Day 8 — Why am I boating 4,200 miles again?

I’m boating from Washington DC to Montreal, Québec. I just retired and have a bucket list of things to do, and this or some near variant was on the list. But why?

After two rough days at sea, the question takes on a different tint. Things are breaking. I’m bruised from laying across the engine to tighten a vacuum pump discharge pipe. We have water leaks we’ve only found some unknown percentage of. There were times the 32,000 pound boat lifted out of the water and slammed down so hard my teeth rattled. Loose shit’s flying around everywhere in the cabin. WHY did I ever want to do this?!?

It’s because I’m learning a lot, and I love learning. I set out to learn a bunch of specific things:

  • how to navigate better, with and without electronics, on a much bigger scale than I already knew
  • how to manage a RIB (rigid inflatable boat)
  • how to change the impeller on an Onan generator’s water pump
  • how to use AIS (marine Automatic Identification System)
  • how to really understand weather forecasts as if my life depended on it

But I also knew that I would learn stuff I didn’t expect to learn-about the world, about myself, and about life. Putting oneself in a challenging and unfamiliar situation every day opens you up to unlimited possibilities. Consider the difference between driving the same route to work every day and driving while on vacation in a new place. Driving to work, you’re on autopilot, barely noticing what’s going on around you. In a new place, you have to, you want to, pay close attention to everything. Which opens you up to seeing and learning.

That’s why I’m boating 4,200 miles — to open myself up to new experiences and friends, and learn from them.

One of this week’s lessons had nothing to do with seamanship or mechanical engineering. In the course of wrestling “Pay It Forward” through the boiling waters of the Atlantic, we found one of our water leaks. The pounding the boat is taking tends to loosen screws (no pun intended; I literally mean 8x1 screws holding boat parts together). One of our daily chores is to inspect for said buggers and de-loosify them.

There’s a bunch of portholes on the boat, some of which can be opened to let in fresh air. Wonderful feature, especially when you’re sitting quietly on a hot summer day with a strong breeze. After a few rough days at sea, though, I’m googling to see if I can find what idiot decided to design and implement this, and imagining him under an exposed light bulb with various torture instruments nearby. What moron would intentionally cut holes in a boat?

In this case, we found the mid-cabin porthole was leaking, letting sea water in. We didn’t immediately know why so we stuffed a few bath towels around it until we got safely to port. And kept changing the bath towels as they saturated.

Once safely in Manhattan, my brother Jim figured out the problem and a few minutes with a screwdriver sorted it out, if not permanently then good enough for now.

The unexpected life lesson comes a day later. We have to wash the towels, so I double-wrap them in plastic bags, look up a nearby laundromat, and start walking. Alternating carrying the bag on each shoulder starts to bother me a bit, so I decide to carry the bag in front, supporting it with my hands clasped together around my belly button. After a couple of minutes, my back starts to hurt a little and I need to pee because the weight is squeezing hell out of my bladder. I’m visibly uncomfortable and heave the load back onto my shoulder.

A woman walking towards me smirks.

I instantly get the reason. It’s like I’m simulating pregnancy! Don’t they require new dads to carry a bowling ball-like contraption around for a few days to develop empathy? If not, they should. Here I am carrying this super-heavy bag of laundry around lower Manhattan, and for maybe 5 minutes it’s on my stomach and I want to kill myself.

So after that, I decided I would see what it feels like to have that much added weight, and carried it the rest of the way on my belly. It was really uncomfortable! And it was a beautiful, crisp morning, but I was starting to sweat a little. I shifted a bit and the back pain abated, but then my abs were taking a good beating.

I got to the laundromat and it wasn’t open for two more hours! I had to Yelp another place and it was another quarter-mile. Metaphorically equivalent to a woman going a week past her due date, maybe?

Now I’m not claiming I totally understand how pregnant women feel. But I’ve always appreciated my wife for carrying our three kids and have a general sympathy for pregnant women. But I got a small taste of what it must be like today to carry that weight around, and understand a bit better. Empathy instead of just sympathy. And certainly a renewed appreciation for Marcie’s sacrifice and discomfort a couple of decades ago.

So that’s my commentary for Monday — day 8 of my 10 week search for treasure.

Today’s quote, courtesy of the character Ratty in Kenneth Grahame’s “Wind in the Willows”:

“There is nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as messing about in boats. In or out of ‘em, it doesn’t matter. Nothing seems really to matter, that’s the charm of it. Whether you get away, or you don’t; whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere at all, you’re always busy, and you never do anything in particular; and when you’ve done it there’s always something else to do and you can do it if you like, but you’d much better not.”

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