In search of clarity

Cruising without refrigeration is no hardship, as the bounty of the sea is easy to come by. Photo by David Buckman

Our coasting adventures always seem to be in a certain state of flux as we fathom new ways of addressing the epic sweep of them, and meld into the tried and true. Touching on life’s largest themes and nature’s most powerful forces, it’s about seeking a certain clarity of things – a process of heroic proportions requiring simple steps, the wisdom of the ages and provocative exemplars.

I revered Henry David Thoreau back in the day. Read everything he wrote, enjoyed his native voice, and came to think of him as a bit cloistered, if a genius for the durability of his ideas.

His cabin at Walden Pond was one of the models for my 18-foot barebones sloop, aboard which Leigh and I discovered the New England and Fundy coasts back in the ’70s. Like the sage of Concord, the establishment took a dim view of my departure from the conventional ways, but in 78 years of sailing those adventures proved some of life’s finest moments.

I took a certain juvenile satisfaction in the success of the departure from convention – not that anybody cared in the slightest, but it assured me I could give some weight to my own counsel. The substance of my mentor’s message – simplicity in life’s affairs – has been wind in our sails.

Change is as persistent as it ever was, and the current Leight, a Swedish-built 26-foot Folkboat, which Leigh and I have cruised aboard for 33 years, seems a genius of sorts herself: so tactile, capable, comfortable and malleable.

If the full-keel sloop and the mate and I are a bit primitive by contemporary measures, we’ve been greatly energized by the process, have known fabulously dramatic experiences, enjoyed depths of solitude virtually unknown in the day, and felt wildness that strikes us quiet. And, we have a great affection for our Leight, which is the optimal circumstance to pursue in such matters and imparts a certain synergy to the process.

Something of a mechanical defective, I’ve addressed my shortcomings with the simplest of systems that have the least possible things to break down and are maintainable by the ham-handed. The sloop has no fridge nor icebox to attend to. Her bilges and the bracing Gulf of Maine waters answer the need to keep things cool. A steak placed in her depths is good for four days; veggies keep perfectly well; grapefruit last for weeks. The bounty of the sea is generous, and the bilges maintain wine and beer at near optimal temperatures without us being beholden to tech folk much smarter than I.

Simplicity and clarity are reflected in our sloop’s sails, as well. We left the genoa ashore for a hanked-on jib that sheets inboard. It allows us to point higher and is exceedingly handy at sailing into the slimmest of possibilities, which adds breadth and depth to cruising.

Sailing is about coming to grips with the pleasures of life in the slow lane and knowing there’s more to the world than we’ve read. With Leight’s handy ways, we’ve discovered more than 30 off-the-beaten-path eel ruts, all but unknown to the world. The ticket to these private places has been the simplicity and confidence it inspires. Being privy to such secrets makes us see there is no end to the search for clarity.

David Buckman sails his Folkboat, Leight, out of Round Pond, Maine, and has cruised from the Chesapeake to Newfoundland.