On night early this winter, I returned home to my sailboat, Daphne after a long busy day. A bit grouchy, I was eager to warm up my boat and spend a cozy evening with Dory, my cat. This experience of transitioning to life on a boat has shed a bright light on the things that I had once taken for granted.
As a schoolteacher at a boarding school, I could rely on many things; a steady paycheck that covered my needs, a warm apartment, food, shower, and friends. Now, without a steady job and in debt, I am wondering how I ever assumed that would always be my truth. Here, with the transient life aboard things are not the same. However, it is the life I chose, and I am eager to continue this path, but I may need some time settling into it before it begins to bring more satisfaction than the blues. And I am hopeful.
So that night, I returned home with the images of a warm cabin, a cup of cocoa, and a cozy kitty swimming in my head. I began the work of heating up my boat. I have a small electric heater on the sole of my cabin and a more powerful kerosene heater as well. Still in my snow-pants, scarf, hat, and puffy jacket, I turned on the electric heater opened hatches to bring in oxygen as I readied the kerosene heater. Many salty sailors have forewarned me of the consequence of not ventilating well when burning the kerosene heater. The promise of eternal rest has me paranoid enough to over ventilate. And then, with the cold snowy air blowing though my cabin, I poured alcohol into my heater’s priming cup, struck a match, and set it aflame.
The warmth from the burning alcohol is designed to heat up a pipe carrying kerosene. By doing so, when the jet is opened, the kerosene will spray out as a gas instead of a liquid, which will burn a nice, small, but powerful blue flame for warmth.
Perhaps because I was a little to eager to get the heater going, I failed to warm the stove enough. It was another Heinz Ketchup lesson that “Good things come to those who wait.” I need to practice patience more. When I opened the jet and lit the kerosene instead of seeing the lovely little blue flame, tall yellow flames sprung out. Startled, I jumped back. The flames were accompanied by a whooshing sound and black smoke that was reminiscent of that which poured from the windows of my family home during that holly jolly Christmas Eve.
My cat began darting around the boat, looking for cover. I turned off the heater and fanned the smoke vigorously, attacking back as it sneaked into my nostrils and stung the back of my throat. It sounds grim, and for a moment, a very brief moment, it felt grim. But smoke has a way of knowing it isn’t welcome, and fights to find the quickest way out. The air quickly cleared and left Dory and I huddled by the electric heater on the sole of the boat. I waited there for a while, then tried the kerosene heater again. This time, not feeling as chilly, I was able to be more patient and wait that extra thirty seconds for the heater to prime well and be warm enough to send forth the cozy blue flame.
Since that night, I have had much success with the kerosene heater, and the days have grown colder. Now when I enter a room where a furnace quietly and without notice fills the room with warmth, I am filled as well, feeling lucky that keeping warm is one thing I know not to take for granted, and that I also am fortunate enough to have a warm place to call home.