My money or my time…or How does one barter a boat life?

“To have seen much and to have nothing is to have rich eyes and poor hands” says the cross-dressing Rosalind in Shakespeare’s As You Like It. 

Ok…cross-dressing has nothing to do with it. 😉

I want to see much, but I also don’t want to pay for it. Or rather I don’t want to work in the cubical-ized sense for the bank account to then pay for the pre-chewed fun that passes as experiences nowadays.

I don’t have an aversion to work — only mindless, soulless work. Work that has mastery, autonomy, and purpose…no problem. I love to have sore muscles and dirty hands at the end of a day. Living mindfully is work. Staying present is a ton of work. Beautiful little children are work (and often provide the above-mentioned sore muscles and dirty hands). Doing what you love is…well…often work too. Finding ways to creatively swim against the consumerist stream is work. Learning all the ways to live with less is work. To barter your time, energy, and talent for someone else’s time, energy, and talent is work, but reciprocal in a way that excites me. The work in these situations isn’t lost in translation, or subjectively monetized beyond recognition, it’s present. Your sweat (and sometimes blood and tears) are exchanged in a real, intimate way.

I understand that, as the system is now, barter and the like cannot be the only form of exchange. I can’t trade baked goods or needlework for roads and bridges or health insurance. But I can trade fresh-canned blackberry jam or help clean a boat for a haircut, or some babysitting, or a yoga class, or (if the gods be smiling) a foot massage. Gene can, theoretically, make someone a sail cover in exchange for some charts, or (as an unusual current example) a 16th century pavilion in exchange for tattoo work. We can spend a few days on an organic farm on the Salish Sea and take back to our boat veggies and such that will allow us to cruise full-bellied for that much longer. Regardless of what is needed — some boat work or babysitting, a guide or a meal — I’d like to believe we can work it out often without money.

This seems to be a thing in the boating/cruising community. By necessity, by tradition, or by design…and I’m all for it! But this dreamy, masterful life of autonomous and purposeful exchange is still largely theoretical for us. Barter has become such a foreign concept in recent American generations. But it seems to be creeping back into vogue. Bartering with our friends (Gene’s woodwork and my mad dishwashing skills, in exchange for a room) has made this transition from house to boat possible without 8 months of rent. My mother has graciously helped with childcare here and there while we’ve looked at boats or taken sailing lessons. My father choosing to spend his time and energy creating innovative computer programs, to make the money to bestow upon me the generous birthday gift of sailing lessons. This would have been so much harder without their support.

Our time is, as you’ve heard, the most precious resource any of us have. We often spend it in ways we’d rather not. And that’s not going to go away completely — hello hand-washing cloth diapers! — but many have pioneered before us. Many are doing just this with more children and more challenges. There are hundreds of families making a go of it on the big blue.

I am realizing how grateful I am to have the freedom and choice and support to do this. We live on relatively little money now — just a bit above the federal poverty line. But we hope to live on even less on the boat. Our bobbing home is paid for (thanks the sale of our house during the insane Denver housing bubble), we love shopping at thrift stores and through Craigslist and are discovering the illusive nautical marketplaces where sailors exchange used goods. We are designing a life with less income, but also less expenses, which we hope will equate to more time.

And how will we spend our time? Learning to sail well (we know the basics, but there is sooooo much more), to navigate by sextant and chart, to manage and actually cook something edible on a woodburning stove, simplifying our boat’s systems (to make her as Annie Hill puts it “unstoppable” — as in there isn’t anything complicated to break that we can’t fix ourselves), sailmaking, laundry aboard, living without refrigeration, foraging and local WOOFing (Working On Organic Farms)…the list is long and daunting. But strangely exciting. And we will be doing it in Puget Sound — drippy and grey at times, but breathtakingly beautiful and lush in exchange.

Poor, well-used hands are fine with me. Rich eyes…those are something to work toward.

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One thought on “My money or my time…or How does one barter a boat life?

  1. Away from the cubicle, the sprawl of the city, you have found the ocean (or at least the Sound). Please regal us with an update of where your crazy and audacious adventure has taken you so far. 😉

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