Making Repairs on a Sailboat like a Master Yoga Guru

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Working on a boat, sailors often find themselves stretching in all sorts of yoga-like positions

Working on a boat, sailors often find themselves stretching in all sorts of yoga-like positions

Have you ever noticed how when something goes wrong on a boat, you often must contort and maneuver your body into inaccessible cramped places to fix it? Defying all logical positions and possibilities, you make your body do things you never thought possible. You become a pliable bending machine that can go upside down in a heartbeat, swivel your head like the possessed girl in The Exorcist, balance over a dark abyss as you try to retrieve that tiny little screw in the bottom of the bilge. See it now? This is boat yoga.

Unless you have a marine carpenter, mechanical and electrical engineer, handyman and maid on board, a Master Boat Yoga Guru must toil away fixing the never-ending list of broken stuff in a process I call “mental hopscotch.” The untold gyrations of mental and physical exercises needed to remedy many problems onboard should qualify as a professional sport. In yoga, this process is known as a mindful, thoughtful dedication to our practice. Both scenarios utilize the art of staying calm (mind over matter) to save ourselves from internal combustion via the daily grind, or a boater’s heart attack.

Let’s go to class. The class is called Vinyasa, or “flow”—going continuously from one movement to the next. We’ll begin with repairing the light over the sink. This seems simple enough. You remove the overhead panel (stool required, balancing on your tippy-toes with screwdriver in your mouth) as you fight with the screws that hold the panel in place. Grunting, heaving, cussing and straining—with a sudden crack, it releases. Success! In yoga, we say (without using an expletive) “surrender to the pose.” The more we push, the more it pushes back.

The “Downward Dinghy”

The “Downward Dinghy”

OK, the panel is down. However, an evil smell begins to permeate the cabin. Ah yes … our old friend Mister Mold. Now, besides changing the light fixture, you must find the origin of the odor. You hoist yourself up on top of any cabinet that will support you, thrust your head above the rest of the ceiling panels (flashlight held firmly in your mouth) and hoist yourself into the void. This position can be equal to what we yogis call “plank.” Plank uses every muscle in your body—some you had no idea you had. You are determined, strong, and the body is shaking as you strive to hold position and find the source of the leak that presumably has generated the black mold.

You twist to the right, twist to the left, move forward, backward (still holding your weight off the ground in a one-legged plank) and spy a tiny (almost invisible) hole inviting gallons of water into your cabin. You carefully trace its path to nowhere. Concentrating, meditating, talking in tongues, you locate the small pool that is growing black goo. More success!

Channeling the inner yogi

Channeling the inner yogi

Lowering yourself back down like a push-up (a yoga push-up is called Chaturonga Dandasana), you then grab your bucket, sponge, disinfectant, anti-bacterial spray, caulking and rubber gloves. Holding all this stuff in one arm, you hoist yourself back up and begin the arduous task of getting the space dry so that you can plug up the hole. As you get to the bottom of the pond, you realize the water has rotted the wood behind the cabinet. You have no idea how deep this has gone into your precious boat, so you call out the big guns: a hammer, pry bar, mini-saw and a beer. In yoga on land we wait until after class to have a beer, but boat conundrums require more immediate lubrication.

You require a different mindset as you now go into “warrior” mode, a set of yoga positions that build strength and resiliency. It’s back to mindful contemplation (yes, the beer helps) as you plan your strategy. You realize you will have to get into that open space above the cabinets and contort your body into a yoga “pigeon pose” that enables you to “fit” into the crawl space and perform nautical surgery. You also realize you need some marine-grade material to replace the rotten stuff.

Honey! Where the hell are the car keys? Off to West Marine you go.

You locate what you need, but what should have been a 15-minute mission ends up taking an hour. Finally you return with your prizes.

The plastic packaging is a nightmare so you go to find your knife. Digging through your toolbox you think that if these tools were organized, you could be far more efficient. So you stop. Surrounded by everything you have removed, you decide to go to the store to get plastic bins to organize the mess and clean out the unwanted or unnecessary items. In yoga this is where we twist our body (spinal twist—Bharadvajasana) to get rid of any toxins that we have accumulated in order to reduce stress.

We call this the “Where the hell is that screw?” pose

We call this the “Where the hell is that screw?” pose

After your triumphant shopping spree, you sort the multitude of tools into their new homes. It is somewhat meditative, but midway you have a thought. You concoct a new plan to reach the leak from outside the hull—but this will require the electric screwdriver and drill, which are stowed somewhere else. You go to retrieve them and as you do, you run across a small bag that contains some snaps you had carefully put away a week ago so you would remember to replace the rusted ones.

Victoriously, you have an “AHA!” moment (since you were looking for those dratted snaps for several hours the other day) and you go back to the mess of tools on the floor to find your screwdriver. Tool in hand, you run up top to take out the rusted snaps and replace them.

You have now moved out of a seated position and are going to “forward fold.” Forward fold is just what it sounds like: bending over at the waist to stretch. It is a position we use often on a boat. Sometimes leaning to the side, sometimes with knees bent, but more often it is straight down. We do it as we walk around the boat climbing over railings, rigging, blocks, cleats and assorted sharp and treacherous boat things. Bend and stretch like a professional yogi.

As you head out to the cockpit and pull off the cushions to replace the rusted snaps, you realize you forgot the bag of snaps. Going back into the saloon, you notice the door seems to be sticking. You move it back and forth a bit and surmise it simply needs some lubricant. The lubricant is somewhere in the mess of tools you created earlier. You somehow find it (a minor miracle) and with a couple of squirts the door works beautifully. Never mind the splatters of oil on the floor—you can deal with them later. You give yourself an “atta-boy” and then look around.

You still have a burnt-out light to fix, the panel is hanging down from the ceiling, the leak is still there, you have rotten wood that needs to be replaced, tools are strewn about (some in bins, some not), the cockpit cushions are on the deck, you lost the snaps again—but you have fixed the door.

Let me tell you, not only should you do boat yoga, you need it. Mind, body and soul.

Time to rest and reflect. Lie down, breathe deeply (in sweet Savasana) and take it all in. Giving alms to your brilliance in solving all potential boat disasters is equivalent to sun salutations in yoga. It is the act of reverence for a job well done, or you can say, dedicating your practice to betterment is simply staying afloat.

Are you feeling accomplished or overwhelmed? Doesn’t matter, it’s a boat. So grab another beer—tomorrow is another yoga day.

Photos courtesy of Debbie Lynn

Want some more exercise tips on a more serious note?

5 Exercises to Keep You Sailing

How to Turn Your Cat into a Gym

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