Back at Slagsta Marina, we spend the next few days preparing Ruby Tuesday for lifting out. Down come the sails, the bimini, splash hood, and the cockpit tent. The oil and fuel filters are replaced, and both engine and gearbox get new oil. Ropes are washed and stowed away. The fuel tank is topped up to avoid condensation and biocide added to prevent growth of diesel bug. The rubber dinghy is cleaned and stowed.
In the evening, we relax in the cockpit with our glasses of wine and watch the sun go down. Clouds scurry across the sky making patterns against the deepening blue.
“I really love this boat life”, says the First Mate. “What surprised me the most was realising how little you need to get by on, and yet still enjoy life. We have our home with us wherever we go, and really have not spent a lot, apart from buying food and from the occasional entry fee to go and see things like castles, museums and exhibitions.”
“And the winds were good too”, I say. “We used less fuel than in other years – we haven’t even used one tankful for the whole season. And we did a lot more anchoring this year too, so marina fees were less than normal. And we had friends and relations visit us, and made some new ones. What more can you ask for?”
I had read an article saying that during and since the pandemic and lockdowns, the number of people re-evaluating the narrative of their lives and giving up their jobs to go off and do something different has markedly increased. We had made that decision well before the pandemic – we have been sailing every summer now for five years and are still enjoying it – so much so that we see it more of a way of life than a summer holiday. Life takes on a different rhythm, governed by a combination of the great forces of nature – the weather systems far out into the Atlantic and the resulting winds and sea currents – and our own whims and fancies. The structured world of work seems a long time ago now. Life now is slower, deeper, more satisfying.
And yet, somehow we are both looking forward to getting home too. It is nearly six months that we have been away, but there is a feeling that the season is over. All the hopes and expectations that we had during the planning, and the excitements, worries and fears during the voyage, are now in the past. We feel full – of experiences and memories – but it is now time for a season of reflection to extract some meaning from all that we have seen and done.
There is a knock on the side of the boat. It’s Willie. Willie is Finnish, but has lived in Sweden for most of his life. He likes to chat. The conversation drifts to having Russia as a neighbour.
“Ah, it’s all western propaganda about how terrible they are”, he says. “”You can’t believe anything. It’s all down to your perspective. If you live in Russia you believe that the Ukraine war is justified, if you live in Sweden, you don’t. So what is truth? There is no such thing as absolute truth. Truth is just in our minds, a human construct.”
“I am not so sure”, I say. “I somehow feel that there is a reality out there, independent of the human mind. You can believe what things you like about that reality, but whether those beliefs are true or not depends on how well those beliefs correspond with it. It is the beliefs that are human constructs, not reality itself.”
“Maybe”, says Willie. “But we can never experience that reality because we can’t get outside our beliefs to do so. And because everyone’s individual perspective of the world is different – we all have different backgrounds, personalities, genetic makeup and life experiences – it is impossible to say that there is an absolute reality. So, we end up merely constructing our own personal realities. That’s what I meant when I said that truth is only in our minds.”
“I can see where you are coming from”, I say. “But if we were all just arbitrarily constructing our own realities, there would be total chaos. And some nasty accidents. For example, if my belief of reality says that there is a tree over there, I will avoid walking into it and hurting myself, whereas if your reality says there isn’t, you might just try and walk through it and knock your head. So there seems to be some sort of reality there which we all agree to call a tree. I would say that my belief that the tree is there is a more useful belief than yours that doesn’t, in that mine stops me from hurting myself. You can extend that to all of human science and knowledge – even though there may be a deeper reality we can’t experience directly, our scientific beliefs are close enough to that reality for us to make progress.”
“Ah, the modernist and post-modernist schools of thought”, says Willie. “But perhaps what we should be thinking about is meta-modernism. It tries to bring together modernist and post-modernist ideas, by focusing on complexity, holism, emergence, and links between the natural and social worlds. It sees the universe consisting of four planes of existence: Matter, Life, Mind and Culture. That might help us to understand the way that things work better.”
“Wow, that was all a bit intense”, says the First Mate after he has gone. “But you asked for it!”
“Interesting”, I say. “I will have to read up about it over the winter.”
“Apparently Willie used to be an economist”, another neighbour tells us. “Then he became fed up with the rat race and decided to build a boat and sail around the world to get away from it all. It’s taken him 37 years so far, and there’s still a lot of work to do on it. That’s it over there. You can judge for yourself if he will ever get it finished.”
He points to an object in the far corner of the marina that looks like a cross between a catamaran and an airplane fuselage. Planks and other building debris lie chaotically under the side pontoons. A wisp of smoke emerges from the stovepipe chimney. He has certainly constructed his own reality, I think. Good on him.
The day comes for Ruby Tuesday’s lift-out. It’s a dull grey day, signifying the end of summer. We motor over to the slipway, the giant straps of the crane are slipped underneath her, the crane engine revs up, the hydraulic rams extend. Out she comes.
Slowly and carefully she is transported over to the washing apron where she is given a high pressure wash. There is not much growth on her.
Eventually she is taken to her place for the winter. We spend the next few days covering her with tarpaulins to help the snow slide off. Apparently heavy snow that has accumulated has been known to add so much extra weight that the support cradles can buckle or break. I don’t know if that is true or not, but we decided that it is better to be safe than sorry.
