Life’s a beach . . . or is it?

By David Roper

In these times of COVID-19, statistics show that many people are virtually escaping to paradise via YouTube. If you Google “Sail to Paradise,” you’ll get 40,300,000 hits. As of today, there are 1,300,000,000 YouTube videos out there, movies from every imaginable category. So, if you can’t actually set sail right now (or leave your house, for that matter) and dream of getting to those tropical isles, the ones with the seemingly endless white sand beaches, well, you can let YouTube take you there . . . all 40 million of you.

I did some research on the sail-away video virtual world and found these sail-away movies run the gamut: Well-done, exciting, vapid, didactic, tasteless, sensual, alluring, terrifying, and sometimes even amusing. They address a variety of themes: How we did it with no money; how we did it with plenty of money; how we handled the mechanical challenges, how we sailed through and avoided great storms at sea, how we cooked at sea, how we co-existed in a small space with our crew or spouse, and on and on. (I also noticed, by the way, the videos with the greatest number of views had attractive women in bikinis swimming among dolphins. Hmmmm? Part of paradise, I guess.)

The irony of all this is the stark reality that voyaging on a sailboat often translates to hard manual labor and problem solving with limited resources, lack of comfort, and travel to places with few, if any, friends or network. There is dread about impending bad weather, sickness during the actual bad weather, constant anxiety that something will soon break in the bad weather, fear that pirates lurk over the horizon, apprehension that clearing customs at the next port may not be possible and you’ll never get ashore, realities that most of your time in the next “paradise” port will be spent finding a laundromat you can walk to, trying to find the right currency, locating a welder who can fix that broken chainplate, a boatyard that can haul the boat while you still live aboard, and finding a connection to that absolute necessity: the internet. The list goes on and on. Ironic, but when you dissect it, it’s really kind of like life ashore, where the exigencies of life often leave little time left over to enjoy “paradise.” At this point, then, perhaps the voyager begins to wonder, is this really much different? Yes, it is! Ashore you’re stuck with things such as a couple thousand square feet of living space, unlimited water and nearly unlimited hot water for showers and baths, a contraption called an automobile that can whisk you off to any land-based place you can imagine, including hospitals and doctors’ offices with your medical records, and easily attainable visits to aging parents, children and grandchildren. In short, ashore you are back in the relative certainty of easily attaining what you need.

But then, as a voyager, you make wonderful friends. A couple rows over and makes a comment about where you’ve come in from, or a comment about your boat or hailing port, or they share a story of their weather during the last passage. Soon you all gather on one of the boats and swap stories. You find you have many common bonds because you share the same dream. So then you make plans together. You share meals. You trade specialized skills and tools to help each other out. Maybe you help a local family repair their roof. You’re neighbors, now, after all . . . neighbors with a common interest. It’s almost as if you’re back on that shore-based life you left behind.

As on shore, though, what stays with you and why you persevere is because of the people. The vivid sunsets fade. The hot white sand cools. But what is indelible is how you helped that couple in need; then they helped you. That’s what you remember. The people. Not the white sand beach.

For you come to realize that you can’t hug a white sand beach, can’t ask it questions, can’t feel good by lending a hand on something it needs. You come to realize that the white sand beach in paradise is really an escape to nowhere. You realize that there’s an uplifting in your own life every time you’re feeling useful to someone else, when you sense the value of what you’ve contributed, what you’ve given to others along the way.

As Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

That, after all, especially in these tough times, is what makes the world work.

And that’s paradise.

Look for David Roper’s forthcoming book, “Beyond Mermaids . . . Life’s Tangles, Knots & Bends.” It’s a sequel to “Watching for Mermaids,” a three-times bestseller available on