“Kosel” is a Cornish word meaning calm. This work tells a semi-fictional visual story of a peaceful spring evening sail down the Penryn River. As we sail, we gain a sense of the slow pace of life often afforded to those who choose to live alternatively. 

On an unusually warm spring evening in early April, we’re sailing down the river, back towards Prudence’s mooring. The surface is like glass. Even after hoisting the spinnaker, an old hand-me-down from a racing yacht, we’re at a creeping pace. The river isn’t busy, and we can mostly just sit back and relax. The faded sunlight is peeking through the gaps between the mainsail and boom. Harrison starts to play music out of a small speaker, the notes dancing across the water; just for a moment, the world is still.

Living on a boat, hands get dirty. When you’re off grid, you fend for yourself. You’re so conscious of what you have, when something breaks it’s up to you to fix it. Grease, oil, salt from the sea, mud from the riverbed. A mixture of all of that rubs off. A climber and mechanic once told me that the mark of a hard worker is the hands. That’s where all the stories are shown. A canvas for the history of your craft and dedication. We’re about three hundred meters outside the berth, and Harrison takes a moment to wipe his hands clean.

A bowline knot is synonymous with sailing. Sailors have been using it for almost 500 years. Can you imagine? Tying the same knot a sailor tied hundreds of years ago? Right now, Harrison is reminding me how to tie one. It’s useful for all sorts. The so-called “King of Knots”. You can use it to tie off on a buoy or join two lines together. It never gives way under a load. The bowline might be an easy knot to pull tight and loosen, but like a lot of the more ocean-hardened fishermen around Cornwall, it will never give way under pressure.

Not something many people hear except in pirate films, Harrison likes to keep things shipshape. After a couple of days spent on the estuary, the deck is grimy with elemental leftovers. We’re now back in Prudence’s berth, and Harrison is keen to get the boat looking nice before he says goodbye to both myself and the daylight. I can’t imagine getting up and cleaning the roof of my house every few days! However, keeping things running smoothly is essential on a boat.

Every time I’ve visited Harrison, the first words out of his mouth are “kettle’s on!”. Living on the river, there’s many opportunies to slow down. To be conscious of what you have, grateful for the life you live. Sitting on the deck, my hands wrapped around a hot cup of tea, I feel totally at peace. In the midst of so many global crises, the opportunity to focus only on my present is a precious one. For a few moments, you just can sit back, gaze out across the mirrored surface of the river, and enjoy this moment.

I always thought living alternatively would be quite lonely. But Harrison shows me there’s a thriving community all around him. The live-aboard neighbourhood take care of their own, from helping with the shopping and chopping firewood to caring for an elderly polecat! A strong sense of community is what drew Harrison to this lifestyle; and it’s what makes this way of living so appealing to me. The more tastes of alternative living I get, the more I want it. There’s so many reasons to get off grid. Community. A sense of place. Deeper connection to the sea and land.  
All images copyright © George Steedman Jones 2023. All rights reserved. 
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