“So…how does it feel to lead a stress free life?” my friend asked me, on the first day I had proper cell service in about five weeks. She was thinking of white sand, coconut trees, and crystal clear waters of the San Blas islands and the picture-perfect life I had portrayed on Facebook. We had left the San Blas and were now a few miles from the mouth of the Panama Canal. The sea state was a bit crazy, and the chart we were looking at looked like this:
For my landlubber friends, here is a basic explanation. This is a screen shot, from my iPhone, of the chart plotter we use for navigation. It shows AIS signals from other boats in the area. AIS stands for Automatic Identification System. It’s a radio beacon that indicates the identification, position, course and speed of boats around us. It’s all about collision avoidance at sea. No one, including any tanker, wants our sailboat to run into them, so the person on watch is always looking out for AIS signals on the chart plotter. It is very reliable, when it is working, when all boats are equipped with it, and the person on watch is actually awake and checking. You don’t want to be without it.
We are the black boat image towards the bottom of the screen, the one with the black lines coming out of the bow. The boat that looks like it is about to be on top of us is a gigantic tanker (if we zoomed in, you would see that there was actually a bit of room), as is the boat on our stern. The larger boat images on this screen are all tankers-swarms of them- some up to 900 feet long and many stories high. The smaller triangles are other sailboats. The red X in front of us with box around it marks the way into the marina.
And all this explanation is to justify why I laughed into the phone while talking to my friend about leading a stress free life.
“There’s a 900 foot tanker off our starboard bow. There’s another one behind that one, and what looks like a gazillion more behind that one. The sea state is a little crazy right now. And we have to cross all these tankers to get into the marina. When we get there, we have to back into a little dock space between two other large boats without hitting them or the dock. I’m not exactly living the stress free life!”
“But at least you’re not worried about your kids!” my friend exclaimed. That was true. I was not worrying about my kids. But that was not the point.
“Kids? Who has time to worry about kids?”
The “normal” stressors in life have, at least for the moment, at least, taken a back seat to the physical, to the immediate, to the here and now. My worries now kick in a fight or flight reflex, not hours of perseverating. They are not constantly on the back of my mind, but come unexpectedly and fiercely.
There is no place for worry about grown up kids who are basically fine when there are high winds, waves crashing over the stern, and the captain (that’s Mike) insists we need do something on deck that will take a 10 minutes but the admiral (that’s me) really knows it will really take a half hour.
There is no place for worry about running out of money when there have been instances of pirating (at gunpoint) in the anchorage you were supposed to visit in a few weeks (we skipped that anchorage).
There is no place for worrying about the widening of your tuchas and the sagging of your boobies when one of only two toilets you have access to is on the fritz.
There is no place for worrying about a bad haircut and an aging face when the boat that was anchored next to you the night before got T-boned by a speedboat in the middle of the night, the evening after we left the anchorage.
There is no place to worry about deadlines when at any moment, one of the many through-hull fittings could leak and sink the boat.
And there is no place to worry about breast cancer recurrence when in the middle of a pitch black evening and I am alone on watch, all AIS signals simply disappear for no reason at all.
Broken engines, fatal heart attacks, pirating, weather. There is plenty to worry about here. I just don’t think I have the bandwidth to worry about things at home as well. At least during the day.
“Are you sleeping any better on the boat?” another friend asked.
“Unfortunately,” I told her, “I brought my head along to the boat.”
A stress-free life? No such thing.