Freedom

A true story.

Several years ago, while visiting Savannah Georgia, USA, I found myself down on the historic waterfront exploring the myriad of boats moored at the docks.  As I browsed the many makes, models, shapes and sizes of watercraft I noticed something unique at the far end of the pier.  It was the largest boat there – an older, wooden, two-masted, schooner-rigged sailing vessel that looked as if it had been outfitted to travel the seas forever.  I quickly forgot about all the other lesser little boats and soon found myself taking in the sea-seasoned beauty of the rustic old wooden ship. 

As I took in all the intricacies of the weathered old craft – that to me looked as if it had been around the world and back again many times over – a man carrying an oddly shaped bundle in a canvas sack walked up and climbed aboard the craft.  He was lean and muscular, possibly in his mid-60’s, had a skin tone of deep-brown sun-weathered leather, a medium length grizzled white beard, and a full head of white-blonde hair – he briefly looked in my direction and I noticed he had piercing jade-green eyes.  He was wearing a faded, threadbare t-shirt with what looked like the Japanese kanji for “Mt. Fuji” printed on it – but it was so faded that it was hard to make it out – faded old khaki shorts, and pink flip flops.  He eyed me again briefly then turned and knocked (what to me sounded like a secret knock) on the door to below decks – it opened to reveal an exotically beautiful younger woman wrapped in a tropical print sarong with bronze skin and a waist-length braid of thick, jet-black hair.  She came topside briefly, picked up the bundle he had been carrying, and disappeared back below.  The old sailor picked up an even older toolbox, stepped back down onto the dock, and began to make a minor repair on one of the boat’s portholes – and I took the liberty to strike up a conversation.   

After chatting for a while I discovered that he and his partner, whom he never named – nor did he say his name and I did not ask – lived aboard the boat with their scruffy old mixed-breed dog he called “Bandar” (Bandar = monkey in Hindi).

He did not say where they were from and I did not ask but from his accent I would say he had been either Australian, Kiwi, or British.  He said they did not have a land-based home and for over two decades they had traveled the planet’s oceans – their boat their only home.

The elements provided their energy – as evidenced by the wind turbine spinning almost silently on the mast and several solar modules (panels) of different ages and designs covering the roof above the wheelhouse and part of the deck area.  He said they relied on the rains and island freshwater springs to provide most of their drinking water and they had built a simple but effective collection system of shade awnings constructed from what looked like old canvas and plastic tarps strung up over parts of the deck amidships.  These tarps funneled water into a series of bamboo and plastic gutters, tubes, and pipes that lead to water storage tanks below deck.  When water started to get low and they were far from land they also had a homebuilt solar distillation system that would provide them with just enough fresh water to survive until they were able to locate more.

When I asked if the boat had a secondary power source the old sailor said “I rely on the wind mostly but when the wind dies I just drop anchor until the winds return, or if in the deep – I just drift with the current and work on projects that need my attention until the wind returns.  If close to port or if conditions are so bad that I need to drop sails to save them – or if the need be great enough to move faster than nature wants me to move – I will use the motor.  It’s not petrol – the boat’s electric.  The ancient old petrol engine threw a rod about a decade ago when I was about a week out of Darwin.  I made it safe in to port and then, after finding out how much it was going to cost to replace the old petrol monster – I just tore it all out and sank it in the shallows where it is now a home for the fishes.”  He went on to say that he replaced the old engine with a salvaged electric motor from a fork truck.  He mated the motor with the transmission of an old lorry (truck), bolted it to the boat’s propeller shaft, dropped in several fork truck batteries in place of the old fuel tank and some ballast, and connected it all to the solar panels and wind turbine.  He said “it works perfectly, is far less of a hassle than the old petrol engine ever was, doesn’t stink or leak, is silent, simple, easy to maintain, and also provides electricity for all of the boats navigation/radio/lighting/galley systems – and the best thing is that unlike petrol – it does not promote or support war and environmental pollution and destruction and therefore it is free from the subscription to dependency that is attached to all things powered by godawful petrol.”  (I did not get around to asking him how often he had to replace his batteries or how he afforded to do it since batteries are very expensive but I’ll bet he had that one figured out as well.)   

He said that Dolphins, whales, turtles, and the occasional other sailor were their neighbors. Fish, clams, crabs, shrimp, oysters, conchs, birds and bird eggs, coconuts, taro, yucca, agave, mango, oranges, limes and other citrus fruits, papaya, bananas, breadfruit, and other island fruits provided most of their food.

He said he occasionally made use of ports all around the planet to acquire certain things that he could not easily find at sea such as some “land fruits,” veggies, and parts for his boat.  He stated that he did not usually need or like to stop in port – while stopping did sometimes make life easier and more convenient, it was also dangerous…he did not say why and I did not ask.

While in port he would service other people’s boats in return for the cash needed to buy the supplies/parts he needed to stock up for a while – then he would set sail and move on. 

Then he said “Money is one of the most evil and destructive things ever invented and it pains me deeply that I am occasionally forced to make use of it to get what I need – I would rather fish, forage, scrounge, or barter to survive – but sometimes that is just not what works out.”

