Needing Less Doing More

Tag: yin and yang

The Worst Part of Sailing

The Worst Part of Sailing

Saying goodbye to friends and six months of awesomeness…

I am grateful that it is raining as we depart from Fort Lauderdale.  It will be way harder for Ren to notice that my uncontrollable sobbing is punctuated only by brief calls back to reality, a look at the depth sounder, a glance around for boat traffic.  The tears are not even leaving streaks down my face because the rain is washing them away too quickly.  Down to the cockpit floor and out the drain.  The tears become a perfect illustration of the impermanence of the sailing life.

As with everything good in life, anything worth mentioning, the parts of sailing that are so great area also the parts that make it so terrible.  A perfect yin and yang relationship.  Where there is light there must also be dark.  Impermanence means seeing new places and meeting new people, a life of adventure.  Impermanence also means you must leave and say goodbye.  Goodbyes are not all created equal.  There are those you leave with a smile.  You smile and laugh thinking about beers with these people in the cockpit of a boat.  Sailing stories and maybe even a night swim…clothes optional!  “Fair winds,” you say as you bid adieu.  “Catch up with you down the road,” a half-hearted side note.  Not because you do not want to cross paths again.  It is just a little unlikely in this great big world with so much to explore, besides, you are a sailor.  You are no stranger to goodbyes.  Then why do some goodbyes feel like you just swallowed a golf ball, lodging it about halfway down the throat.  You try to choke it back, swallow it, for two or three days but only time will push it down to your gut…which feels empty.  You try to fill your empty gut with food but that does not work.  These goodbyes leave you feeling lonely, isolated. 

As we travel North, I look to the left.  The buildings are perfect tall rectangles.  Like towering stacks of Lego blocks they stretch down the South Florida coast as far as I can see.  There must be a million people over there, working, eating, playing with their kids.  But just offshore, Ren and I are on our own little island.  Both of us are bittersweet that we are saying goodbye to an adventure that has lasted six months and led us to two World Records, a communist country, a religion of our own, full moons in the middle of nowhere, two crew members, new friends and even a little money along the way.  We are bittersweet.  I look to my left, where the rest of American lives and I feel nothing except the damn golf ball in my throat.  It has always been hard for me to say goodbye.  I have a knack for sensitivity, thanks Mom! 

Today I say goodbye to a six month chapter of our lives.  Six months where we lived more and lived closer to the earth than some people live in a lifetime.  I will be able to swallow the golf ball eventually.  It will happen, it always does with a little time and immersion in a good book…or two, depending on the length of the passage.  But distractions are few on a boat.  With nothing but miles of open ocean to focus on.  That and your own thoughts, a daunting proposition for most. Part of you does not want to heal, not yet.  It is like the sweet pain after a good workout.  The pain becomes a physical way to measure the intensity of your workout and to mark your progress.  You know, by the very existence of the soreness that you are better for having worked out at all.  Your future left just a little brighter.

Seven hours later

I took my own advise and decided to avoid myself with distractions.  Five episodes of “This American Life” and two chapters from “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” and I look out at the glassy ocean and feel at home again.  The overwhelming lights off the Florida coast have faded into a thin sparkling horizon and my throat does not hurt…right now.  Yin is creeping back in and is ushered by momentary peace.  My body, finally, relates again to the passage, the lonely night watch, the ocean, and reminds my mind to cooperate.  Maybe now I can wake Ren up and take my turn with sleep.

The Motion of The Ocean

Excerpt of Seal Lullaby from the Chapter The White Seal:

“…The storm shall not wake thee, nor shark overtake thee,

Asleep in the arms of the slow-swinging seas!”

-Rudyard Kipling from The Jungle Books

The ocean is afflicted with multiple personality disorder.  I am sure of it  The disorder is rare and dissociative, where multiple personalities exist in one individual.  In a similar way the sailor is afflicted with a personality dichotomy.  Less severe than the personality disorder of the ocean, the sailor is constantly trying to strike a balance between the polar opposite conditions of sailing, depending on the ocean.  The polar opposite conditions, of course, are love and hate accompanied by pleasure and pain. 

One day, the ocean is aggressive.  She can’t stand the sight of herself and moans and thrashes all day.  She comes at you strong then intensifies, knowing you will, or your boat, will break soon.  She whitecaps, the rain starts and she laughs because she knows you want to cry.  You hate when she assumes this personality.  You know she can better than this but is weak and sometimes slips into this combative state.  Part of your brain buckles down and sails the ship to an anchorage (the best part of you does this, which is why you survive).  The other part of you doesn’t care of the ship sinks or swims.  You vow (silently of course, as not to upset the other crew members) never to sail again.  This is the depressive state of the sailor’s personality dichotomy.  However, part of you knows this will make you stronger.  Again, the best part of you endures.   

The next day, the ocean is sweet.  She gently throws rolling waves on the side of your boat, flirting.  Begging you to come in for a swim in her clear, blue waters.  The wind is perfect.  You’re heeled on the “sweet spot”, the ultimate heel that allows you to maximize speed and still walk around the boat, genuinely enjoying the sail.  Even the dog is quite on this day.  He is content to spend the good weather day lying in the sun, rocking to sleep with his people at his side, who he knows are happy too.  This personality shift in the ocean brings about the more manic phase of the sailor’s personality dichotomy.   You love the sail, you love the ocean, you love the wind, you love your partner, you love the scummy feel of the clothes you’ve been wearing for days.  The freedom sets in.

