On a Boat


Morning, after a quiet night, and I’m bracing myself for the inevitable stress, yelling, conflict and inevitable random acts of stupidity of getting all the houseboats rafted up.

Ephemerisle has always been a floating contradiction, but I can’t figure out which one: carefully-organized chaos or random acts of coordination. Neither works particularly on the water where, as with other exploits like mountain climbing or aviation, you generally need to get (almost) everything right, at the right time, or someone gets hurt.

As the guy who signed the papers for this year’s “family boat”, I am in the unenviable position of captain – officially responsible for safe conduct of everyone on board our houseboat. Because this makes me the easiest target, I’m also unofficially responsible for anything else that wants a single decision point: when are we leaving? Who goes in which car to get there? Where is everyone sleeping? Do we want cranberries for Saturday morning’s oatmeal, or will nuts and raisins be sufficient? Devon knows how much I adore being responsibility for the happiness of others, and has been doing her best as a first officer, but decisions that affect the boat as a whole still end up with me. That means I get to be in charge of our little part of the raft-up.

I mean, it could be a lot worse: the winds are light this year, and much as I would have liked to get our little cluster of two boats attached to the main group last night, we’ll be doing it in full daylight, not in the gathering dusk. Also means those (on the main group) who’ve been drinking will be safely out of commission while the rest of us we run around the edge railings of the houseboats throwing lines and shouting orders at each other.

Pablo steeringThe shouting orders part is part of the inherent contradiction in the gathering. There’s a reason navies have strict hierarchies: it’s always clear who’s in charge. When rafting up a dozen houseboats for an intentionally self-organizing floating festival, it never is. When you need to drop (or cut!) anchor, come about quickly to avoid colliding/crushing someone or something, there’s not a lot of time for communal consensus building. Are we coming in too fast? Too far to the left? What if we tried this from the other side? You’ve got to put someone in charge and just trust that when they tell you to do something Right Now, doing it is the least bad thing you can do, even if it doesn’t work out the way you think it should. Needless to say, houseboats loaded primarily with independent-minded Silicon Valley techies, Ph.D.s and entrepreneurs do not naturally adopt such a working strategy.

Now compound that: instead of one boat of loosely constrained chaos, you have twelve or so, and they’re all trying to lash themselves together into an – wait for it – “optimal” structure. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?(tm)

But as I said, it was a quiet night, and today it’s a lovely, quiet morning – the day is full of unimagined possibilities.


The Yacht Restless

One response to “On a Boat

  1. Pingback: Rafting Up | David Pablo Cohn·

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