Written by: Jon of S/V Tarka
Before we were cruisers and had the responsibility of boat ownership, I often pondered the origin of the phrase, “to swear like a sailor.” Prior to having first-hand experience with the perils of the sea, I assumed sailors had a reputation to swear merely because they were a crass, rash, and unruly bunch to begin with- the sorts of fellows who couldn’t be employed more fashionably. In fact, the very nature of being a sailor meant that you could no longer bother society with your inhospitable and ill-mannered temperament. You had been marooned to a floating fortress which served as your prison.
My wife and I spent 4 seasons cruising on a 27′ Swedish-built sloop, known as an Albin Vega. It took less than a week for that glorified bathtub to have me rethinking why it was that sailors swore so much. The simple answer is: we simply have a lot to swear about.
When you live on land, you have relatively little worries, and most of the worries you do have are not life-threatening. There is a certain consistency and predictably to everyday life. Sure, things go wrong now and again and undesirable things can and do happen. You get stuck in bad traffic on the way to work because of road construction, your satellite TV keeps cutting out during re-runs of “Downton Abbey” because of thunderstorms, you were outbid on eBay for that Cher concert ticket you were trying to score all month by someone who goes by the name TurnBackTime1989.
But on the water, even the most trivial of problems can feel overwhelming. The zipper of your fancy Gortex rain jacket rusts which you only discover during a torrential downpour- threatening to induce hypothermia. We’ve had engines overheat while coming into a crowded anchorage, anchors drag in the middle of a sleepless night as squalls rolled through, dinghy tethers snap in the middle of a sail, reefs passing uncomfortably close to the hull because we misread the charts. We even had a mooring line break which resulted in our boat washing ashore as well as untold damage to everything electronic on board- not to mention the bribes trying to be solicited from us by the local coast guard of a Caribbean country which I will not name.
Sometimes it can feel like a losing battle to try and keep a boat afloat. Problem after problem threatens to sink the little piece of driftwood that you call home- a tiny little bobber in the middle of the endless and infinitely powerful sea. To cope with these everyday realities we’ve adapted two main strategies.
The first is to be mindful that the struggles you face are directly proportional to the rewards you reap. Toilet hose backfires all over the bed? There’s a breathtaking rainbow. Seasick and feeding the fish for 24 hours during a rough sail? A pod of dolphins. Perpetually salty and sunburned? Endless starry nights above and bio-luminescence below.
But when the projects and problems pile up to seemingly insurmountable heights, you’re at your wits end and the mindfulness trick just isn’t cutting it, you can always fall back on the oldest coping mechanism in the maritime book: swear like a sailor.