The Joy of Sailing

17 Dec
Sailing Rich Wilson’s IMOCA 60

Yes I know the title is a bit of a play on the title of another well known book, but there really is so much joy to be had from sailing and sometimes it’s hard to express just how much sailing means to us. I tried to do so in an essay I wrote a few years ago and I am sharing it with you here in part to celebrate sailing as well as to celebrate the holiday season. Also, to be perfectly honest I am also using this as a bit of self-promotion (which I hate to do and almost never do). I have written two memoirs which have been very well received. If you have a sailor or adventurer on your Christmas list books make great gifts; still.  I would be happy to personalize a book for you. Find out more details here.

My favorite photo – Cape Horn in a full gale

“The cure for everything is salt water – sweat, tears and the sea.” – Isak Dineson
I dream of the future in color and the past in black and white, and wonder what it means. Are my memories fading? Have they been purged through a magical filter that weeds out sad and bad times, and replaces them with good ones? Is this a selective process which optimists have refined? Optimists and sailors, that is — a way to forget the cold, wet days and remember only the warm, sunny ones. Perhaps, or perhaps it’s just a desire many of us have to reconnect with simpler times; a subconscious need to realign ourselves with the natural rhythm of the earth. A need to sever the shackles of society and sail beyond the reach of land. A need to shed the clutter of life and cast our lot with the wind and waves. When I feel the tug I answer the call and go sailing. I toss my lines ashore and point my bow toward a distant landfall. The horizon ahead looks like open arms just waiting for me. Before long the traffic and jams of life disappear over the horizon and I am alone at sea. Alone with the elements. Alone with my thoughts. Alone with the gods.
A gentle zephyr throws shadows on the water. I see the darker patch moving towars me and feel pressure on my sails. My boat heels in response, slowly at first and then with more urgency. Water rushes by. Bubbles murmur on the hull as the boat cuts the surface. Waves slap against the bow. The slap slap comforts me. I hear the creak of the halyards and the moan of the autopilot and feel at home. They are familiar sounds. They are the sounds of life on board. I scan the horizon for sea life and ships, but see nothing. It is an uncluttered world out here, and a purely honest one, too. What you see is what you get. There is time to think and time to reflect. Time to reconnect.

My boat – Great Circle

The organized pattern of shipboard life, a clear focus and a defined goal allows my consciousness to flourish. I know that what I do with my time will define not only the passage I am making, but my spirit and character as well. It is an opportunity to look inside my head and see what’s in there, warts and all.

My childhood dreams were filled with a longing to escape from the constraints of growing up, and I yearned for the weekends when I could get away to the familiar surroundings of the yacht club. Boats gave me wings, and I craved the freedom and independence I felt when sailing. The moment I cast off I felt the intoxicating feeling of being in control. On the water I was in charge of my own world, and the magical properties of wind and waves combined into an addictive potion. These same feelings remain with me to this day, but they are now spiced with the need to be different and a desire to challenge myself. Crossing oceans and sailing around the world provides the perfect means to realize these goals. It is a place where my neighbors soar and frolic and the highway is endless, and I always return to life on land a better person.

Perhaps trying to define the lure of the sea is too difficult, and maybe I am using lofty thoughts to mask more basic reasons. Sailing is fun and the open ocean is a beautiful place to be, especially in the early morning when the light is soft and tastes of salt and the sleepiness from a long night fades into the anticipation of another day. There will be challenges ahead, maybe another day like the one just finished. There will be the vagaries of a new weather system to deal with, and hazards yet unmet. The snow might fly again, and the Southern Ocean may kick up into a gray, angry cauldron tossing spindrift high into the air and flinging it across my bow.

More likely though, low swells from a distant storm will nudge my boat toward the next landfall, the monotonous slapping on the hull gradually connecting with my inner beat. The slap slap washes away the clutter. It washes away the grime and slime from living on land. I begin to notice an eerie silence in my head as the constant rhythm replaces advertising jingles, and my thoughts become clear and unfettered. It’s an addictive feeling, far from any of the physical aspects of sailing, yet somehow a part of them. It’s the reason I love to sail. As Havelock Ellis once said. “The most beautiful of the arts. It is life itself.” For me life at sea goes one better.
ps – the photo is a younger version of me circa 1979 taken in Brazil
Second Whitbread aboard Drum in the Southern Ocean

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This article was syndicated from Great Circle Sails Blog


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