Alvah Simon - The boatyard blues

13:31, Aug 08 2012
Alvah Simon Boatyard Blues
Travel the world and work in exotic boatyards! But we wouldn't have it any other way.

You're face looks like the inside of a paint can, you've got caulking on your clothes and glue in your hair. The work list mysteriously grows with each job completed. You try to remember how long ago you started the refit of this old cruising boat. Your fishing mates quit calling you a long time ago. And golf!...who has time for that? Or money? You wonder if that last box of stainless steel screws you bought would have been cheaper had you ordered them in gold.

They're called "The Boatyard Blues", and when you find yourself singing that song you need to drop tools for a moment, look up to the sky, feel the wind on your cheek, and visualise it carrying you with all sails set towards that idyllic anchorage in that exotic destination, far, far away. And you have to believe that that day will come.

So, why do we do it? Well, we do it because we have to. We do it because it makes life larger. We do it because, after 10 days at sea, when that verdant green island appears on the horizon, your heart soars with pride and your mind races with curious anticipation. And we do it because of the terrible consequence of not doing it. In response to a man who said, "I've always wanted to sail the South Seas, but I can't afford it", famed sailor, Sterling Hayden, said,

"What these men can't afford is NOT to go....We are brainwashed by our economic system until we end up in a tomb beneath a pyramid of time payments, mortgages, preposterous gadgetry, playthings that divert our attention from the sheer idiocy of the charade. The years thunder by. The dreams of youth grow dim where they lie caked in the dust on the shelves of patience. Before we know it, the tomb is sealed."

These are powerful words, disruptive even dangerous words, for if taken to heart, they can inexorably alter the course of our lives. As a young man I read those words, took them to heart, and they more than altered the course of my life, they took control of it. For decades they lead me across each of our great oceans and most of our famous seas. They drew me from the balmy breezes of the South Pacific to the frozen wasteland of the high Arctic, from Cape Horn to the Aleutians. It was a hard life, one filled with uncertainty, and yet my only regret is that I had not read those words earlier, for a single extra year might have translated into just one more landfall, one more nation, one more natural environment, one more fascinating culture or humbling lesson in life.

My purpose in saying all this is that I suspect while the vast majority of Kiwis are dreaming of a leisurely weekend, sipping coffee in a sidewalk cafe or hitting a ball out on the course, there are those possessed few, obsessed few, ready to toil away in the back of boatyards from Riverton to Whangaroa. Your family is starting to think that you have gone mad, and there are moments when you think they might be right. And you have to ask yourself - is it worth it?

This is a cruising blog, dedicated to cruising and cruisers, and especially to those closing in on their lifelong dreams. I just wanted to assure you, as every cruising sailor I ever met assured me, that yes, it is worth it; more than worth it. Now, get back to work.

Alvah Simon


Boating NZ