The Walmart Life

Life at the dock is too easy. Since getting back from our cruise, we've quickly adjusted to the luxuries of what I've come to call the "Walmart Life." We wasted no time in buying a car, visiting all our favorite restaurants, shopping at Target, Walmart, and J.C. Pennys. In no time at all, we seem to be back in the land of instant-gratification, jumping in the car to race across town for the smallest item, or better yet (thanks to our high speed Verizon Broadband wireless on Seaductress) ordering it over the Internet so it can be shipped right to the marina.

One of the culture shocks awaiting us when we returned was a pile of Yachting magazines that had arrived while we were gone. While the chance I'll ever be allowed to step aboard one of the mega-boats featured in this magazine is remote, they were giving away free subscriptions at the Atlanta Boat Show and I had foolishly signed up. Yachting, bless its heart, boldly showcases the shameless greed, waste, and inequity of western society in every issue. If a boat costs more than a million dollars and burns more than a hundred gallons an hour, you might read about it in Yachting. However, in a rare change of pace, the November 2006 issue had an article about rising sea levels due to climate change, prompting this response from a reader:

This magazine is for yacht owners. We burn lots of fossil fuel, pay more taxes and give more to charity than all the people who complain against us. An article on global warming does not belong in a yachting magazine. No article that is so full of hogwash belongs in magazines that educated people read.

Joseph M. Wisniewski
Yacht Owner, BSME and MBA, and Business Owner

To their credit, the editors highlighted Mr. Wisniewski's letter in bold print to emphasize its audacity. However, I should also mention that the same issue opens with a tale of catching a ride up to the dock at Monaco in a 46 foot tender that cost $800,000. There's an old saying that however expensive the boat, the view from the water is the same. After reading Yachting for a while, I'm starting to wonder if that saying is true.

I remember when we came back to Florida after a winter in the Caribbean how amazing it was just to ride down a typical American street. The buildings, the cars, the billboards, the stores! Some of our supermarkets devote most of an entire aisle just to olives. I'll wager there are more pounds of olives in that aisle than the Pink Store in Staniel Cay has in its entire inventory of food. For a time the abundance amazed us, but now I'm afraid it's starting to seem normal again.

America is a throw-away society with a short attention span. So much of what we consume, even the things we truly need, comes packed five layers deep inside cardboard and plastic and Styrofoam. Our highways are wall-to-wall with trucks full of these trinkets, many of which have come halfway around the world from China to reach our homes. When something breaks, chances are good we'll just throw it away and get a new one. But none of that is any problem, because to us it seems so painless. Our landfills may be bursting at the seams, our trade deficit soaring, our energy use growing ever more outlandish, but we don't see it because it's all hidden from our view. Judging from the nightly news, the biggest things on our minds are how long Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan will be in jail after their latest arrests for drunken driving.

It's the same old song: when everything is easy, nothing has much value.

On a cruising boat, you think long and hard about every item you bring aboard, because you simply don't have space for things that aren't essential. You know exactly how much trash you're generating because you may have to carry it around for days or weeks in a locker. Likewise, you know how much fuel you're using, how much water and food, how much electricity, because it's a big deal to get more. If something on the boat breaks, it can take several weeks to get a replacement shipped in.

In a lot of ways, the cruising life is the old proverb in action:

Use it up, wear it out,
Make it do or do without.

One of the things I loved about cruising was the lack of pretension. The values portrayed in Yachting magazine, its glossy pages filled with extravagance, were completely irrelevant. Sure, we might admire another boat, but that admiration was usually based on substance rather than style, and the young Canadians on an old 25 foot sloop were just as welcome at the beach potluck as the retired couple on a new fifty footer. We spent our days doing simple things and tried to be content with what we had. Watch the weather, keep the boat floating, sit in the cockpit and watch the sun set each and every night...that was a life that made sense to me and kept my priorities in order.

Cruising, living a simple life in a small space that is intimately connected with the natural world, changes how you see that world. From the deck of a small boat, you just might gain a perspective where less honestly can be more. It's not a point of view, I'm afraid, that Mr. Wisniewski, BSME and MBA, is likely to appreciate or understand.

Title Photo: A maritime scrap yard off Pensacola Bay.

Copyright © 2007 by Rodger Ling. All rights reserved.