Finding Peace at Sea

This morning I was able to find peace with my thoughts. Sitting on the rolled up dingy on Khulula’s foredeck, drinking tea and watching the sun illuminate the world, I was able to close my eyes, take a couple deep breaths, allow the anxiety to leave and I find my peace at sea.

Long distance sailing is fraught with potential dangers and serious perils. As famous NZ weather guru, Bob McDavitt, always says, “The weather is random combination of pattern and chaos”, and the weather has the most direct influence your everyday life at sea. Good days lift your spirits to the mast head while bad days drop them to the bottom of the bilge. Global weather systems are so complex that even with all our high-tech wizardry the most dedicated meteorologists still find themselves scratching their collective heads trying to ascertain why certain weather events occurred. They constantly remind us to only give any credence to a 3 – day forecast, and caution that any longer term forecast is just statistics and educated guesswork. Not a huge amount of help when trying to plan a 20-day passage by sailboat.

Once you have come to terms with your inability to plan the weather for the next 3 weeks and the fact that the odds point to getting caught in at least one good blow, ones’ eyes may shift to the vessel itself. The multitude of potential failures is astronomical. Sailboats are generally stripped down to the bare essentials so that each turn-buckle, shackle, shroud, line, block and winch are essential to keeping the boat moving. As a result constant maintenance is extremely important. We carry huge tool boxes and buckets of spare parts and useful devices to help us rig up temporary solution to failures, but there can always be a failure you are unprepared for. A failure in the forestay, backstay, shrouds, spreaders, etc could all lead to the mast falling down – avoid this at all costs. A failure in any of the through hulls, the water pumps, toilet, or engine cooling system could all lead to the boat filling up with water. A failure of the bilge pumps could make this new water ballast a permanent feature – avoid this too.

In planning every passage, we try and think about all the possible issues and how we would overcome them. We check and recheck the rig and anything else we think may have been worn, torque-d, abused or otherwise used but we cannot cover it all.

Once out at sea, thoughts about a single possible issue can create a never ending cascade of subsequent failure related worries, all stemming from first failure – akin to the central root system of a Fir tree where the trunk is the first issue and all the leading root paths show alternate possible issues. It could also be compared to going into a tailspin in an airplane, the longer you contemplate one potential failure, the more issues you think of and the downward spiral of cause and reaction increases and increases until your stomach is wound so tightly you cannot sleep, eat, or enjoy single moment of being at sea. The passage begins to feel more like a prison sentence than a pleasure cruise and the slow decrease of miles to go seems to grind to a complete halt.

Stopping this free falling thought process is so very important while at sea since it can ruin an entire passage. Reversing this system of thoughts and allowing yourself to just accepting the beauty of the moment changes everything. It can transform the nightmarish days and nights into an experience which truly allows one to begin to feel at one with the world. You are not fighting or altering natural system of weather but just rather just moving in concert with the natural rhythm of the world/ocean.

Every now and again, one can find this mental space. Call it Finding Peace, call it your Happy Place, call it Zen, call me a hippy, call it whatever but if you are able get your mind to clear of all the possible issues and live in the purely in the instant , the change is astounding. The colours of the sky, the slow lumbering ground swell variations, the crispness of the light, the saline clarity of the air all seem to enter some sort of hypersense 5th dimension leaving you in a state of complete calm. These are the moments I try and store away in the mental memory bank and for no camera, image or description will ever capture them.

Note: This blog describes the mental game I fight with during most passages, however with the incredibly favorable weather we have been having lately, everyone is in no less than the best of spirits and loving every second at sea.

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