December 3, 2009

Getting Out There


On our Monterey trip, we spent a day in foggy Half Moon Bay

A while back, I noticed a comment that Bonnie had left on someone's** blog about a dream trip she'd like to do: hitchhiking with her kayak aboard a sailboat up the Hudson and kayaking all the way back home.

Another quest in the making.

What is it about sailors (and paddlers, too?) that has so many of us always thinking about what's over the horizon? We all seem to be planning or dreaming about a 'quest' of some sort.

Does having a boat lead us to seek out new destinations or is it the other way round? Are sailors a different kind of people whose taste for adventure has led us to boats?

My parents grew up in Philadelphia and spent most of their lives there, content to remain in a world that was safe, predictable, and contained in a single American city.

I was just the opposite. From my first college trip to San Francisco, I've wanted to see what was out there. But it was more than just a desire to travel. I've always wanted to discover things on my own, not to be shown the sites by Circle Grayline.

One of the things I liked about getting back on a bicycle as an adult was the miles you could cover under your own steam. Doing 50 - 100 miles a day meant you could use a bike to travel. And you can take a bike on a train...or on an airplane. There's really no place in the world you can't get to that way.

My first long bike trip was through the rains and muck of rural England, Wales, and Ireland. I was cold and wet, but I was out there on my own. There was something remarkably satisfying about the independence of it. The next trip was to sunnier places - Germany, Austria, Switzerland. I carried a little duffle on the back of the bike. If it wouldn't fit in that bag, it stayed home. Travelling light somehow made me more independent.

There was no itinerary. No list of museums, cathedrals, or famous sites I had to see. If I found a place that looked cool, I stayed for a while. If a road looked interesting, that's where I turned. I absolutely loved being somewhere where I didn't know all of the answers and had to figure things out as I went.

The bicycle, the kayak, the sailboat. There's something common to all three. They're all low-tech, self-contained, and give us a sense of independence. They provide the freedom to go where we want when we want to, but we also have the responsibility for everything that happens to us out there.

With the freedom comes personal responsibility. There seems to be less and less of both in our world today.

 Is that what we're seeking as sailors?

I could have rented a car and driven around Europe like most people do. But what was it about doing it on a bicycle that made it so much better?

When I was just getting into sailing, we dragged our little 15-foot daysailer 800 miles up to Washington state so we could gunkhole the San Juan Islands. We could have easily gone from island to island by ferry boat like most tourists do, but why was it so much better making five-mile passages in a little open boat? Why was it so cool coming into Fish Bay on Lopez as sailors, the way the first people on the island had done a thousand years before?

Last summer, we took our Catalina down the coast a hundred miles to Santa Cruz and Monterey - places we've driven to often for many years. What was it about approaching those towns by boat that made that trip so special?

Why does Bonnie want to kayak a hundred miles down the Hudson river when there are so many other ways to see that country that would be more comfortable, safer, and quicker? Is it the slow pace itself that's the draw?

I'm not sure I know the answers to any of these questions.

Do you?

Have you taken a trip in your boat that gave you this sense of freedom or discovery? Are you planning one?

**Sorry, couldn't find the post and I can't remember whose blog it was. Bonnie, can you provide the link?



  1. There's certainly something in that. The urge to boldly go where no one has gone before etc

    Boats are great at getting to places like remote beaches that are really really hard to get to over land.

    It brings out the inner explorer, to whom the horizon at sea is inviting not scary.

    There's also greater satisfaction if the activity involved overcoming a hurdle, such as sailing or biking somewhere. In a car (or plane) there is less effort hence less satisfaction.

    Having said all that my travels over the next month with mostly involve trains!

  2. That's what I'm wondering about.

    Do we all have that 'inner explorer' within, or is it only some of us? Or has that inner explorer guy gotten completely out of control in sailors and taken over?

    Most of my travel is in trains, planes, and automobiles, too. The hassle of airports and going on someone else's schedule seems to drive me more bonkers the older I get. I think that's why I dream about these boat trips so much.

    And I can study maps for hours planning trips. Sometimes I think they made Google Earth just for me.

  3. You forgot about sailing to (or into, depending on how much you've had to drink) waterfront bars. Drive to Sams! Come on, that's not fun....for me it's about fun, exploring and not being hedged in by little lines painted on to asphalt.

  4. Coming back to Berkeley, we always line up on Skates, with the wind right behind us.

    If we ever have rudder trouble there, one of their bar tables will be hanging from our crosstrees. Hey...maybe they serve outside.

  5. Oh, I can't remember where I left that, but it was an idea I got from my friend Richard, who's spent all of 2009 cruising the coast of South America & knows a thing or two about having adventures.

    Kayaking the Hudson from Troy to NYC is actually an eminently achievable pipe dream due to the Hudson River Watertrail Association, and one I've had for a long time.

    There's a group paddle called the Great Hudson River Paddle that does it every year, and that always sounds like tons of fun. Somehow, though, that's a trip I'd sort of like to do solo - set my own pace, follow the tides (Hudson's fully tidal up to the dam at Troy), not a pre-planned schedule (they take about 2 weeks, and they have days where the paddle part is as short as 5 miles). Plus, they always do it in July, and I'd rather do it in a cooler part of the year.

