They always have been and will always remain dear. I first wrote about this in Designer & Client many years ago. It’s come to be at the crux of boats’ continued fascination for me. By exploring why we think boats are valuable we can better understand their significance. The key is to be found right there in the shifting perspectives behind the word dear. Dear is, well, a term of endearment. We use it to describe the people we have our deepest emotional connections with. It enfolds love, caring, and respect; and declares our vulnerability to those we care about. We tend to hold the well being of a dear one above our own. On the other hand, we say something is dear that demands a high price. We speak of the ultimate price, the cost of life itself, as a dear price to pay for what we hold most dear.
A wide range of obsessions might be said to meet both of these criteria. Heroin, drink, may effectively claim this level of commitment and demand a high cost be paid for that commitment. Does this mean that boats are just another obsession? Or, do they hold a unique position among objects and artifacts that might claim to be dear without being merely toxic simulacra for other, healthier relationships? Can we say we have a relationship with boats without being creepy, or facetious? These are questions we’ll be looking into here.
To begin, I would say that boats are not only personified, they hold a genuine place in our hearts more akin to living things than to mere objects because of the way they lay us open to experience. In a way this has parallels, in part, here and there; but in its totality, boats may be unique among things in this regard. Boats hold us, as vessels; they shelter us, like homes; they move us, both physically and emotionally; and they create situations that have the potential to transform us. They are complex objects, but they can be conceived and built by a single individual, or a small band. They demand respect, rigor, and discipline in their construction and their use. They are fragile yet exceedingly strong. They carry us into the aqueous world where we and our boats are exposed to our insignificance and impotence in the face of powers so far beyond our contemplation. In their use we visit, even inhabit these environments in relative safety. This allows us to experience not only sublime enormity, but supreme gentleness.
All that boats are, and all they can help us accomplish, is firmly grounded in physicality while simultaneously boats expose us to deep resonances within our own psyches. A metaphor is a vessel that carries us beyond where we thought we could go with our literal minds. Boats are not only metaphoric, they are like metaphor itself; vessels of transference and of transformation. In the end, we cherish our relationship with boats. They are valuable to us and that rivals what we receive from relating with any other thing. There is a potential give-and-take, a potential for joy and transformation, that is tied to deep essential verities.
I hope this can be an opening for what I sincerely hope becomes a conversation, a series of correspondences about boats and their meaning to us. This site is titled Boats for Difficult Times. I feel this is a simple and direct statement of what I’d like to see explored here. These are difficult times. In this we are not unique, there have been difficult times in the past. There have also always been boats, perhaps as long as there have been humans physically like us. Very few categories of artifact go back as far, or have such a deep connection with our humanity.
In “flush times” it’s easy to enjoy extravagances without giving them much thought or stopping to appreciate the value of something we devote our time and treasure to build and maintain. In difficult times we are stripped of that excuse. Is that a loss or a boon? Are boats a trivial extravagance? Or are they vital, something we need to find ways to take forward with us? Can we strengthen their ability to give us what they are uniquely able to give? In investigating the consequences of our current predicament, as it affects our relationship with boats, our devotion to boats, we may learn a lot about ourselves and perhaps find means, and the strength, to go forward. This is another goal, a quest, for this place and those of us who meet here.