Maybe a good small boat and a quiet lake are all you really need
By Ken Van Camp
One sunny Saturday afternoon found me trailering my O’Day 192, a nineteen-foot sailboat, to a nearby lake for an afternoon sail and an overnight stay. The lake was an hour’s drive away, so I passed the time with Jimmy Buffett crooning on the car stereo and the windows rolled down. Normally, this ride would induce in me a carefree, tranquil mindset and a perfect layup to a stress-free weekend, but this time, I found myself becoming agitated.
Several years ago, I discovered A Salty Piece of Land, a novel Jimmy had written about a rancher who tells his boss where to shove it, picks up and moves to the tropics for a relaxed (if predictable) lifestyle that features women, booze, and the sea. After that, I read more of his books, which similarly espoused a life free of cares and responsibilities.
Listening to Jimmy’s island-infused tunes, this theme started to intrude as I drove, and I wondered if I was letting life pass me by. Here I was, 50-something, doing the daily commute to a stressful job, paying off a mortgage, putting kids through college, slowly building a 401K, and watching friends retire and move south. The past couple of Pennsylvania winters had been more brutal than most, and I longed for those “changes in latitude, changes in attitude” that Jimmy so famously sings about.
I switched off the car stereo and rode the rest of the way to the lake in silence, the sun on my dashboard but a cloud over my head. Once at the lake, I quickly packed my gear into my boat and paddled out from the dock to open water. I had a motor, but we had a strained relationship and currently were not on speaking terms.
Winds were light, but sailing progress was steady for a couple of hours. The major impediment to an enjoyable sail was the cloud that had continued to gather moisture over my head as my lifestyle contemplation brought lightning bolts of anger and thunderous rolls of jealousy to the leading edge of my darkening emotional cumulonimbus.
As the wind died, I was nowhere near an anchorage, and I cursed my obstinate motor and pulled out the paddle. I left the sails up, hoping some light wind might reduce my labors, but the occasional breezes were tauntingly slight and short-lived. After 30 minutes of paddling and any anchorage still a long way off, I decided to go below to straighten the cabin.
As I stowed gear, I happened upon my long-missing copy of A Dream of Islands, one of my favorite small-boat sailing books. I brought it out to the cockpit while I waited for any wind to resume.
In this beautifully written narrative, Philip Teece describes his travels in Galadriel, a pocket cruiser smaller than my own, as he explores the San Juan Islands near his home in British Columbia. He fits this in among the demands of everyday life, juggling responsibilities like the rest of us and finding inner peace amid the solitude and nature of his local waters.
I read as long as the fading light would allow, then lowered the sails and started paddling again. But in contrast to my earlier frenzied, frustrated labors, I assumed a slow, deliberate motion, with the repetition and cadence relaxing my muscles. My paddle barely disturbed the water as I sliced and pulled, and the silent movement allowed me to hear fish jumping and watch a blue heron patiently stalk its prey. It was a peaceful summer evening. Why hurry? I had no deadlines to meet.
I thought about Teece’s adventures, so close to home yet a world away, separated more by the cabin walls of his boat than by the miles in between. Sure, I had to earn a living, but at least I was healthy enough to do so. Maybe I couldn’t recount seagoing adventures that would make me the life of the party, but this secluded lake was a stress elixir. My family brought responsibilities but also love, pride, and irreplaceable joys.
Eventually, my boat and I found an anchorage. I climbed below to lay in my bunk, the boat rocking gently as I shifted position but otherwise perfectly still in the calm night. The loudest disturbance came from a nearby croaking frog. Through the open hatch, I could see hundreds of stars and the outline of trees on the nearby shore. No neighbor’s spotlight, no barking dogs.
And I thought that maybe I didn’t need a change in latitude. Maybe, after all, I only needed a change in attitude.
Originally published in Good Old Boat magazine, July 2022 https://goodoldboat.com/shop/back-issues/2022-back-issues/2022-145-july-august-2022
Ken Van Camp is a freelance writer, software engineer, voiceover artist, audiobook producer, dog lover, and the author of Keke’s Guide to Training Your Human.
He is a member of Pen, Paper and Pals, Writers of the Villages, and Writer’s League of the Villages. Check out his website to see his many interests: https://vancamp.info