Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Sink, Swim or Drain the Pool: Nourishing Failure

"Well, we didn't do, and we didn't quite die,"-Dr. Seuss

Sailors tell stories.  Sudden, violent gales, knockdown swells, equipment failures, groundings, comical bungling; this is the stuff of nautical talk. Who wants to hear about the time you went out and it was really nice?

I'm reminded of a story told to me by a captain about his first watch as mate on a new boat. Each time he went below to report to the captain on what were rapidly deteriorating weather conditions, the captain would reply, "wake me when it gets worse." Finally, with winds gusting to fifty knots (a knot is 1.15 m/h), spars splintering, lines parting, and cargo swept from the decks, the mate went below to wake the captain. "Wake me when it gets better," was the response.

By sailorly standards, then, our first day out was a perfectly uneventful bit of cruising. From a lubber's perspective (or any other sane person), however, it was miserable. Lacking wind to sail, we motored through six-foot swells under gray October skies. Lysander spent the day wailing "I want to go home!" or passed out in my arms, I donated what little I had eaten in the previous twenty-four hours to the marine environment, and Wallace lay on his back in the cockpit with his eyes closed. Toward the end of the day it drizzled. We dropped anchor in the Saco River, in the exact spot where we had moored old Ruby four years earlier.
During the night I assessed the situation. How did it compare to our vision? What were our objectives? Had we already gained useful experience cruising, found our limits and where to focus our growth? Was I at ease, or was I scared? Was it productive, motivating tension, or destructive anxiety?

The next day dawned like an advertisement for New England in the fall; we decided to head for our next scheduled destination and then modify our plans. We motored out into light seas and favorable winds, raised the sails and headed south.
Looks auspicious, right?
The wind immediately began gusting to thirty knots; it was all we could do to strike the sails and motor back in. Over our shoulders we could see the Coast Guard going out while the fishing boats came back and a thirty foot sail boat headed in on a tow line. We motored back up to Portland, managing to scuff the only rock in Casco Bay on the way up. When John called a friend to meet us at the dock, he said, "You didn't try to sail today, did you?"

This was a successful voyage. It was some of the most instructive time we have spent on the water this season, and we have a clear vision of what needs to happen next. I've had a few days to unravel the psychic buildup to this adventure, to marvel again at how life always falls into place, and to enjoy an electrical system with sufficient amperage to power the Vita-Mix and a toilet that flushes easily.

When in over your head, you can sink or swim. But sometimes it's wisest to drain the pool.
Sailing is fun when you don't feel like death