The difficulties inherent in boat life are most apparent in inclement weather. For a while it is nice to be in a cosy cabin with a cup of tea and the rain pounding on the hatches, but after a while the positive aspects of my brain are flattened by a lack of sunlight and grey skies. My mood begins to emulate the weather. It operates nefariously, the downward spiral. I don’t become conscious of it until I awaken on a clear day and can stretch my arms in the sun. Then I realise that I’m surfacing, and have been oblivious to my gradual submersion.
Daily walks are probably a mental health essential in crap weather. Harder to attain on a boat, but not impossible. But the easier things are to do, the more likely it is that they will be done. If the boat is drying out on the sand and I can walk ashore, then I will. If the boat is bobbing about and I have to get into the dinghy, motor ashore, dick around with the anchor, ponder what the tide is doing… adding in all those variables can sap me to the point where I just go and make another cup of tea and stay under my own rain cloud.
Moods in a tiny space are their own weather system. If one person is out of whack, everything can proceed around them. If two people are niggling at each other, it becomes difficult. Small Z is in an undeniably bratty stage, talking back under her breath, working her faux-bogan ‘tude into almost every interaction. M has minimal tolerance of this, and she has minimal tolerance of his minimal tolerance.
Both of them will then separately complain to me about the other, and what is required at that point is a break from each other. I think that, while we all over-indulge in screentime on the boat, in a way the screen enables you to disappear from the people around you, giving you the mental break that the physical space doesn’t necessarily allow. It’s easier to crumple your body around a screen than dig out your wet weather gear, get into a dinghy and go for a walk. Easier, but not always better.
It is for reasons like this that people with kids on their boats often stick together. It creates a far more workable dynamic. The kids want to get together and DO STUFF – whether that’s minecrafting while it rains, or creating elaborate games on a beach – and this gives the parents breathing space. They don’t have to be the ones dragging the recalcitrant child ashore demanding that they SOAK UP THE GODDAMN NATURE and THINK OF ALL THE KIDS STUCK IN CLASSROOMS…
To which Small Z will inevitably respond, “Oi can look at natecha on moi screen beck in tha boat. Why do I heve to come outside and do it?”
She is a kid that thrives with other kids, and after a while becomes a bit desolate without any. Cruising life is not ideal for her, but she could do worse. There are many different approaches to kids on boats. We’ve met a boat with four teenagers aboard who are simply told by their parents that while they remain dependents they will be sailing. Once they are of age, they’re free to do what they want.
At the other end of the spectrum are the parents who chuck it all in once the kids are about to start secondary school, feeling that the socialisation and the academic issues are more important than a sea-gypsy lifestyle. I understand both angles, but have more sympathy with the former. Boatkids are nothing if not resilient, and accustomed to socialising with all ages – anecdotally they do well when they are put into school, both academically and socially.
Of the three kidboats we were cruising Vanuatu with this time last year, two have returned to land life. Dog Star, in Wellington, are still living aboard in a marina, but working land jobs and their kid has just started secondary school. They hope to save funds and sail to Fiji next year. Pandion are selling their boat and are living in a rental property on the mid-north coast – oddly, the kids are thriving, but the parents are feeling dislocated – they’ve returned to land life without the safety net that a school provides – readymade structure and classmates.
The third boat, GonYonda, are the ones we have known the longest, and the ones that have lived aboard for the greatest amount of time. Theirs is a very comfortable vessel. But they plan to chuck it in early next year. Put the kids in school. Both adults are very employable and will return to where they began, thus able to access a support network that will undoubtedly help them with the transition back to regular work and socialising.
Everyone has different circumstances, but the one commonality that links those three boats is this: there are careers to go back to – they are midwives, builders, programmers, nurses, anthropologists. We don’t have those. I can’t go back to my role of ‘medical report ghost writer’, and M can’t go back to being funded by me to build the boat. Of course we are both adept at many things, but none of them are there to slot into. We don’t have professions. I can’t register with an agency and get work as a nurse or a midwife. Nor can I program or anthropologise…
I wonder if I was qualified to earn money within a particular field a return to land life might prove more attractive? I’m not sure.