Escaping Expectations . . . and Losing Reverse Gear

Apparently, Libbie Custer enjoyed life on the western frontier in part because it offered an escape from the gossip and standards of civilization—an escape from “all that ‘they say.’” As I get further into this biography of Libbie, who shared her husband George Armstrong Custer’s adventures up until that slight mishap at the Little Bighorn in 1876, the writing gives more of Libbie’s perception that the West offered a certain freedom unavailable “back East.”

This sort of perception feels familiar. When one looks at the online forums and social-media posts related to boats and RVs, a pretty strong and frequent theme of “leaving it all behind,” of “breaking away,” pervades. It feels like many, many people dream of sailing into the sunset or hitting the open road in order to leave behind superficial social strictures and the weight of consumerism. Yet while I think one can find an added measure of freedom in these lifestyles, I also think that the boating and RVing subcultures have their own expectations, judgments, and gossip. One may not be judged based on where one went to school, but things like foul-weather gear, RV brand, and parking habits can elicit judgment.

Are such judgments possibly quite silly?


Regardless, they occur. In sailing, they occur a lot when it comes to parking boats. Certain dock lords and ladies love to watch others bring boats in and try to park. This audience savors the show and cherishes the opportunity to offer post-performance “advice.” I myself (pre-Bosun) enjoyed Saturday mornings with the cat when the feline and I lived together on a 31’ Pearson sailboat. We’d watch couples arrive to take the boat out after a long sailing sabbatical. We’d watch the struggles, listen to the invective, and wonder about boating and divorce rates. (The cat is, after all, a cat. She judges.)

Now, a few years later, the cat says I am too old for that kind of entertainment (she continues to judge all things). But it’s still very much a part of weekends at the marina.

And yesterday, we—the Bosun and I—wondered if we would invite opprobrium.

We feared we’d draw a dock-watching crowd upon our return from the anchorage . . . because, after a lovely morning (of a dinghy ride through the anchorage and along shore; reading; and chilling in the cockpit) and an afternoon of great sailing, we knew we’d have to dock without the luxury of reverse gear.

We’d discovered something amiss with our little Caliber’s reverse. No reverse to maneuver 40’ and some 22,000 pounds of fiberglass into a snug parking spot on a breezy day.

So we derived a plan: I’d drive the dinghy in ahead of the sailboat; I’d dock the dinghy and get set to catch the sailboat as the Bosun brought her in—catch her right off, no matter the angle of attack. He’d have no chance of straightening her out with reverse, so I’d just have to be ready with the lines.

It all worked swimmingly, the Caliber is snug in her slip, and we can worry about her reverse gear this week. I don’t think anyone on the dock even suspected she had an issue. But it was a narrow escape. One in which more than a dash of luck played a role.

So Libbie Custer was right: sometimes, in some places, one can escape some of the straits of civilization. But she was wrong in that humans probably aren’t going to allow for a place where truly no judgments exist. The judgments simply change form. (And I think she, of all people, did know that.)

(Judge me all you want for the dumb stuff I do like hopping in the dinghy to get towed by the Caliber under sail. Maneuvers like that delight, while also inhibiting sailing performance!)

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