A Weekend on the Dock: the Good, the Bad, and the Not Pretty

In this thriller I’ve got coming out this weekend, many of the characters live on boats. As I’ve discussed the book with people, multiple times, I’ve received the question “why boats”?

The boat-life thing doesn’t just provide diverting background (something akin to the Catholic Worker backstory in Jonathan Franzen’s Purity). For the protagonist, moving onto a boat means leaving behind the stress of the “real world,” and this feeling reflects some reality. Something happens when people move onto boats—they want less, they need less, they worry less about the things people often worry about. Sure, I’m generalizing. Exceptions exist. But a walk down a dock most evenings ... or on a Saturday morning ... will likely yield greetings of “good evening/morning,” inquiries into one’s plans for the weekend, comments on one’s dog’s apparent contentment.... People chat. And they do so with smiles. They do so as though they’ve nowhere they need to be.

While one can certainly find this level of interaction and relaxed camaraderie in brick-and-mortar neighborhoods, I’m sure, it just seems to happen more often, and more easily, at marinas. And it happens across broader social boundaries. Boats bring together young people scraping to buy fixer-uppers at lien sales, old salts who’ve chosen the road way less traveled, wealthy retirees on seven-figure seagoing rocket ships, and people who just don’t quite fit a label.

So Devlin Winters in The Venturi Effect lives on a boat because she wants to escape the stress of a life that failed her, a life of outside expectations and crushing standards. She grew up sailing, so she knows this slower boat life exists, and when everything crashes down around her, she goes in search of it.

I didn’t end up on our Caliber in quite the same way, but I appreciate this life for the same reasons: because somehow saltwater dissolves a lot of superficial expectations and puts people at ease.

A Saturday morning on a dock, though, also involves other things that set it apart from “regular” life. It involves a different set of chores.

Having spent last week wrestling migraines (and tapping out more than once, with early bedtimes and unimpressive productivity), I’d fallen behind on a lot. The boat’s waste-water tank, for example, desperately needed emptying. Had I felt better during the week, we would have taken care of things one evening. But I wasn’t in any sort of mood for boat chores when I was wondering if my head was still under warranty and whether I could exchange it for a new one. So the boat wallowed a bit, because one of the problems with self-contained living units like boats is these units require regular attention: fresh-water tanks need filling if one plans to shower, brush teeth, wash dishes; and waste-water tanks must get emptied or ... well ... really bad things happen. And these needs exist regardless of how the crew feels or whether it’s pouring rain or searing hot outside.

This past Saturday morning, we got lucky: no wind, bright sunshine, moderate temperatures. The Bosun piloted us to the pump-out dock, and Boat Dog and I handled the lines. Or I handled the lines, ran the pump mechanism, and disagreed with the Bosun over the best use of the hose to achieve the cleanest, least olfactorily offensive pump out. Boat Dog just got in the way.

Nor did Boat Dog assist in filling the fresh-water tanks when we returned to the slip. Mostly actually, Boat Dog sat in the sun ... and later, in the shade.

My head still hurt. And doing these chores tuckered me out. (And hitting a bunch of proofreading afterward didn’t help the head situation.) But there was no getting around these chores either: like the peace of boat life, the chores of boat life are kinda inherent in the thing.

To be continued ... Saturday evening....

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