We’ve been searching for a sense of community even before we left Los Angeles and arrived in New York City.
New York provides limitless moments of wonder to all who visit and live here, but it offers a sense of place to very few. You can’t expect a city that holds so many big dreams on its shoulders to not feel hardened with the burden after awhile.
It’s a city that makes itself available but it won’t welcome you. For many, its indifference is a bright challenge. But to us, it’s a tiring one.
Jon and I aren’t joiners. Most obviously, we’re not athletic and we aren’t religious, which rules out the best plug-and-play communities.
We are, however, travelers. Travelers also tend to find their own — and it’s how we found each other. We first met because he gave me travel advice and we ended up swapping stories about our travels for hours.
It’s never easier to be a traveler than when you’re in your twenties. When you’re unattached, unserious and unbearably cheap. These things are the bedrock for being young and alone but not lonely.
But as we grew older and our friends started to pair off, invest in mortgages and grow their families, we found that our community was smaller than we had hoped for. For a few years we felt lost, and traveled around to smaller towns to see if moving somewhere else would fill that empty spot where joyful, aimless travel used to sit solidly in our life plan. That’s where the boat came in.
Sailors make their own communities — weird ones. Like travelers in some far-off inn, sailors are people of different ages and means, united by a similar sense of adventure.
Sailing is a form of traveling, true. But the rudiments of sailing and traveling are also similar. Long hours of introspection. Satisfaction with staring into the distance — off a bow or out a bus window. Being at peace with the unpredictability of weather and whims.
It’s a way of life that makes you generous. With your time, because accepting a slower pace means you are forced to have lots of it. With your advice, because each thing you learn feels imperative for another person to capture the magic of. And with your stuff, be it a meal for strangers or a box full of boat gear that feels too precious to toss. In my experience, nothing matches the generosity of travelers and sailors. The sharing of wild yarns, the pace of storytelling is identical in both worlds.
The act of traveling is actually as old as humans are — it was key to our survival in our nomadic early days. I like to think that wanderlust is hard-coded into us, intractably the same, while the methods for wandering change by the year.
But learning to sail feels old, like I’ve been plugged into some hallowed secret society.
Despite the many things that have modernized sailing, there’s still protocol that has lasted out of logic and love for hundreds of years. For someone who hasn’t grown up with it, the language of sailing is deliciously foreign to me. It feels like play acting at first to follow these things, to learn the proper words for things when they feel a little ridiculous to say. And then it feels sort of… honorable. Like I’m keeping a language from dying and passing it along to others by using it.
It’s rare to find a community that you need no skill, nomination or belief to join, just bull-headed perseverance to keep with it. It’s rarer still when that community is centuries old.
I recently read Joshua Slocum’s Sailing Alone Around the World, in which he journals about his experience solo circumnavigating the world by himself, for the first time in history.
His narrative didn’t seem old timey at all. It was like he was in the room with me. I feel the same way when I see a photo of Einstein or Hemingway behind the wheel of a boat. I have nothing in common with these great men.
Except I do. We totally could have gone sailing together.