Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Hobbies Afloat

We enjoy the historical reenacting, and the opportunity for education.  But with little boys, it's all about our swords.   (Photo by Cindy Wallach)

You can learn a lot about someone, when you learn how he/she spends his/her free time.

Living and traveling on a boat, much of our time is spent navigating, looking at the natural world around us.  Or exploring port towns we stop in.  Or doing boat chores, oiling the teak or trimming the sails or scrubbing the bottom.  Still, not all of our time is spent on the business of everyday (boat) living.  There’s still plenty of time for hobbies.

I read about this fun blog hop: once a month, a varied group of liveaboard bloggers agree to write about a given topic so readers can get multiple points of view on a subject by visiting the blogs.  I enthusiastically agreed to participate without the faintest idea what I was going to say.  Sailing was my “hobby,” but now that we live aboard a boat fulltime, it’s my everyday life.  Is living in a house a hobby, for people who live on land?

The hobbies one can take up on a boat are limited by the fact that you’re in a very small space that moves.  Could you imagine having a pool table aboard?  Even if you had the space to begin with, the motion would be an issue.  You just get that perfect shot lined up when you get hit by a wave that shakes or tilts the table.  Right.  For the same space and motion reasons, model trains are out, as is gardening.  What hobbies do I have?  What the heck am I going to write about that doesn’t seem incredibly obvious, or that doesn’t make me sound like a dilettante?  When we lived on land in Colorado, we hiked and backpacked and canoed and cross-country skied.  Well, we don’t exactly have room to store a tent and a canoe and boots and all the associated gear, and snow-based recreation is certainly a non-starter – our whole living on the boat thing was predicated on getting away from winter, not seeking snow.  We used to enjoy making things with stained glass – but glass breaks on a moving boat.  We used to brew our own beer – but the beer needs a quiet dark place to settle, not a constantly-moving platform.

So I’m mentally doodling about what makes a good hobby afloat, and what, exactly, do we do when we have nothing to do?  Drinking rum or checking my Facebook page are probably not the pastimes I want to emphasize here.  Um, yeah.  People aren’t going to learn anything about living on a boat from that; people already know all about being a couch potato on land.

What do we do?  We read.  A lot.  Sometimes paper and sometimes on an e-reader.  I love learning about the places we visit and what makes them unique, about the historical and geographic factors that shaped them.  When I retired I promised myself I’d read one non-fiction book a month, to keep my brain from turning to jello, and I’ve mostly kept that promise, with books about science or history or sociology or nautical topics.  Reading (on an e-reader) is a good boat hobby, as are writing/blogging and digital photography.  Thanks to modern technology, those take up virtually no space.  Which is probably why almost all the people I know who live on boats include those on their list of hobbies. 

Okay, those are the basics that a huge percentage of liveaboard sailors do, then what?  Hobbies afloat can’t be equipment-intensive or create things that take up a lot of space.  One boater I know is all about bird-watching.  Now that’s effective!  Bird sightings are the only thing I can think of that you can collect without taking up space for your collection.  And while I like watching the birds (and vegetation, and fish, and shorelines) near the boat, I’m not inspired to study any of these in detail.

Sheesh!  My deadline’s coming up and I have nothing to write about!  What ARE my hobbies?  I’m gonna sound like such a boring dork in this article.  Worse, I got into this blog-hop thing trying to get more visibility.  Great.  MORE people, reading my stuff for the first time, their first impression of me is gonna be, she’s bor-ing.  Note to self: do NOT volunteer  to write articles when you have no clue.  Hobby?  Hobby?  I don’t knit – why make warm sweaters when we (and most of our friends) are trying to live in endless summer?  Music?  One of my neighbors plays the guitar – a special smaller-than-standard one that stores more easily on the boat and is much welcomed at our happy hour gatherings – but me? The only musical instrument I can play is the iPod.  Art? When we moved aboard I brought a rainbow of colored pencils and pastels, imagining quiet evenings at anchor sketching, inspired by the natural beauty around us.  The beauty was there alright, but the inspiration never really struck.  I think to be an artist at that level, art would have to be something you can’t *not* do, an image bursting to get out.  Or, as artist and silversmith Brenda Radjkovich put it in a profile I wrote last year “art isn’t what I do, it’s who I am.” I guess, art’s not who I am…

We’re vegetarian, so we don’t fish.  When we’re somewhere with clear warm water, we swim and snorkel and scuba dive, but those activities don’t quite have the same appeal in the murky Chesapeake, where we’re located now, as they do when we’re in the crystal Caribbean.  We love to cook and, within the limits of our vegetarian diet, explore the unique ingredients and styles of the places we visit.  Except for a few gadgets, cooking is another hobby that doesn’t create things that take up space (except at the waistline, and the exercise we do to get rid of that is a separate story).  Lots of fun, but it’s still – cooking is what you do to sustain your body, it’s not what I think of as a consuming hobby approaching a passion.  Passion.  You know, the thing you’re doing when you lose track of the time, passion, that kind of hobby.  

Uh-oh, at this point I have about 1,000 words written and I still haven’t figured out what this article is about. <* Sigh*> Recently our interest in learning deeply about the places we’re visiting has gotten us involved in historical reenacting.  We can dress up as period-correct sailors or pirates, and even have taken swordfighting lessons to complete our characters.  Gives us a great opportunity to introduce kids to an interest in history, and make some points.  We tell them, Disney is cool and pirates are popular right now, but you know, real pirates are the bad guys, right?  And the reenacting thing is fun and educational and we’ve met some fantastic and thoughtful people.  Given our tendencies, though, it’s all too likely this is just a fling rather than a long-term interest that will grow and expand.  Before this, it was classic board games, and before that it was Sudoku, and before that it was counted cross stitch.  And after this? Surely there will be something else, but what it is?  Who knows?

And that’s when it struck me.  We really don’t have any one great consuming passion, but we explore many different things.  I was once at a gathering with a group of people who were talking about their family histories, one whose ancestors came over on the Mayflower; another one whose great-great-grandfather had a store in New York; or Dan’s family that has farmed the same part of Kansas for five generations.  And I remember saying something to the effect that it was weird sitting here with them and having no stories to contribute, because my family escaped Russia with almost nothing when the Communists took over and they didn’t bring their file cabinets with them, so much of their history was lost.  And one of the guys at the table turned to me and said, “But Jaye, that is your story.”  In the same way, maybe not having a hobby, but exploring many different things, is our story.  Just like living on the boat and traveling, we sample many different cities, but don’t have any one home.  “New” is our hobby.  “Change” is our hobby. 


  1. Doing new things is a hobby most people avoid, so good on you. And swords are great, too. Now I want one.

  2. Courtney, we got the swords from Ours are the "Caribbean" for stage fighting, and came with a free first lesson in technique.