Last week I conducted an experiment: I deliberately went to spend time on Moondust despite temperatures in the 90s and monstrous mid-Atlantic mugginess. Why? Because as I contemplate how to spend more time on watery adventures I wanted to establish the limits of my tolerance for heat and humidity.
During the heat of summer, we spend so much of our time indoors with air conditioning we start thinking that we can’t get outside, that it will be too uncomfortable. When we surrender to that idea, we cut ourselves off from nature and the outdoors. That makes me miserable.
Of course, many boaters solve the problem of sticky heat by installing air conditioning on their vessels. That allows them to re-engineer the atmosphere around them and stay cool, but requires being plugged in at a marina, or running a generator at anchor. Apart from the installation cost, and added systems complexity (which only leads to more repairs and maintenance expense), the big flaw with this solution is that air conditioning is a significant contributor to climate change. AC systems are powered by carbon combustion and leak hydrofluorocarbons (which are thousands of times more effective at trapping heat than CO2) into the atmosphere. So the air conditioning everyone loves and thinks they need leads to more global warming, which leads to greater demand for air conditioning, which leads to…a kind of doom loop.
Every day we make choices which pit personal comfort and convenience against reducing our impact on the climate and planet. Some are relatively big and impactful: Do I eat meat and animal protein, or choose plant-based food? Do I get on an airplane or come up with a non-flying alternative? Do I manage my home thermostat settings for mere tolerance rather than unconstrained comfort? And many choices seem small in and of themselves: Do I accept a plastic grocery bag or just carry items awkwardly or as best I can? Do I walk and bike locally or just hop in the car? Do I buy something new or simply make do with what I have?
They all add up, when multiplied by billions, which is why I have a kind of mantra with regard to humanity and its reaction to the existential climate and environmental crises we face: if nothing changes, nothing changes. In other words, if all of us (especially anyone at the higher ends of the wealth curve) don’t begin to make very different—radically different—choices and live lives that have a lot less impact on the climate and planet, the future will be way hotter and more barren than it would be otherwise. Of course, massive policy and regulatory changes are also critical. But how will those come about if the average person (and voter) isn’t willing to make changes on a personal level?
This is an admittedly circuitous way of saying that when I think about transitioning from Moondust to a boat that is more suitable for blue-water passage-making and living aboard, I think about a boat that to the greatest extent possible uses wind, solar and hydro for energy. That means keeping the systems as simple as possible, and eschewing many of the modern conveniences that turn modern boats into floating condos. Like AC (and washing machines, and microwaves). Hence my interest in heat and humidity tolerance.
So how did the experiment go? Definitely sweaty. But also kind of okay. I arrived at Moondust late last Wednesday afternoon, planning to start with a thorough cleaning because she had been sitting in her slip unused for 5 weeks and was in dire need of some TLC. So I stripped down to a bathing suit, grabbed the hose and started scrubbing. There is something satisfying about getting a boat clean and looking its best. It is a little Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance. Your mind wanders freely in any direction it wants to wander, often leading to a surprising or interesting insight or two. You are physically engaged, which always feels good. You are rewarded with immediate and positive results, like mowing a lawn. In this instance, boat scrubbing also had the added benefit of allowing me to turn the hose on myself any time I needed to cool off.
I cleaned the decks and the teak, and decided to leave the cockpit for the morning. I rinsed off one final time, put on some shorts, and sat in the cockpit with a beer. It was still hot and humid, but your body and mind have an extraordinary capacity to adapt to a new normal. AC is a relatively recent invention, and billions of humans throughout history and throughout tropical zones today have managed and survived without artificial cooling. Except in some of the hottest locations on Earth air conditioning is more convenience than necessity.
My AC equanimity was helped by the fact that the marina was entirely peaceful, with no one around except the herons, squawking hoarsely as they moved from perch to perch. Fish would occasionally splash through the surface as they fed. I ate, read and hit the bunk. With all the ports open I was fine. Not cool. But not lying in a pool of sweat. Thunderstorms passed by, but luckily none forced me to close up the boat, which would surely have created uncomfortable sauna conditions, at least for a little while.
The morning was beautiful. Just cool enough for comfort, and coffee in the cockpit. Before the sun got too high, I went on another cleaning binge. After that, Moondust was looking great and ready for a cruise if I had been so inclined. With lots of thunderstorms in the forecast I chose to head home, mission accomplished. I was satisfied that even the Chesapeake in August could be tolerable (barely) if that is where you happened to be on a boat. Even if it wasn’t tolerable, though, there is a simple solution. If you are on a boat you can move. It’s one of the main and most alluring features of a sailboat. So if you can pull it off, be somewhere cooler, like Cape Cod, Buzzards Bay, or Maine. Sail in search of natural AC. That sounds like the best way to unshackle a voyaging boat from mechanical AC.
Antarctic Tourism Annotated:
Can’t resist re-interpreting this Sunday NYT ad for the Anthropocene:
—"Antarctica—Outer Space For The Rest Of Us” (Psst, you don’t have to be Jeff Bezos or Richard Branson to flaunt your wealth and get away from the hordes).
—"Wild. Remote. Untrammeled.” (Except, of course, the bits we will trammel).
—"There are many reasons to go: the ice, the penguins, the vastness beyond belief.” (But mostly because only the 1% can afford our prices and what better way to show your friends and neighbors you’ve got the scratch).
—"To go where few have and even fewer will.” (Because we really, really want to emphasize this is some elite sh*t).
—"To go where there’s no trace of the man-made…” (Except, of course, our hulking ship belching pollution into the pristine atmosphere, and all the trash, plastic, sewage and other human impacts we will inevitably leave in our wake.)
—"…to stand in the planet’s ultimate gallery, seeing only nature-made forms.” (And by ultimate, we mean the whole freaking planet is being wrecked really fast, so this is definitely your last chance to see something that even approximates unspoiled, and it’s totally okay for you to spoil it just a little more because you are really special).
—"And, because the one lesson the pandemic has taught us is—now bucket list means to-do list.” (C’mon, we know you have been cooped up in your penthouses and country homes. It’s past time to get back to taking long flights, overconsumption, and stomping all over the most beautiful parts of the planet with your ridiculously huge carbon footprints. F*ck climate change and habitat destruction. It’s eco-tourism. We promise).
That feels more honest. But it probably won’t stop cruise ships from returning to Antarctica in droves, or starting to invade the Arctic via the increasingly ice-free Northwest Passage. Unless the tourism industry, and the way we think of tourism and travel, is re-invented. Which is something we can all help with.
Change Now: a new video from Ian Urbina’s Outlaw Ocean Project nicely captures the mood I just put myself in.