Not all days in the nomad life are easy. If you live and travel on an RV or boat, you will experience tough times. But what makes them less awful? When you can find meaning.
What Went Wrong When We Moved Onto The Boat
So what went wrong the first year after moving onto our boat?
How much time do you have?
Within our first three days on the boat, the holding tank for our head (boat toilet) overflowed into our bedding. And we couldn’t take the boat for a pump out (to suck the waste out of the boat) because we did not yet have our ownership papers.
We eventually sailed the boat north to Maryland. But once there, we couldn’t keep the engine started. Before going any further, we decided to replace all the fuel lines.
The day before Thanksgiving, we heard an eerie thud under the boat that led to us landing in Deltaville, Virginia. Upon lifting the boat out of the water to diagnose the thud, we discovered a few problems including a folding propeller that badly needed a rebuild.
The seas were rough. By 8:00 in the morning, the watermen were returning to port.
We picked up a stray line on our propeller. Which led to a 16-hour odyssey as we raced a gale under sail back to the marina we had just left.
For the first (and hopefully last time), I, along with my dog Honey and husband Mike, became horribly seasick.
And all this happened in just the first three months.
The crazy thing is that every other first-timer I’ve met, whether traveling by boat or RV, has similar stories for their early days underway.
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What Is The Meaning
Do you remember reading Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning in high school?
Let me remind you.
Victor Frankl survived a Nazi concentration camp just to find that everyone else in his family had died. He spent his life’s work as a psychiatrist addressing questions about human suffering.
He asserted that finding meaning in suffering is what helps people survive it.
Now I do not mean to compare stinky boat bedding or a flat tire with a systematic attempt to commit genocide. But the lesson is the same—you’re more likely to come through a trial, whether minor or catastrophic, if you can find meaning.
So what possible meaning can we find in the string of problems we experienced as new cruisers?
Climbing the learning curve
Even if you’ve been driving for decades, you’ll experience a learning curve when you get behind the wheel of a big rig.
We had not been sailing long when we started cruising. And Meander is our first boat (excluding our kayaks). Of course, there will be a learning curve. Knowing that from the outset gives meaning to all those bad (and expensive) days.
We weren’t victims of a meaningless universe. We were building skills.
Believe me, until the day we installed a composting toilet, we never forgot that it takes a couple about 3 days of full-time use to fill a 12-gallon holding tank.
Improving our boat
I’d be lying if I told you I was happy about replacing every fuel line at once. It took time. And it’s not as sexy as new upholstery or a trip to an exotic locale.
But do you want to know the last time I worried about not being able to start the engine because it was starved of fuel? I couldn’t tell you it’s been so long.
It feels good to just have something taken care of so I don’t have to think about it.
Finally, I didn’t realize our bad days would help us bond with other cruisers. But they have.
What do cruising sailors do at the end of the day? They pour drinks, watch the sunset, and swap horror stories.
Not every day. But often enough.
Our bad days have given us plenty of stories. And we’ve heard our share as well.
One single-hander in Charleston shared about the night he suddenly noticed the stars over his head had disappeared. Luckily, he realized they were being blocked by a giant tanker ship before he collided with it.
As a result of that story, I’ve never forgotten someone I met only briefly several years ago.
Stories of bad days create a bond with people you may only know a short while.
How To Find Meaning
Whether you live in a dirt house, a home on wheels, or a boat you’re going to have bad days. They’re much easier to deal with if you can find meaning in the experience.
So how do you find meaning in tough times?
Don’t seek meaning
Although Frankl acknowledged that finding meaning was crucial for surviving the worst experiences in life, he also advised people not to look for it.
I guess that means I just wasted several hours writing a blog post advising people to seek meaning when bad stuff happens.
But Feldman suggests that you’ll find meaning when you focus on something outside yourself, like higher values. Or helping others.
What you learn on a particularly bad day can be a blessing to someone else.
We learned lessons rolling in rough seas in the Chesapeake Bay that we’ve shared with sailors even greener than we are.
We replaced our fuel lines with very little discussion. We probably only needed to replace one (after we figured out which). But I was an avid reader of The Boat Galley website.
Reading about how Carolyn and Dave spent months tracking down a similar fuel problem convinced us to replace everything at once. After all, the hoses were nearly 30 years old. They were probably due.
I haven’t asked her. But I bet that the time Carolyn Shearlock has spent writing helpful information for others has made the bad days onboard their boat feel more meaningful.
There’s one last tool I believe will prime your mind to find meaning in tough times.
I can’t think of anything more likely to generate toxic emotions than a particularly bad day. But if you cultivate gratitude daily, you’ll more easily transition into a positive mindset.
Which, I believe, will eventually help you find meaning.
When I look back on our worst day on the water, I’m grateful. For
- no one getting hurt
- the things we learned
- the money that paid for our repairs
- a sturdy boat that takes a lot of punishment, and
- a good story.
And most of all, I’m grateful our bad days are more than just bad days. You might even say they are meaningful experiences.
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