Anchored: The Pursuit of Less in a World of More


Over time, we have developed a routine for anchoring. Communication is by gesture from the front of the boat to the cockpit at the back. Go left, straight ahead, hold there.  The anchor drops and the chain falls through the water. We check it holds, put away the sails, make tea. Settle.

Anchorages are special places. Some are wide open bays, others are small, hidden coves. They take effort to get into, navigating shallows, rocks and wrecks. Beyond the boat, we can see where the water meets the land, edged by grains of sand, and then trees and the rise of hills. The best ones are crammed with nature, with occupants that conform to unwritten rules – don’t get too close, don’t make a noise, leave us be.

Time is different at anchor, slower. It is filled with reading, eating, talking. Not talking. Sometimes we swim if we are brave enough.

Mostly we watch, notice.

On the ebb-tide, the water slips away from the shore. The boat drops, and inch by inch the seabed is revealed. An expanse of mud creeps up on us and the shallows appear.  The birds get closer, going about their low-water routines. We see the orange legs of oyster catchers, the precise beaks of curlews, the flutterings of turnstones. They all peck at the mud, moving stones and filtering seaweed to get to the delights now uncovered.  Seals recline on the mudflats in the last of the light, flippers on one side held up in the air. A faint smile on their faces, and ours.

We are searching for less. Less people, less thought, less information, less stuff. We find it most at anchor, where we can chase the slow; reduce life down to the the details of what we can see, hear and feel.  Attached by only a chain to the seabed and surrounded by water, we are our own small island. Time is led by the rhythms of the day and the tide, by the routines of nature. As it moves on, day into night, we become increasingly invisible, insignificant. There is no choice but to become mere observers to the world around us.

We watch the light fade, and the dark set in. The anchor light blinks on, a small white glow at the top of the mast that marks our place. This is my favourite time, when the noises begin. We can no longer see the birds, but we hear them, chattering to each other, finding their tribes, settling, nestling. If something disturbs them, they take to the skies, squawking, a thousand wings beating in the darkness. The breeze touches our faces, and permeates the boat. We listen to it move around the rigging, testing for anything we haven’t secured properly. The anchor chain creaks on the bow-roller, water laps against the sides. We hear all the sounds, every one.

Over the next few days, the water moves up and down, in and out, and with it we rise and fall, and turn. Digital is replaced by analogue as the batteries run down on our gadgets, a reminder that our time here is limited, as are our resources. We feel the pull to our land-lives, out of the bubble and back to business as usual. In anchoring, we manage to slow it down. We pursue less, but actually we discover so much more. More detail, more calm. We develop a better sense of what is important. We are richer, with a different perspective.

We wake, eat, check the tides, the wind, charts. Ready to go, we winch the chain up, out of the water, and find a way out. Back to the open sea and away again, until the next time we find ourselves at anchor.