Call For a Tow

The Pretty Color of Winter Blues

By Tom Neale, 12/28/2007


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Winter reflections

We don’t do winter anymore. We head south to lower latitudes. We follow the geese down, with the cold fronts chasing us. Sometimes they catch us, but usually we’re far enough south so that they barely nip at our bare feet. And then, when the gray of northern winters begins to turn to shoots of green and buds of flowers, we head back up the coast with the embrace of spring. We don’t do winter anymore.

But we miss it. Not enough to stop our migrations, but we do miss it. As I write this I’m on the lower Chesapeake in Virginia. We had to come back up to take care of some business. We left the boat down south where it is so much warmer. Soon we’ll head back down to rejoin it and continue further south. But right now? We’re actually enjoying the winter.

It isn’t officially winter yet, but it will be in a few days and it’s been every bit as cold as winter here--and then some. It’s reminded us of what we’ve missed during these many years of migrations. To most people, our lifestyle of heading south every year is ideal. It’s “what we dream of doing when we can.” It is ideal for many and it’s a good dream to have and to fulfill. But we often don’t see the beauty of what we experience day in and day out. And to those of you who are digging in for another winter in the north, let me say: there are many good things, even in the winter.

Sure, you usually have to stop boating. That’s always depressing. It’s a bummer, no matter how you look at it. But it’s not all bad. This gives you a chance to think about projects to make the boat better. It gives you a chance to tell people what you might want for Christmas to improve the next season on the water. It gives you a chance to actually make improvements that you don’t want to make when you’re using the boat every minute you can in order to take advantage of the warm season. Winter gives you a chance to step back, do some different things in your life, and then to re-embrace that boat in the spring with a renewed passion.

Some live on their boats in the north all winter long. We did that for a few years. It can be tough. Filling the tanks with water, not slipping off frozen docks, keeping the ice away from the hull, coping with condensation collecting inside the living spaces, keeping a boat heated although it was really built for summer use…all this and much more can make winter living aboard grueling. But there’s also the security you feel as you cuddle below with friends and a hot toddy listening to cold wind moaning through your rigging. There’s the beauty of snow drifting down among masts and spars and softly hissing as it hits the water. There’s the utter quiet peacefulness after the snow when your boat is covered by a warming sound-silencing white blanket. There’s the camaraderie that you feel with the small community of others living aboard in your marina. There are the “hose parties” when you all get together and pull a hose around the dock, helping each other fill water tanks. And there are always the dreams of the day when you can head south.

Winter on the Chesapeake

We’ve found that when we’re south, loving it where we are, we still miss many things. We even miss some things about the winter air. It’s nice to stick your head outside into a crisp cold night and feel the shock of clean frigid air on your face and in your lungs. Not for long, but just for a moment. It’s one of those many clean harmless highs that come with nature.

We miss snow in forests or drifting down in a marina. We miss the celebrations in December. Sure, we have those down south. Some of our best Christmases have been in the Bahamas listening to carols sung with an island lilt. Our family would ride around the anchorage in our dinghy, pull alongside boats with people huddled in the cockpit and sing carols. That celebration is everywhere. But there’s just something special about having it with snow, cold air and warm clothes.

We miss the crinkle of ice skimming the surface of creeks and still rivers along the shore lines. We don’t miss hard ice, we don’t miss winter gales, we don’t miss ice and snow storms, but there are also things that we don’t like down south.

We actually miss the stark beauty of bare trees, their leaves now at their feet, replenishing the soil for more trees to come. The grayness of bare branches against a winter sky has a unique spell to it, even though you might think you’d rather see the green of summer foliage.

We miss the feeling that, “Hey, we don’t have to worry about the hurricane season for awhile.” Sure, there’s that same feeling in the tropics, but somehow the sinister threat of the hurricane lingers even through the winter down there—I guess it’s because you know you’re in the tropics and, even during winter, lows can develop with warm moist winds and, as you sit sheltered only by islands, vividly remind you of what the storms of summer can do to you and your boat.

On A Winter Problem

1. There’s an oft unsuspected danger associated with winter and boats.

2. Depending on where you are when you store your boat for the winter, you may be able to work in it during the cold months, especially inside the boat.

And we miss the change of seasons. In the lower latitudes, you get some change, but not like you do in the north. A feeling of stagnation develops sometimes in people if seasons don’t change. But the changes of spring, summer, fall and winter each seem to rejuvenate the world and those of us in it. The different weather patterns, temperatures, winds and life styles are good. They make us better appreciate each season as the current one grows old and we look forward to the next—as we always should, even winter.

I’ve noticed that although so many geese are flying south with me each fall, there are still many up here in the winter. You hear them every evening settling down on cold fields. I don’t know where they go down south; we loose track of them and don’t see them. But some seem to like hanging around up here even when it’s cold. They must know something.

Yes, very soon we’ll be heading back down to our boat. We’ll sleep with the portholes open and smell the winds blowing in off the Gulf Stream or the Bahamas Banks. We’ll see tropical skies and coconut palms and free flying parrots and monkeys in trees. We’ll swim and dive in clear ocean waters—much cooler than they would be when they spawn hurricanes, but still warm enough to be fun. We’ll be in shorts and barefooted without being cold. And we’ll be loving it. We recommend the migration. But we also miss the winter. Enjoy yours. Your boat will still be there when spring comes; you can make her better while she and you wait. And when you cast off once again at the beginning of the warm times, it’ll be like a rediscovery of how good life can be—especially when you have a boat.

Copyright 2004-2008 Tom Neale