Messing Around in Boats — Cuban Diary Feb 10

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There is nothing better than messing around in boats. Long before there were roads or even jungle trails, being on water was the closest to nature that anyone could (and can) ever get. Really. Never mind all that talk about wilderness and nature, you are closer to the earth and your fundamental nature sitting on a luxury liner in the middle of the ocean than you will ever get in a tent with a branch sticking into the middle of your back.

Trust me. My ancestors were Vikings. With a name like Trenholm what else could they be? They came over to Yorkshire in the 11th century – paid off with Danegeld, and have been wanting to get back to sea ever since. They took an ocean voyage to come live in Nova Scotia, another almost island surrounded by salt water. Boats are in my heritage in more ways than one.

Think, too, of how close sea water is to all the other essential fluids of life – blood is only the most common metaphor – full of salt and life. From the water we came, first as slugs and then as fish with legs and lugs.

You see how messing around in boats makes you philosophical, almost, if I may be so bold, spiritual? Put thirty strangers on a boat for a day and by the time you return to dock you are practically family (unless of course you are English where you become the closest of acquaintances).

Boats and the water they float in connect us to the past in deep and visceral ways. A few years ago I floated down canals in Mexico City that the Aztecs built and that are still used as a convenient highway by the people who live along them. They travel on them, they entertain on them, they shop and eat on them. It is a connection that links the people of Mexico City to the most ancient users of the city.

Everywhere I go, the first thing I ask is there a way to be on the water (in the water is a whole different story). I’ve been in canoes and kayaks, in sailboats and yachts on ferries and liners. There is something fundamental to me about messing on boats – it may be the one thing I like better than an urban café.

Messing about on boats. The call of the sea. The sound of a hull cutting water. It is the closest thing I ever get to religion.

But that’s ten minutes (Cuban time).

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