Sunday, July 29, 2012

It's All in Your Frame of Mind

Tiny boat, big ocean

Much of the sailing world was following the journey of Matt Rutherford in the last year.  For everyone else, he’s the guy who sailed 27,000 miles in 10 months circumnavigating the Americas.  The distance was the same as if he’d gone around the world.  But most people who circumnavigate the world (other than in extreme races) do so in the pleasant tropical latitudes, and the prevailing trade winds ensure that they’ll primarily be going in a comfortable downwind direction.  When you go north to south as Matt did, things get a lot more varied and *ahem* interesting.  Icebergs and polar fogs, the fabled Northwest Passage, Cape Horn to contend with, as well as those sunny tropics.  And he did this solo, nonstop, in an old 27-foot boat.  So when we had an opportunity to listen to him speak yesterday, we made sure to arrive early so we could get front-center seats.

I wondered what kind of people-oriented speaker he could be if he was someone who was enough of a loner to spend almost a year completely alone at sea.  I needn’t have worried.  He showed great photos and with humor and energy described an amazing voyage.  You can go to his website to find stunning photos and read his blog of the voyage.   Since he tells his own sea stories so well, I won’t try to repeat them here.  Besides, the thing that I found most impressive about the 2-1/2-hour presentation was his attitude.
Let’s talk about a resilient attitude – especially coming from a guy who ate nothing but reconstituted freeze-dried food for almost a year!  I’ll give just one example of this find-the-bright-side energy.  When the wind is exactly right it’s easy to be content, but Matt explained the frame of mind that let him be positive no matter what the wind did.  Too much wind? An audience member asked the inevitable question of storms at sea.  “A gale can be fun,” he said.  “Fun” I’m thinking? “Harrowing,” more like!  But Matt explained that a storm is a change of pace from days of routine, and can even be – pretty.    Too little wind? Conversely, when Matt was becalmed, the positive attitude came out when he shifted into what he called his nice day routine.  He showed a photo of drying laundry draped around cabintop and  lifelines and explained that took advantage of the flat water as an opportunity to do this chore, which he couldn’t do in rougher seas, as the waves splashing over the bow keep rewetting the clothes.

Matt’s describing the storm as pretty reminded me of a daysail we took once here on the Chesapeake with friends Doug and Ingrid. The weather had been okay, not awful but not spectacular, until we were hit by a squall, no wind but heavy rain, and the four of us huddled under the bimini while sheets of rain hissed into the water, reducing the visibility around us until we were in our own little bubble with near horizons dissolving into gray mist.  I always stress when we have guests aboard; I feel responsible for them and want their trip to be perfect.  So while we waited for the storm to pass, I was wrapped in my frustration at the weather on their behalf, when “How beautiful!” Doug exclaimed.  His comment surprised me…and I looked away from the helm and the sails and the charts and the instruments and saw blue waves in neat rows, layer on layer, each slightly grayer than the one in front of it, fading back into the mist like miniature mountain ranges.  Doug was right.  A non-sailor, he was not concerned about danger from the storm (that, of course, was my job as skipper) and like a child, he saw everything as new.  “The difference between an ordeal and an adventure,” the saying goes, “is your attitude.”

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(Matt’s trip was done in part as a benefit for Chesapeake Region Accessible Boating (CRAB), and his accept no limits attitude seemed to me a perfect match for an organization that gets physically challenged people out on boats.  Learn more about them here.)


  1. Was the presentation at the maritime museum? I also noted he was going to make an appearance at West Marine this weekend.


  2. Phil, this was the presentation at West Marine. Of course, since WM's purpose in life is to be a store and not a lecture hall, conditions could have been more comfortable (folding chairs and poor lighting for Matt's excellent slides - many of which are also on his website). OTOH, it was an amazing lecture. If you find him speaking again somewhere, do try to attend, I promise you'll be impressed.