I’m not sure how boats became part of my life. I grew up in Atlanta, after all, far from the sea. The most experience I ever had with the water was skiing on man-made lakes (which was fun but not really boat-y). Given I have no family history, then, it’s a little funny that I spend so much time today thinking about being on boats, taking pictures of them, writing about them, and so on.
In the end I have to credit my father-in-law Ron, who has been a major influence in my adult life, with getting me into boats. Somewhere I have photos and videos of Kim and me at ages 25 and 22, respectively, on my first ever sailing trip in the BVI, on the sailboat Priority II — a beautiful Taiwan-built Tayana 55 — that he and his business partner Dean Burtch had just had built for themselves. I had no idea that I was ascending to the pinnacle of sailboating my first time out of the gate.
At the time I never dreamed I might some day myself own such a thing, or even rent one and captain it. But Kim and I have fallen into exactly that, between river boat trips in France and now our first sailboat charter trip in the BVI. Chartering in France is a great vacation and not wildly expensive. It’s quite a bit more expensive in the BVI, but still manageable… and here we are doing it. Strange.
But rambling about boats wasn’t actually the reason for this post. I wanted to write about owning versus renting, about the possessing of things versus the using of them for fun.
For reasons that aren’t clear to me, American culture has long been obsessed with ownership. Maybe it’s the only way to signify social standing in our supposedly classless society, or maybe it’s the role the private property aesthetic and legal structure played in our forbears’ theft of the land from its former occupants… who knows. Anyway it boils down to the “who dies with the most toys wins” wisecrack you hear now and then.
I accepted this principle — that more and better stuff was unquestionably a good thing — without question until we moved to Europe a few years ago and rented an apartment for the first time in a very long time (having left most of our possesions behind in Philadelphia). The apartment was lovely, stocked with the basic stuff we needed to live, and I found myself very happy not to have to worry about repairing it or being responsible for it in any way. I had accidentally discovered for myself the great truth that your stuff owns you just as much as you own it. Every single thing you acquire puts some level of demand on your mental energy, worrying about its welfare or whether it was worth purchasing.
So, back to the beautiful boat above. I’m not likely to have the means to purchase such a lovely thing, but I don’t think I would even if I could. On the whole, I’d rather rent.