One quote that stood out to me from David Gessner’s The Tarball Chronicles is located on page 215. It is a simple but thought-provoking statement: “Do with a little less and two things will happen—the world will be better and you will be happier.”
I thought about this as I turned my cell phone off, tucking it away in my oversized weekender bag for the next thirty hours or so. I had warned my wife Stephanie that we would probably not have much, if any, use of our cell phones on the overnight sail trip I took with my class. I warned her because I knew it was going to be true. But I was also glad of it, relieved to be detached and unplugged for a couple of days. Periodically, I find myself needing to “turn off” for a period of time—whether it’s an hour, a day, or a week—and I find that the more I do it, the more I need to do it. Not using the aid of outside energy or resources somehow gives our bodies more.
This sailing trip was no different. I decided not to use my cell phone, knowing it wouldn’t be easy, but that it would be good. It was especially challenging at first; I was tempted several times in the first few hours of the sail to turn it on just to see if Stephanie had texted me, feeling guilty that I had not yet texted her to make sure she knew I was ok. But I sent some energy out to her that night as I laid in my sleeping bag on the deck of Boogens II, the old sailboat donated to my university for academic use.
I could hear the dolphins still splashing around us as I felt myself begin to fall into a light doze. The gentle rocking of the boat lulled me into a sleep that was interrupted periodically by the bark of dogs across the water or a boat crossing nearby. It was surprisingly easy to fall asleep on the Boogens II, and surprisingly difficult to stay that way.
The first thing I noticed when I awoke early the next morning was the sun shining on me. Being a Florida native, I know the power of the sun and both the good and bad effects it can have on us. I donned my hat and long-sleeved shirt and reached for my sunscreen. Looking around me, I realized that nobody else was awake yet. This was shocking and also a bit of a relief to me. Normally a night owl, I felt excited to take advantage of the rare opportunity to wake up with the Florida morning sunrise. I found a comfortable spot and just sat, soaking it all in.
The tides started to change as the sun rose above the trees. I began to think about the way everything affects everything. Our boats were bobbing up and down in the water as the waves grew bigger. The waves made us stumble across the deck, arms flailing about in search of the nearest thing to hold onto. Boats speeding by us inevitably caused our smaller, slower boat to sway and the wind began to change again, forcing us to get up and gather around our captain as he guided us through the process of moving the sails.
The power of our atmosphere was strong and intimidating. The waters continued to challenge our small but sturdy sailboat, Boogens II. She was built just a year after I was born, and I wondered at the hands who made her. I wondered how many people it took, what tools they used, and how long it must have taken. A fellow classmate mentioned that the base of a sailboat is built to last forever, and I considered this as the waves grew taller and stronger, tossing us around on the deck of the boat. The tides were forceful and the skies grew cloudy; there was no need for the motor yet and I was grateful for that.
I knew I would be powering on my phone and texting Stephanie later on that evening, as we neared the campus marina and our trip drew to a close. I knew this just as I knew that our captain would need to use the motor, probably around the same time. I had spent two days immersed in the water, traveling via sails powered by wind, exploring preserves on foot and draining the toilet by hand. I had felt the way things tend to grow loud when it is very quiet, and had allowed this to happen until everything settled and I was myself again. I would carry this with me, a wind in my sails, until embarking on the waters once again.