I asked him what the other evil things were and he thought a moment and said “greed, selfishness, the childish need for power and control of others, division, slavery, war, people breeding without thought for the future or for the new life they are bringing into existence, the infantile, fearful, self-centered idea of white supremacy, twisted religions that denounce the earth and claim to be the way to salvation for those that follow them – at the cost of everyone and everything else that does not.  And above all else the disrespect and disregard for other living beings and for the living earth that freely gives us all our very lives.”

I sat in silence while he worked, thinking about his words.  While I first found his views on society somewhat shocking, I also found them very refreshingly obvious but often not observed by those who are so caught up in them on a daily basis.  His insight had the wisdom of the truly awake and thinking outsider looking in from beyond the wall of society at the bizarre and troublesome puzzle we have created for ourselves, the full puzzle we cannot usually see because we are stuck on the inside of this matrix of society – forever bound up as slaves to this dangerous and divisive illusion of freedom that we are fed from birth.   

He worked for a while in silence then put away his tools, reached aboard his boat and grabbed the same canvas sack his partner had taken below earlier – only now its contents had been reduced by about ½ – and started walking down the dock, I followed at a respectful distance, interested in where he was headed.  He went to the dock master’s office and proceeded to pay him for his time moored at the dock.  From my perspective it looked like he paid him in tropical fruit, a silk garment of some kind, and what appeared to be a small flask of a clear fermented beverage – all this made me smile – they obviously knew each other and had a friendly barter agreement.  I would bet that somewhere below decks of his boat the man had a very detailed log/map listing all of the ports and individuals who would accept nontraditional payment for docking fees as well as all the tiny uninhabited tropical islands with safe anchorages, fruit, good fishing, and fresh water.

He shook hands with the dock master, said a few parting words, turned, and started walking the dock back toward his boat.  I asked him how he had made it all work for so long and he said “Because I was done. Done with the garbage. Done with the hatred. Done with the killing. Done with the greed. Done with the lies. Done with the illusion.  I had no other choice.”

I did not ask him what he meant by that last part.

He then continued “The sea and small islands provide me with almost all I need to survive and what the sea does not provide I will often find washed up on beaches and in the horrible floating garbage patches of your modern civilization – I make use of the cast-off flotsam and jetsam from your society to help me continue. People like Frank (the dock master I think) also help me when the need arises – but that is not often.”  He said he was saddened deeply that so many people chose to pollute the planet without a care at all for nature or for future generations but he was also grateful that some of the cast off refuse was still so very useful – and free. He made use of many of these items turning them into everything – from the earlier mentioned rainwater collection system, to fishing tools, kitchen utensils, and even the solar still for making fresh water and seasoning salt from salt water.

As we walked back to his boat this most intriguing man then said one of the most interesting things that has stuck with me ever since.  When I asked him where he was from he said; “I do not have a state or nation that I call home. I have cast off all connections to my previous citizenship – from when I was a slave to the system.”  He never did say the country he was originally from – and I could see that it was a sore spot so I did not go there.  “My boat and the oceans are my home.  I am not connected or beholden to any nation, governing, or supportive system other than the governing systems of nature and the vast ocean of the cosmos.”  He then said “My heart hurts for the people caught up in the petty bickering between friends, between families, between nations, over childish soul and society destroying politics, evil money, cultish culture-dividing and soul-destroying religions, I weep for those lost in the horribly wasteful wars, insane terrorist acts, and loss of life all in the name of blind patriotism and body and soul-killing toxically divisive religions, the endless quest for oil, gold, and other material things, the tribal division, the skin deep hate, the denial of observable facts, the carelessness and callousness and frightening blind devotion to flag, nationality, and so many archaic faith-based systems.”  He then quoted Albert Einstein saying “Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind!” 

Interestingly, in all his commentary about the state of things – his words were never bitter, mean or hateful – only a peaceful commentary on the sad status of the world that by choice he had distanced himself from as much as possible…and in some ways that he seemed to be running away from.  I got the feeling that if he had the means he would leave this planet entirely and wander the cosmos – a nomadic drifter, searching for nothing and learning everything.  I silently wondered what it was that had driven him to leave his home country and culture.  The answer I am sure could be found somewhere in his commentary but out of respect for his journey, his privacy, and his freedom to truly be himself – I did not ask.

He then became really quiet and walked to his boat, when he reached the gangplank he stopped, turned to me and said “The only way to be truly free is to completely and forever let go of the illusions of freedom that your parents, your government, your society, your education, your religion – whatever illusions have been programmed into your mind by your culture and society that holds you like a slave in its grasp – and become your own person.  That is what I did after…”

He abruptly stopped speaking, looked out to sea for a long moment and said – “Cast off the imaginary anchors and chains of the illusion of freedom and only then will you be really and truly free and only then will your eyes be opened to the true nature of things.”

With that he turned away from me, walked up to the ramp onto his ancient schooner and made ready to depart. Silently I watched as he was joined by the scruffy Bandar and his beautiful partner and together they pulled in the gangplank and moorings, used a long pole to push the boat outward from the end of the dock into the current of the outgoing tide, deployed a single sail – the soft mid-morning breeze slowly filling it out pushing old boat, its human and canine passengers and their entire free-floating world silently through the waters of the inter-coastal waterway and out into the Atlantic Ocean where they deployed the rest of their sails – and then within a few moments – they were gone.

No illusions, no limitations, no flag, faith, or nation – only mysterious residents of planet earth who were truly one with nature and well and truly free.

Free your mind and find true freedom.

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