    My thinking about the trip, though, always started with the terribly prosaic, "So first I rent a car from a company that has an office in Troy. I load up my stuff, drive to Troy, drop off my boat & gear at a marina up there, drop off the car, take a cab back to the marina & take off".

    Richard had this great idea to make the whole thing an adventure, though. In the spring, there are a lot of boats heading north to Lake Champlain. There's a low bridge in Albany. Sailboats have to unstep their masts to get past it, then restep, and an extra pair of hands can come in handy enough that the owners will sometimes pick up extra crew member en route if they find someone.

    Richard's idea was that I could go to the 79th St. Boat Basin marina, where a lot of the Champlain-bound boats will stop for a couple of nights, & put up a card on the bulletin board saying that I was looking for a ride to Troy for myself & my kayak.

    It wouldn't work so well now that my boat is out in Jamaica Bay, but when I was at 23rd St. in Manhattan, it was SO doable it made me sad - I could've had my boat all pre-packed & been able to meet up with a boat at 79th st. with just a couple of hours of notice.

    I say it made me sad that it was so doable, because it was also completely impossible with the job I have right now. The boats are heading north in the Spring. AKA "budget season". Unwritten but unbreakable (as long as you want to keep working there) rule says finance team people do not get to take vacation any time from March through May, PERIOD, let alone a vacation that involves being gone for a time period that remains completely unspecified (beyond "sometime in the Spring") until a day (if that) before I would be taking off.

    Cartopping in the fall sometime?

    Totally could happen. Although probably not this year 'cause I've kind of got my heart set on my 25th HS reunion in Hawaii. That's this year's "BHAG" (to borrow a term from Janna's book)!

  6. "not this year 'cause I've kind of got my heart set on my 25th HS reunion" -

    That should've read "not NEXT year", of course.

  7. Thanks for filling in the details, Bonnie. Knew there was a good story there. Hope you get to make that trip some day.

    I would want to know just how far up the Hudson sea monsters go.

  8. O Dock, that was your best post ever! How do you do it?

    Since the Blogfather is of doing the vacation things, I thought I'd throw that in, for him :-)

    It does make one wonder about the wonder lust in some of us...

  9. Ah, the blogfather and his vacations.

    I think I have finally figured out what I want to be when I grow up.


  10. Thanks, Zen. My fragile ego does needs regular propping up.

    It must be the child in me. Today's kids are constantly told how wonderful and unique they are so they won't waste a lot of time acquiring useful skills. Today, it's easy to get a job if you're wonderful and beautiful.

    Except maybe in journalism. Bonnie, you really should have gone to work for a newspaper. Many journalists today are retiring in their twenties and thirties.

  11. Low-tech? Self-comtained? Freedom? Sense of independence? I don't know.

    But, I do know that if O Docker and I had not been using bicycles as our transportation of choice on our first European vacation together, we never would have discovered Visp, Switzerland -- home of the world's smallest room with the world's tiniest bed (brown-chicka-brown-cow). Just the beginning of many dream trips past and in our future involving alternative transportation, courtesy of O Docker's imagination.

    Others may always have Paris. We will always have Visp.

  12. It was all part of the master plan.

    After a night in the world's tiniest bed in the world's tiniest room, the cabin of a 30-foot sailboat would seem luxurious by comparison.

  13. And, THAT'S how they get you!

  14. Skates, the best waypoint on the waterfront! At night, I line up to the Campanile or the Claremont (both are lit up nicely). If it's foggy, I heave to and wait it out.

    Back on topic (if that isn't against the rules in your blog), when I told one friend that it took only 12 days to get to Hawaii, he looked at me like I was crazy and said United does it in 5 hours.

  15. For me, the going beyond that sailing provides has been more metaphorical. I'm not necessarily moved to travel beyond actual horizons -- although Pat has some of that urge -- but I'm taking myself beyond horizons that I would never have done if it weren't for sailing.

    Sailing brings me mentally into a different place, where I am more in control and less a victim of outside forces and events. Sailing has allowed -- maybe even compelled -- me to stretch myself, to find strengths that I maybe didn't even know to look for before. It's exploration, not of the world, but of myself.

  16. For me, it is the independence which makes such trips a joy. My earliest experiences with that feeling were also on a bicycle. Later it was flying light aircraft - around the western US and in Hawaii. Haven't felt the urge in the Lido 14 - too small a boat for going places around Japan.

    Perhaps it is in our genes. Humans are nomads. It is only in the last several thousand years that we settled down to farm. Something within us still wants to wander.

  17. great shot on the header! Is it yours? Not as in your as you stole it off someone and now is in your possession, but your s as in you took the photo, not just the picture

  18. Zen, yes, that's our boat at Half Moon Bay last summer (June, 2008). HMB has the rare ability to get totally socked in even when SF and Santa Cruz are clear.

    My dark secret is that I never changed the home port on the transom when we got the boat. This makes it much easier to slip out of guest berths at marinas without paying.

  19. I think adventurous folks like us are just born that way. Sometimes they end up flying (as we did before the boats) and sometimes they end up sailing (like we did to Mexico and back) and sometimes they end up biking through Europe (wish I could) and sometimes they end up flying somewhere with no reservations and no itinerary, and sometimes they end up kayaking down the Hudson.
    It's just the allure of the unknown, the joy of planning and preparing for the adventure, and the feeling of independence from doing it all by yourself. How I often wish I could go cruising again.....