Whether you sail or not, this feeling of freedom is ubiquitous.  Physically, your head begins to feel light and your stomach turns over a bit.  You’re skin gets cool from your toes and runs up your spine.  The hair on your arms and legs stand up and a shit eating grin spans across your face.  The grin is so big all your back teeth are exposed to the wind.  The cold wind hurts them just a little, and it feels good.  You even shift your smile into the wind to feel the freedom on your teeth better.  The only thing you want to do is smile even bigger or scream!  Sometimes I even get the urge to jump off the boat and float on top of the waves like a lazy river.  When the freedom sets in, nothing bad can happen to you, jump ship or not, it doesn’t matter.  You may have felt this freedom at takeoff in an airplane (I do every time I fly).  You may have felt it at mile 6 if you are a runner.  When your mind separates from your body and your body just gives in.  At this point, you know your legs and lungs will take you as far as you want to go.  Your feet start to float, raising your body off the ground and you can run forever in the clouds (Brian Simpson??).  The feeling can come as you peer down the Grand Canyon trying to keep yourself from jumping off the edge.  You don’t want to kill yourself, you just don’t want the freedom to end, only flying will make you feel any more free than you are staring over the precipice of the Canyon.  The freedom comes when you are affronted with magic.

Now do you know what I mean?  The ocean can be a sadistic pig or a gentle mother.  The sailor is the massochist, faring the pain because it shares the same foundations as pleasure.  As sailors, we manage to forget how wrongly the ocean has treated us, hoping only for the fair days, when the mother is in a generous mood.  Through this battle between love and hate, pleasure and pain we find freedom.


1st Emergency And A Night Sail-By Ren and Ash

It only took 6 years!

Well we were finally on our way and we were approaching our first obstacle, the 42 foot tall bridge.  We had already leaned the mast back so all that was required was to pull the engine back and ease her through.  So we did.  And as soon as we pulled it back the engine went dead!  Luckily the wind was behind us and we drifted under the bridge and dropped anchor on the other side to assess the problem.  I bled the engine several times and tried time after time to restart.  After throwing the wrench at it we decided to reset the mast and then come back to the engine.  If all else fails we could sail downwind to a marina at Dragon Point, which is where the Banana river meets the Indian river at the Intracoastal Waterway (ICWW).  So we got the mast back in place and started back on the engine to no avail. 

This is where I first realized how helpless sailing can make you feel.   Ren is wrenching on the engine and cussing for me to bring him tools.  I’m cussing for him to hurry up!  Losing your cool makes engine wrenching in rough weather pretty difficult.  In the meantime, it’s raining outside.  I understand, even at this early moment in our cruising careers, that this emergency is probably a level 1 on a scale of 1 to 10.  This reality check makes me think we need more practice, at least communicating effectively under pressure. 

As I’m contemplating our situation I realize that we are drifting back towards the bridge.  My default reaction is to trust that Ren knows exactly what’s going on all the time.  I watch the sweat drip down his butt crack and think, nah, he has no clue that we’re drifting.  I dramatically scream out, “The anchor is slipping!”  We both rush on deck.  Ren begins pulling the anchor up until the rusty end of the anchor chain slips past the bow pulpit.  Where’s the anchor you ask?  Hell if we know!  It’s about 30 feet on the south side of that 42’ bridge we mentioned.  Probably creating an artificial reef for some pinfish.  Good thing the boat was already equipped with two anchors up front and one in the back.  We quickly dropped a second hook and continued arguing.     

We contacted the closest marina and the draw bridge, both to our south and informed them of our predicament.  For the first time we were under sail in our new boat!  Just as if we were back home sailing our 18’ Hobie Cat, we maneuvered our 35 footer perfectly into the slip under sail, dousing the main and then the jib at the perfect moment to the amazement of the dockmaster who had been awaiting our arrival. 

Back in our comfort zone, the arguing subsides and we are immediately in love again.  At this moment, during our first sail in our new boat, I remember that I want to marry Ren more than anything else in the world and this new adventure we are dreaming about has become the ONLY option.  No more sitting in traffic on my way home from the office.  No more Ren working in the heat, coming home with bloody knuckles from manual labor (or so I think).  No more paying bills!  We are going to be cruisers and every day of our lives will be like this moment, a moonrise (full moon at that), a perfect downwind breeze, warm beers and a huge stretch of water between us and everything else we are responsible for.  A naive perspective, yes, but the Polyanna rose colored life perspective I had hoped sailing would bring. 

We tied up and I immediately began working on the Westerbeke 4-108.  Actually the engine was manufactured for Westerbeke by Perkins so in fact it is a Perkins 4-108.  Westerbeke buys engines from numerous manufacturers, paints them red and does the marketing and sales under their name.  Anyway, within about 30 minutes I had the thing running again. 

By now it was getting dark but to stay on schedule we had to make Titusville, FL which was 35 miles to our north.  The adventure had just begun and we were already sailing at night and loving it!  Throughout the entire trip to North Carolina I can count on one hand the  opportunities where the wind wasn’t in our faces and we could actually sail.  This first night was one of them.  We were on our way!

We made it that night to Titusville and woke to a gorgeous morning on the space coast.  After a calm night at anchor we motored into the Titusville municipal marina and had a huge breakfast at a local diner and were back under way by 9am.  We really had no idea how far we were going but we knew we wanted to try and at least do 120 miles each day.