seriously. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was one serious dude.

Even though he was only an architect, he hung out with the intelligentsia of the 1930's - a very picky group. People doted on his every word. He'd say something like "less is more" and everyone would just fall all over themselves writing that down. No kidding.

It must have been the way he said it. I think he used a long, dramatic pause after the "Less".

At any rate, He Who Must Be Obeyed has also seized on this "less is more" thing and has commanded that we write up something about 'minimalism' - which is really just a minimalistic way of saying, "Less is more."

When I first got my boat, I was a fanatic about boat maintenance.

I'd spend every waking hour polishing, cleaning, varnishing, and checking a million little things. But, I started looking around O Dock and saw that no one else was doing that. A lot of my dockmates snootily looked the other way as they went by, somehow offended that I was waxing my topsides. I just wasn't fitting in.

It took me a while to ease into what is the preferred behavior on O Dock - carefully studied nonchalance. It's OK to have a nice boat, but you should never be seen actually working on it. In the shadow of the yacht club, patrician attitudes permeate everything. It may be alright to be seen sweating on the other hardscrabble docks of the marina, but not on O Dock.

Lately, I've been able to take that idea of never working too hard to the next level. I like to think I've turned it into a form of art. I've started applying the almost Zen-like idea of minimalism to boat maintenance.

I've discovered that I like having weeds growing along the waterline. The marine growth puts oxygen back into the water, so is much healthier for the environment. In the galley, I find the gentle drip-drip-drip of the faucet soothing and restful. And the rhythmic cycling of the pressure pump adds a cheery, syncopated beat. A silent cabin just seems eerie to me.

The harsh glare of sunlight off a freshly-scrubbed deck is jarring to my sensibilities, too. So, with agonizing patience, I've allowed the deck to return to its natural, mildewed state. And all of those seagull droppings that used to get on my nerves are just so much artwork to me now - nature's Jackson Pollack. I'm just careful to take off my shoes before going below.

The same holds true for docklines. Who wants those crisp, white lines that just shout 'newbie'? On O Dock, nothing is more gauche or annoying. I've learned from my dockmates to let the lines age and develop a nice chafe - the sign of a confident, salty veteran who knows what he's about.

And to think of all the hours I used to waste fussing around with the engine - oil changes, filter changes, impellers, zincs, belts. But is this not a sailboat? Do I not threaten its very sailboatyness by lavishing all that attention on some ridiculous collection of machinery that has nothing at all to do with communing with the wind and the sea and with nature?

As long as the engine runs, I figure it must be OK. Remember, I've got to remove the settee cushions and pull out plywood covers just to get to the damned thing. Obviously, if the boat manufacturer felt it was necessary to access the engine frequently, they never would have designed it that way. Do I have to pull the seats out of my car just to check the oil?

Minimalist maintenance has also helped me stay in shape. When I got the boat, the mainsail went up and down the track far too easily. I wasn't getting any useful workout from it at all. But now, after years of studied neglect, it takes a solid 50 lbs of force to get it moving (and you can do warm-up reps by using a longer winch handle). This has been great for my pecs and deltoids. And, an added bonus, the halyard sheave at the top of the mast just glistens now under the added load.

So, I owe a great debt of gratitude to my colleagues on O Dock. They've helped me discover what it means to be a true sailor, to be free as the wind and unfettered by heavy responsibilities - the key is minimalist maintenance.

And they've also taught me another of life's cardinal lessons:

Just before that major engine inspection is due - sell the boat.

Less is more.



  1. Fabulous. I've been applying the same philosophy to my apartment of late. I'm not entirely thrilled with the results, perhaps it works better with a boat.

    BTW, back to the basil, and being serious this time - I was looking around at everybody's gardens at Sebago & I really do think maybe basil is just a plant that's happier outside. There are at least 3 other people with basil, and the plants are probably in 4 completely different mixtures of dirt & extras, and the level of care they are getting is probably 4 entirely different ones. But none of that matters - every basil plant at the club is doing exactly the same as mine, 3 feet tall & leafy (and all going to seed now). It's just got to be something about being outside. I did read somewhere that basil likes at least 6 hours of direct sun a day.

    I would think that the tomato capital of the country would be equally good for basil.

    Can't help you with the shrubbery, though.

  2. Bonnie, I was so enjoying reading your reply until you got to the part where everyone's basil is three FEET high.

    I was pretty much convinced, based on personal experience, that basil is one of those plants described as 'ground cover'. I have never had a basil plant leap up beyond about half a foot.

    Sure, I'll bet they would like six hours of direct sun every day. So would I. If I've managed to grow to full height (well, sort of) without six hours of direct sun every day, I don't see why my basil plants have to be so finicky.

    I am not finished blogging about basil, by any means.

  3. Oops. I guess I better not tell you how much preliminary pesto ("preliminary" owing to my neighborhood not being quite fancy enough to have pine nuts and sundried tomatoes available for purchase at 7 pm on a Sunday night)I have in the Newtonian 'fridge right now.

    And I should mention that the basil is mostly in raised beds. So it's like measuring waves, and maybe I was measuring from the trough (east-coast style) instead of the back (Hawaiian-style).


  4. Actually what I SHOULD mention is that that pesto may be inedible. Once the flowers get the upper hand, the leaves get to not tasting so good. I may just have a container of the Bitter Pesto of Autumn at home.

    we could make a tongue twister out of it:

    Bonnie Blogger bagged some basil
    But she said "This basil's bitter, and if I put it in my pesto it'll make my pesto bitter". So Bonnie Blogger bought a bit of better basil and it made her pesto better.

  5. If Bonnie blogger bagged a batch of bitter basil, where's the batch of bitter basil Bonnie blogger bagged?

    Don't tell me.

    She sells seed cells by the seashore.

  6. It's just comforting to know that someone else was as bored at work today as I was.