Dockboxes, metaphors, and philosophical ruminations

06 02 2011 Posted by Daniel

Photo of Dockbox

So, land-affiliated sailors (as I am currently, as opposed to those entirely at sea or anchor, not docking for any longer than to check in or out of a country) often have these things called “dock boxes” or “dock lockers” on their particular pier or, if they are a trailer-sailor type, often on the trailer itself. To you landlubbers out there, its exactly what the name implies (for once): a box that sits on the dock or remains at the dock. Personally, I just call it a dockbox.

A dockbox is supposed to hold the types of things one doesn’t need ON the boat but needs to tend the boat at the dock. So a dockbox may contain deck soap, spare fenders, some spare dock lines, a hose to wash the boat down with, etc. In practice, though, the dock box ends up containing all manner of flotsam and jetsam: the odds and ends that accumulate as clutter for some reason or another — inevitably, “this might come in handy later” is the most frequent culprit. Thus, for one reason or another, the dockbox becomes a sort of ‘sailor’s garage’, a compilation of stuff that increases seemingly without effort, yet consists nearly completely of items utterly devoid of actual utility.

This is all hidden by a nice, clean, usually white exterior, belying the extravagant mess within.

When it comes time to leave a marina, either for the freedom of the sea herself, or for the confines of another berth; or whenever the constraints of space dictate; the dockbox must be emptied. As most sailors find to their chagrin, what was anticipated as a quick endeavour becomes a day long nightmare of re-deliberation. “Hmmm, I might really seriously need this nearly through-rusted bit of anchor chain one day, won’t I?” “This busted and UV degraded vinyl footpump for the dinghy? Totally worth the full cubic foot of space, all I need to do is put some tape on the bellows and it’ll work in a pinch.”

So there I was, pondering similar ruminations, when a flash of comparative mental gymnastics hit me and I immediately did 42 backflips down the entire dock. (In my mind. I said they were mental gymnastics.) The dockbox is a tremendously useful metaphor*. In fact, it is precisely the physical representation of what we do mentally ALL THE TIME. We store thoughts such as “I should learn French … someday.” “The truck needs brakes… soon.” “I need to finish the trim on the Gibberjabber**… when I get a Round Tuit.” Ok that last one was completely fictitious. Although someday someone might legitimately think that.

The point is that we all have a mental dockbox. Its full of the things we “intend” to do. The things we “plan” to do. The things we are not actively putting any effort into doing because we CHOOSE not to. Yes, its an active choice. Yes, we have a zillion and one things distracting us from making that choice. So we put it off. Into our mental dockbox. Where it takes up mental space, brings up legitimate indecision and regret each and every time we take it out, examine it, and decide to return it to the dockbox. And there it sits.

Its the difficult, harder-than-it-seems task of cleaning out that mental clutter that can give us so much of ourselves back. Its essential to our mental freedom, or even just a relocation of perspective. All of our ‘coulda woulda shouldas’ that are stuffed in there drag us down unconsciously and give us a constant sense of futility, invalidity, or even just plain fear and a sense of failure.

So, with that in mind, I hereby declare two things:

  1. I’m beginning a sort of “meme” on this blog, the ‘dockbox meme’. If I have something to get off my chest, some random unrelated bit of information I want to share, or just something that doesn’t belong anywhere else, it goes in a “dockbox” post. This post is a semi-recursive, semi-autological example.

  2. Dockbox Days are now officially implemented. You can pick any day of the week you want (I typically choose Sunday) to clear out your mental dockbox. Take some time for yourself and seriously start unpacking those thoughts in the back of your head. The fears about your abilities or inabilities. The desires you hope to accomplish someday but are either unable, afraid, or for whatever reason choosing not to pursue right now. Write them all down, the good, the bad, and the ugly. And then clean them up. Accept that they are your dockbox items, that they don’t define you or own you, and that whether or not they are good, bad or ugly, its only your choice that keeps them there, and you have the freedom at any time to jettison that feeling and move on with your life the way it is, rather than the way someone (yourself included) tells you it should be. Also, I encourage you to declare almost any random day of the week a dockbox day, as needed. Its a great excuse to go hole up in a local coffee shop (leave the computer at home!) or on a local nature path or even just ramble on by the waterside and journal, sketch, unwind your mind. I highly recommend it.

For some great insight on mental cleaning, focus, and getting to know yourself better, check out Havi Brooks over at The Fluent Self. She’s kooky, wacky, insane, and soulfully honest. And whatever her struggle is, whether its to work on herself, help others, or just explore life, she lets it waay out in the open. As for ‘insane’… well if you think I’m sane then you need your head examined too. And, her business partner is a duck. Instant connection to the water, there, folks, just in case you were losing your head wondering when I was going to bring this back to marine life. Actually I’m sure none of you were.

Seriously, though, her post on “The book of You” ( is a great place to start, as her stuff is kind of in a stream-of-consciousness flow rather than an ordered presentation. Really, if you see a link that interests you, click it. It’ll probably be interesting. After you read a few links on her site, you’ll know pretty quickly what the big picture is and if it works for you (parts of it do for me. Other parts not so much). Either way, it’ll be an interesting ride through a whimsical soul’s haphazardly fascinating mind.

