Saturday, December 23, 2006

Creature Comforts

Vero Beach

Back when I was still dreaming about living the cruising life rather than doing it, I read an influential book. It was called The Self Sufficient Sailor, by Lin and Larry Pardey. I loved the advice these people gave and the life style that they lead. One thing they argued passionately for in an entire chapter in their book was the virtues of not having an engine. These people had been sailing around the world for years and they never did have an engine. I thought of this book recently when we were nearly panicked about not having an engine to charge batteries and therefore not having electricity.

It's an interesting contrast. Two years ago we were acutely aware of how many of the common creature comforts of land living we were giving up just to live on a boat. Indeed, some of our friends are still aghast and unable to believe how we can live happily without more stuff. Well, we shed most of that stuff, we have no house, no car, no TV, no microwave oven, no daily newspaper, no water bed. Instead of missing it, we felt liberated as we were freed from the responsibility for acquiring and maintaining all that stuff.

So here we are living the simple life with no more stuff. Whoops, slight correction, we do have a refrigerator, freezer, stove, laptop computers, cell phone, satellite radio, stereo speakers, GPS, book reading lights, ceiling lights, SSB radio, pactor modem, VHF radio, hand-held radios, a cabin heater, MP3 player and many other modern gadgets that make our life easier and more comfortable. When faced with the threat of not having those things if we couldn't keep the batteries charged, our reaction was panic.

Last fall, our friends John and Mary Ann spend a week living onboard Tarwathie with us. After they left, Libby was proud to say "Everything essential that Mary Ann needed during the week, we were able to provide." I conclude that we live comfortably enough to satisfy even people who aren't adapted.

In all my previous boats, we got along fine with just and ice box. We never had a refrigerator before, and before buying Tarwathie, I thought the idea of an onboard refrigerator was silly. We've met lots of cruisers who live fine for years with just an ice box or with nothing cold at all onboard. They seem to not miss what they don't have. Although it seems unthinkable for us to be without anything we have now, it is probably true that we could adapt to many changes.

So what's the real difference between the comfort of having lots of stuff, or the comfort of having just a little stuff. The evidence suggests not much difference at all. That sounds very profound. Wealth, and the artifacts of wealth, do little to affect happiness. Indeed there is a trap in which one becomes so worried about maintaining those artifacts that stress and unhappiness results.

Of course, literature from the Bible on down abounds with parables explaining this simple human truth. Still, it's fun to see such obvious and direct evidence of that truth in one's own life. We didn't even need visits from the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future to reveal that insight to us.

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