It is the last evening, and we have already drained the water system to protect any of the pipes from bursting from ice formation.
“We need some more water just for tonight”, says the First Mate, holding out the five litre bottle. “See if you can find a tap and fill it up, there’s a good chap.”
In the gathering dusk, I wander over to the tap on the small building next to lifting out pad. It’s quiet – all the marina staff have gone home. The handle on the tap has gone. I frown; it was definitely there earlier in the day. Not to worry – there are taps and hoses on each of the pontoons. I head towards the first one and press the key fob against the sensor. There is a click and I push the gate open. The gate closes behind me.
I fill up the bottle, put the screw top on, and press the fob against the sensor pad on the gate again. Nothing happens. I turn it over and try again. Again, nothing. I am stuck on the seaward side of the pontoon, not able to get back on land. And with no phone to call anyone. For a brief moment, I consider climbing over the gate or around the sides, but the builders have done a good job – curled razor wire puts paid to that idea.
Perhaps one of the boats has someone in it. I walk along the pontoon, but every one is empty. On the neighbouring pontoon, someone is working on their boat. I call out. He comes around to the gate.
“My key fob won’t work in that gate”, he says. “Each fob is specific to a pontoon.”
“Perhaps you could let my wife know that I am stuck?”, I ask.
He goes off. A few minutes later he reappears with the First Mate.
“Now I have got you where I want you”, she says, grinning. “I can do anything I want now.”
“It’s serious”, I say. “I might be stuck here for the night. And I am getting cold.”
The three of us stand looking at each other trying to think of a solution.
“What about getting one of those small dinghies over there?”, I say, somewhat desperately. “You could push it over to me, and I could paddle back to land in it.”
“I think they are all locked to the stack”, says our companion doubtfully.
They are. Suddenly, we see someone walking in the distant gloom.
“Maybe he has a key”, says our companion. “I’ll see if I can catch him.”
A few minutes later, he returns with a man. It’s the night watchman. He thinks that his key might work. He fishes into his pocket and unlocks the gate.
Relief floods over me. I am free again.
“Phew, that was lucky”, I say. “I really thought that I was stuck on the pontoon until the staff arrived in the morning. But at least we have our water.”
“There’s a tap out here”, says the night-watchman, pointing to a tap just outside the gate. “Why didn’t you use that one? No need to go on to the pontoon.”
I hadn’t seen it. I suddenly feel very silly, like the time I was late for school assembly and tripped over in front of the whole school in my haste. I was five years old then. Am I in my second childhood, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything, as Shakespeare might say?
“Come on”, says the First Mate, taking my arm, laughing. “Let’s get the old man home for the night.”
We have booked a taxi for the next morning to take us to the train station from where we will catch a train and then a bus to the airport. There are a lot of frantic last minute jobs to do before then, and we are running late.
“I’ll go over and meet the taxi”, says the First Mate. “You can just finish off the last few little things. I’ll ring you when he arrives.”
A few minutes later, my phone rings. It’s the First Mate.
“Hurry up”, she says. “The taxi is waiting. He’s charging us for it.”
I take the ladder over to the shed where it came from, and run back to pick up my rucksack. As I do so, I notice that I have forgotten to close the stern gate. I can’t reach it, and there’s no time to rush back and grab the ladder again. Luckily Jan, our neighbour is on his boat.
“Jan, would you mind closing the stern gate for us?”, I ask. “The taxi is waiting and I don’t have time to get the ladder again.”
“Sure, no problem”, he says.
We make it to the station with minutes to spare, and settle into our seats in the train.
“That was a bit hectic”, says the First Mate. “At one stage there, I didn’t think that we were going to make it. But at least we can relax now.”
My phone rings. It’s Jan.
“I closed the back gate for you”, he says. “But while I was doing so, I noticed that you had left the keys in the starter panel. What shall I do with them?”
I sigh. There’s always something.
“Jan, if you don’t mind, could you leave them with marina reception”, I say. “They can look after them for the winter. Thanks very much.”
We make it to the airport and climb aboard. Our plane taxies down the runway and claws for the sky like a giant cormorant.
“I reckon I can just about see Ruby Tuesday”, I say, looking out of the window as the dusk starts to fall over Lake Mälaren. “I feel a bit sad that we are leaving her behind. She’s been our home for nearly six months. I hope that she will survive the Swedish winter.”
“Me too”, says the First Mate. “We’ve had a great season. But I am sure she will be all right. She’ll be glad to see us again next year.”
A breeze stirs, bringing more leaves down with a rustle and stirring those already on the ground into a miniature whirlwind and dropping them against the dead grass at the bottom of the fence. We stop at the stone bridge and admire the reds, yellows and browns of autumn, the cold afternoon sunlight filtering through the sparse tree canopies, casting long shadows on the muddy path in front of us. Somewhere above us, a wood pigeon coos, while in the field next to the small brook a flock of crows swaggers its way between the lifeless stalks of the harvested barley, picking any juicy worm that has been foolish enough to stray too close to the soil surface.
The familiar and yet unfamiliar. A newly fallen tree. Broom pods shattered, empty of their seeds. Bracken leaves brown and withered. We had last been here half a year ago. A whole season of birth, life and death has passed us by while we were away.
A magpie croaks. A chill wind springs up. We wrap our fleeces tightly around us and continue our walk.
It’s nice to be home.