A lifelong interest in boats and going places on board them has brought me into contact with lots of writing on the subject. Invariably, the authors of these accounts  (most are about voyages in small vessels to faraway places) reflect at some point on their relationship with the larger world, or at least how their own circumstances define that relationship-in other words, how it feels to be self-sufficient aboard one’s own boat.

In subject matter, emphasis and literary value, these accounts are as varied as their authors, from Rockwell Kent and Christopher Columbus to William F. Buckley, from Henry Plummer to Silver Donald Cameron.  (I don’t mean to be complete here, so if I’ve left out your favorite author, too bad.)

Boat skippers have kept logs of their voyages since ancient times, partly because before GPS you couldn’t know where you were on the face of the earth unless you’d kept a record of your position in the past. So it’s not surprising to find a fairly rich trove of writing here-since we’re making notes every few hours anyway, why not write down what comes to mind? Sailing promotes journal keeping. And the journals, in turn, often become books, articles, newspaper columns or blogs.

My main point isn’t why all these scriveners sat down with their journals or laptops, however; it’s what they chose to write about. Not surprisingly, most logs and later write-ups concern the major events of a voyage-storms, wildlife, unusual sightings, encounters with interesting strangers, noteworthy arrivals and departures. Buckley, in Airborne, reflects on food, conversations and other pleasures associated with his transatlantic trip.

Columbus’s 1492 log carries out his pledge to “write down everything that I might do and see and experience on this voyage, from day to day and very carefully.” He writes about astronomy and navigation, the natives of the West Indies, weather, fish, local customs and dozens of other topics, all with the intention of pleasing his sponsors, the king and queen of Spain. Plummer recounts his 1912-1913 trip down the U. S. East Coast with his son aboard a catboat named Mascot, following much of which is today the Intracoastal Waterway. Plummer concentrates on his boat-fixing things, for the most part-as well as weather, places visited and the food he and his son cooked and ate along the way.

As literature, these accounts are all over the map. Buckley, not surprisingly, is erudite and not afraid to describe the contents of his wine cellar or wander off into politics; Silver Donald Cameron, an experienced Canadian journalist, recounts entire conversations with people he meets between Nova Scotia and the Bahamas. He writes movingly about traveling with his elderly dog, and entertains with observations on everything from navigating New York to ordering engine parts to his tourist experience at Colonial Williamsburg. Rockwell Kent recounts near-misses and dangers dealt with, leaving the impression of a man risking his life for the experience.

In other words, the captain can write about anything he wants to. Being located aboard a boat automatically renders an author interesting, at least in his own opinion. (Being a skipper of literary pretensions myself, I hope that’s true.)

Aboard Karma last winter I kept a daily log, mostly reporting southbound (and northbound) progress, plus descriptions of things I’d seen-a bear in North Carolina, breaching whales in Florida-as well as historic cities, politics (the presidential election was underway), boat issues, other travelers I met, churches attended, YMCA pools swum in, hikes taken, etc.  Besides keeping the journal I wrote newspaper columns and planned a book.

Ask me why living aboard seems to generate so much pen-scratching and key-stroking, and I’ll respond this way: put a land-based person out there on the ocean and he or she’ll feel just disoriented enough to want to describe the experience. And because he’s more or less cut off from daily land-bound life, he’ll have the time to reflect, to ponder what things mean, perhaps think about them in new ways.

People change aboard small boats. I’m sure the same thing happens to the inmates of monasteries and jail cells; perhaps it does aboard spaceships. In each case they find themselves in circumstances completely different from what they’re used to. When you’re alone, as I was for part of my own trip last winter, the only person around to swap stories with is yourself. So you sit down and write.

David D. Platt is former editor of Working Waterfront.