So, those are my thoughts for today. Dockboxes. The cleaning of them, and the mental metaphors they generate. Joining me for a little mental cleaning?

Wacky thought for the day: if you’ve got fruitflies, you’ve got fruit. Stop complaining and enjoy the fruit.


*I find it amusing that if an “aphorism”, that is, a statement containing a truth, has at its root the Greek word for “definition” (aphorizein), then by a simple phonetic similarity, a metaphor is a “meta-definition”, in other words a definition removed by one degree from its literal context. Which pretty much describes what a metaphor actually is, in more technical terms: a definition of a situation by using a comparison to something else that has similar characteristics. Even if ‘metaphor’ is supposedly properly derived from the Greek word “metapherein”, meaning “to transfer” and my little schtick here is based entirely on inaccurate interpretation of phonetic similarity, its still interesting that such a simple transference of prefix (meta-phor to meta-aphor) gives a fictitious but entirely believable etymology. I have no idea why I’m sharing this with you but its my blog and this is the dockbox. Anything goes.

**Come to think of it, Gibberjabber (Jibber Jabber?) might make a great name for a sailing dinghy. If you like the A-Team, Mr. T in specific, or jabbing jibs.

Brief Update

04 02 2011 Posted by Daniel

Happy February, my friends! It feels like yesterday it was December, doesn’t it?

This morning, as I was stepping ashore, I nearly slid straight into the water thanks to a nice, thin, clear sheet of ice on the dock. It was highly amusing after the fact, but the look on my face was probably pretty hilarious. The water has been waaayy too low to take a boat out recently, though, so I fully expect I’d have only been about waist deep if I’d actually fallen in.

I just read A Voyage for Madmen which is a totally enthralling account of the Golden Globe race of 1968 - the first time man circumnavigated the world by sail solo, nonstop, and unassisted. Its a fantastic read, an inexpensive book, and I highly recommend it if you enjoy a good story, whether you sail or not you’ll find the tale enjoyable.

As for sailing, I’ve stayed pretty busy despite the frigid weather. In the past month, a LOT has been going on around here. To give you a quick update, here are the highlights of what’s happened in January:

- I wrote a recently-published article for a local sailing magazine (Telltales) on AIS and DSC technology, and was asked to continue writing feature-length articles and begin an electronics column for the same publication.
- I taught my first official sailing class as an ASA certified instructor.
- Started up the winter racing season on a J/105 as bowman (that’s the guy on the pointy end of the boat handling the jib and spinnaker).
- I yanked out the horrific Raritan PHII head, Lectra/SAN, and related miles of nasty plumbing and replaced them with…
- A newly installed Nature’s Head composting head! No plumbing, no nasty smells, no leaky valves, no pumping holding tanks.
- I gutted the original wiring harnesses which were probably a fire hazard by now and replaced them with intelligently run, easily accessed twin busses running port and starboard. Full chafe protection was added everywhere as well as twisted pair wiring for major DC power busses, particularly in the navigation station vicinity.
- I ran new VHF cable to the mast - RG-213/U for the main VHF comms.
- New running lights, port and starboard: Aqua Signal Series 33 LED 2nm fixtures. 2.2W each. A stern light will be forthcoming as I am very impressed with the performance and value of these new fixtures.
- Fixed an issue with the mast wiring whereby my steaming light, deck illumination, anchor light, and tricolor were not working / wired completely wrong.
- Cleaned up the nasty cabling mess behind the main control panel - everything is beautiful and nicely organized now.
- Installed a new Jabsco ParMax 3 50 psi raw water washdown pump and cleaned up the plumbing routing in the engine compartment, making the system much less vulnerable to leaks.

I am getting much closer to a solid framework for this vessel in terms of plumbing, electrical systems, and communications systems. Next major category is going to be standing rigging and chainplates. I plan to begin that work in early March. Until then, with the very very cold weather predicted, not a lot of painting or exterior work will get done, so I am planning to re-nonskid the deck sometime closer to March as well. Thus, I expect February to be a lot of prep and organization, with a focus on interior work, cleaning up the storage, sorting the spare parts, and I am hopeful that some of the junk I don’t need can get sold. There are a lot of nice-to-have’s I will work on accomplishing in this time as well, such as additional hangers for towels and jackets, a few modifications to the vanity area, stuff like that.

Trip planning continues apace, with a likely departure, thanks to weather patterns, looking more like early next year rather than November this year, BUT November remains the commitment date to Aletheia being ocean-worthy again and the date from which all travels and shoving-offs shall be calculated. So fear not, we aren’t slipping the schedule already. Just being realistic about the weather.

Well, that’s about it. Funny thing is that with everything going on, it still feels like I’m slacking - there’s just so much to get done. But its tremendously exciting and I’m delighted to have the opportunity to share this process with you.