Like most, I grew up in a house. These perform a number of functions. A safe place to sleep, eat and raise a family come fairly high in the list, as do entertaining guests and storing things. The house doesn’t undergo any substantial change in order to fulfil these different functions. It largely stays put. In effort to impress the guests you might re-arrange the furniture, clean the windows or hide the cat. The prime change is in the disposition of the house dweller, who changes their mental state in order to fulfill the task of getting through another day, feeding the children again or keeping the guests entertained until it’s time for them to go home.
When I moved aboard a boat, my ‘home’ was fairly analogous to what I was used to. The space was a good deal smaller, the amenities a bit more intimate, but the same principle applied. I was lucky enough to find a permanent mooring, which means that I can stay tied up in once place. The most movement I could expect day to day was the gentle rocking of the boat in counterpoint to footsteps on the floor.
Having got my own place, I decided that it would be fun to have guests round. In the last almost-year I have welcomed fifty people onto my boat for a cup of tea, glass of beer, and cruise up the river. In asking my boat to perform the function of entertaining guests I am changing not only my mental disposition (from cold and slimy to warm and inviting) but also my environment (from my secluded little mooring to a spot in town to anywhere up the river).
I also got into the habit of cruising up to my local pub of a Friday with the intention of falling out of the boozer and into bed. I have woken up in my home in a place that is not my mooring quite a number of times. Again, this is is somewhat different to the situation of living in a house.
And here’s the thing. It’s all different.
At my mooring I have mains power and a phone line. When I am away, I still have battery power. The only difference is that I don’t have an internet connection when I’m out. Not a substantial difference. But when I wake up in my floating home outside a pub, or in the middle of a field, or in the centre of town, everything is different. Despite having all my furniture in the same place, all my stuff still in boxes, despite my fridge, sink and hot water working exactly the same as they did at my mooring, I still feel like I’m away from home.
This usually manifests itself in my reluctance to do the washing up. I’m on holiday, I don’t do washing up on holiday. But there are other behaviours too, including the urge to sit with a book and drink coffee, or lie on the roof, which distinctly point towards me not feeling at home. When I’m at home I feel guilty about not doing the dishes, or working on some project or other. Not so when I’m sailing abroad. My boat genuinely does feel like a some kind of holiday venue.
And this is something which house-dwellers don’t really have to think about, unless some structural misfortune befalls. The journey home from work is split into two distinct parts: the bit before you walk through the front door, and then everything after that. The location of the home and the contents of the home are two halves of the concept of ‘house’ and it’s rare to decompose that concept in day-to-day life. But it is a reality for boat dwellers and actually takes some getting used to. Not least so the washing up gets done.
I don’t know what would happen if I became a continuous cruiser. These people live on boats, but are on some continual quest to find the next place to stop. They have to worry about where they can next take on water, or empty their sewage, or top up on diesel. They have no fixed abode, and therefore location to call their home. Who knows, I might identify my home as being my boat wherever she is. But I might also lose my identity as someone with a home. Who knows. Not I.