Saturday, April 2, 2011

Sail the Wind You Have (and other life lessons from our trip)

Posted: June 27, 1:50 pm | (permalink) | (0 comments)
We spent the first few days after our return taking the cruising paraphernalia off the boat and returning the boat to floating-condo and Chesapeake Bay weekender status. The third and fourth anchors went off into our storage locker, as did the jerry jugs for spare diesel fuel and water that were stored on the decks during our trip. Nautical charts to exotic places were carefully stowed for our next adventure.

Reconnecting with our Annapolis friends was our next agenda item, and that was simultaneously wonderful and a bit strange. We had gone from wannabes talking about going cruising, to folks who had gone voyaging on their own boat and returned, so our credibility in cruising circles was obviously enhanced. The strange part was this: here we were, home from the sea with tales to tell. But when we started on our best stories, whether it was tutoring school children at Black Point or getting caught in a microburst, our friends would interrupt with “I knew that already, from reading your blog.” This, perhaps, is a foretaste of senility – we’ll be repeating all our stories to friends who have heard them before.

But as we settle for a while back into ordinary life, of course we’re not the same people who left almost a year ago. I was musing with a fellow liveaboard about how many things you learn sailing that are metaphors for everyday living. There are everyday housekeeping lessons, like “don’t put it down, put it away” (doubly important on a boat where things left unsecured are likely to fly off the table in a rough sea, hurting someone or breaking) and learning to conserve fresh water on a passage or in an undeveloped area where what we bring with us, 100 gallons or so, has to meet all our needs for drinking, cooking, and washing until we’re back in civilization. But there are also more abstract lessons.

Persistence: If you had told me a year ago that we’d be taking this boat 3500 miles, I’d have been more than a little skeptical. No way! I’ve never taken this boat more than about 35 miles, and that on a sunny Saturday in the Bay. Thirty-five HUNDRED??!! Our trip was in one sense, simply doing a trip of 35 miles, one hundred times. Of course, it was a bit more than that, since it included several night passages and crossing the Gulf Stream, but by the time we got to those challenges we were so in tune with this boat that we were if anything over-prepared.
Simplicity: Living on a boat is the ultimate exercise in downsizing. Imagine having to fit everything you own in the storage space of your kitchen cabinets. Not just pots and pans and foodstuffs, but all your books and hiking boots and tools and sweaters and Xmas ornaments and bed linens. And no matter how careful you are, some of it will get moldy and some of it will get broken anyway. There used to be a popular bumper sticker “He who dies with the most toys wins.” Our life aboard refuted that, and I learned about myself that I’m more than willing to be uncomfortable, not out of some need to prove how tough I am, but in search of new experiences. I wanted to modify the bumper sticker to read “He who dies with the most experiences wins,” and some studies back me up. But you know what? After a while even thrill-seeking fades, and “He who dies with the most friends, really wins.”
Learning: “He who would be wise, learns from all the world.” We learned about the Bahamas from conventional sources like textbooks and websites and interpretive signs in the park and learning centers like CEI … and also from the fisherman cleaning conch on the dock and the policewoman who showed us the bush from which strongback tea is made and the fellow cruiser who taught us that 20 knots of wind is equivalent to one knot of current when trying to determine which direction your boat will point, and of course our good friends James and Ellen, who taught us so many things during the part of the trip we traveled together.
Growing: “A ship in a harbor is safe … but that is not what ships are for.” We certainly had to push out of our comfort zone in order to have the amazing experiences we had in the past year.

Reality: Sailboats can’t point directly upwind. So if you want to go to a location that is directly upwind, you have to approach it by zigzagging toward it at an angle, tacking first one way then the other. This results in a longer route over the bottom than if you’d been able to go straight, but a more efficient use of the wind when it happens to point in an unfortunate direction. When we were first learning to sail, I had a tendency to try to point the boat too high upwind in this scenario, and lost most of the power I could have if we approached our destination, ironically, a little more obliquely. “Sail the wind you have,” our friend and sailing mentor David urged, “not the wind you wish you had, if you ever want to get to your destination.” Valid advice for anyone in fantasyland (live within your means, anyone?)
Responsibility: This one seems obvious – while one of us slept, he/she literally put his life in the other’s hands, counted on the other to keep our home safe, keep us on course, stay alert, and if necessary, assess the situation to determine whether it required waking the other one up.

Control (or lack of it): Sometimes you just have to accept what you can’t control. Sometimes you just have to hang on and wait for the storm to blow itself out.
Choice: Within the broad framework of the life you were born in, you design the trip, and the life, you live. Some of our cruising friends stayed mostly in marinas and in locations where other cruisers gather. They claim to have had a wonderful time and met many people who became lifelong friends. To some extent, we did too … there’s a reason some places have earned a reputation as must-does. At the same time, if we just wanted to meet other cruisers, we could have stayed in Annapolis. We ended up seeking some less popular places to try and meet locals and learn how they live. And yet, even though we had such different outcomes, each of us could say, “We went down the ICW and spent the winter in the central Bahamas.”

Appreciation: Most of all, never, ever, ever lose your sense of wonder. Whether it was shooting stars in a night passage, or the infinite shades of blue we saw in the water crossing the Gulf Stream, or touching the back of a nurse shark, or the odd sound of the musical rocks we learned about on our hike in the Exumas Land and Sea Park, our trip, and our world, is full of amazing and beautiful things.

(all photographs by Magda Galambos, Cape Eleuthera Resort, The Bahamas)
(originally published 27 June 2010)

Click on the monkey's fist to read others bloggers on this topic.

The Monkey's Fist

1 comment:

  1. Sigh. Having trouble with "reality" and "control" - but still working on it (I'm nothing if not "persistent")... <3