• Jenna Mac

Living on a Boat

Space. Fresh water. Routine. Things you take for granted when you live in a home or an apartment, working a traditional job. Things you crave at times when you work and live on a boat.

I bought a house in 2014. I lived there alone except for a brief period that I hosted a Korean exchange student. I still own my house, but someone else lives there. It’s not a huge home, but it was ample space for myself and my dog. At times I resented the space I had as it was a consistent reminder of my loneliness. I longed for the empty rooms to be filled with the laughter of kids, family, and friends. And there were times when I really valued that space all of my own. Space to listen and play music, space to sit outside on my deck in the summertime surrounded by fairy lights, surrounded by the smell of grass and dew. I had a garage and I loved puttering around like I imagine men doing, varnishing and sanding things as an independent woman. I would like my firewood up as well. All things that made me feel accomplished and self sufficient.

At times my home was filled with people and at times it was empty, and neither felt enough for me. And now, I have filled the space around me in a non-traditional way, and at times I resent that. I now miss the days of waking up alone. Knowing it was only me to clean up after or to blame for the messes I may have left when I felt lazy.

I live on a boat now, full time. The tiny single bottom bunk in a cabin for two, is my space, and I don’t own it. Space and solitude are commodities. You move in with strangers whom at first seem very appealing because they’re new, and as time goes on, and you’re only surrounded by these same people in this very small world of the boat you live on, they become less appealing. This is generally at no fault of their own if they’re good people, it’s just that being with anyone for endless hours, days, months, can be a challenge. You learn to love and/or dislike some quirks of others, to respect different views and boundaries, and to accept people at their best and worst, and I suppose you also learn whom you wouldn’t want to be friends with out in the world, and those people you politely tolerate so as not to rock the boat.

Imagine your office or work environment was your full time home. You float around with, work, and live with your coworkers 24/7. Does that sound appealing? Becky from HR shares a bunk with you and you often spend the majority of holidays, all of your work time, and a lot of your free time with her as well. Sometimes by choice, sometimes because you’re at sea or at small marinas where there’s virtually no escape.

Being on a boat has forced me to work through some of my feelings surrounding control. Being in the company of others consistently can provoke a reaction. At times for me reactions are unwanted feelings like “god dammit if so and so doesn’t stop smacking his lips when he eats I will pummel him in the face”. Obviously these kinds of thoughts I prefer not to have. You can attempt escape perhaps by walking into another room, but because you’re on a boat, chances are good that another person will already be in that room or come in soon after. So what do you do? What do you do when all the small habits and behaviours people have seem to flood your sensitive self? You learn to deal with it, and you realize that others around you are likely just as annoyed by your personal habits as you are by theirs.

Other aspects of boat life are the hectic schedules that are never in fact schedules. There are times you can wake up and look out your porthole and not know which country you may be in. There’s the sea sickness. The fact that a personal life may only exist in short spurts where you try to live like a “normal person”, perhaps by dating another human, or by driving your own car or going to the movies. But these things are fleeting, and only the strongest of relationships survive and can accommodate this life. You either need to work with the person you’re trying to date, or leave the job, working a regular job where you now resent each other for altering some of your passions or goals.

To maintain some alone time while being surrounded by people, I write, I put on headphones, I meditate in a small space or in my mind while someone elbows me while chomping down dinner in the crew mess like a savage. One of my coworkers had a shirt on today that said “let that shiitake go”. The man who dawns said t-shirt is a very calm individual. He appears not to get too irritated by small things. I am trying to be more like that. But all of these things that are bothersome or you think about such as “how do I come across to others”, these thoughts help me evaluate myself and work on being a well rounded person. I never want to be a sell out by changing myself for other people, and I will still have my opinions and views, but I have learned that what makes sharing your space easier is to be aware of differences, and function with a level of respect and interest of learning from variations in personality.

In the end, a boat to me is a small little universe that often feels independent from the rest of the world, but similar in all of its mechanisms and functions. I learn from others, I learn from myself, I try to be the best person I can be, and I try to recognize when I need to seek out solitude however I may be able to create that in this space. And when it all gets a bit too much, I escape.

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