Marine News from the Great Lakes

We Are One Percenters

Published: Thursday, September 14, 2017

What is it that drives normal people to do abnormal things?  This question popped into my alleged mind while spending a weekend up in the mountains, actually off the boat.

After 30 years of living on a boat, cruising the world, and spending 99.9% of my time with boat people, this was one of the first times I was "stranded" amongst non-boaters. You know, people who not only did not sail, but couldn't figure out why anyone in their sane mind would want to.

We were watching the boob tube, which seems to be what land-slugs like to do more than anything, and there was a news item about some poor slob who had been dismasted off the coast of Oregon and had to be rescued. Naturally, all eyes turned towards Jody and I, and the conversation turned to why any idiot would want to be out there in the first place, let alone during a storm.

They are the same people who often will ask, "Where do you stop when you are crossing an ocean?" Their second favorite question always seems to be, "How long were you out there when you were sailing the world?"  And, of course, when we'd answer that we'd "been out" for 10 years, they would all make owl eyes and exclaim in horror, "How could you stay out there at sea for so long? Don't you miss civilization?"

Yeah, right! We missed traffic jams and the nightly news showing how many people were shot in drive-by shootings.  We missed things like the OJ trial, and Whacko Jacko.

Captain Woody refreshed my memory about what the cruising life was really like when he returned from his recent circumnavigation. We'd sailed together since he was 25 years old, and since his return I noticed a big change in him. Things don't get him flustered. He just kind of does what must be done.

I asked him about it and he said life was so much easier out there. All he had to do was stay alive. Everything else was superfluous.

Then it started to come back to me; the big difference between civilization and the "uncivilized" cruising life. When you are out there, just about everything you do is a must, so you never question it. A line parts, you fix it. You find a leak, you work on it until it's fixed. A sail flaps, you adjust it. What you do is black and white. There are things that have to be done, and things that don't have to be done.

He was talking about how it felt the first time he set out on a major crossing single handed. Having never done this, I asked how it felt.

"I felt relieved," he'd said. "It was like a weight had been lifted. All of a sudden, all I had to do was to take care of myself. I didn't have to think about what I'd do. It was automatic. If I was hungry, I'd eat. I didn't have to think about if someone else might like what I fixed. I just fixed what I wanted."

Sometimes he'd open a can of cold beans, other times he'd cook a meal. He did what he felt had to be done, when he wanted to do it.

As he was telling me, I could picture myself in his shoes. I could see exactly what he meant. Freedom. Total and absolute freedom to do what he wanted, when he wanted.

And so it is when you are cruising. If you are single handing, or if you are cruising as a couple, or if you are sailing off for a weekend, it is the freedom that makes us really enjoy our time offshore.

I can recall when I first started sailing, the feeling I'd get as I cast off the docklines. It was like casting off the weight of the civilized world and going to a place where there was only black and white - what I needed to do and what I didn't need to do.

There is an old saying by Reinhold Neibuhr that goes "GOD, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference."

Sailing seems to make those decisions a lot easier. You can't change the weather, so you don't worry about it. A storm comes, you work through it. A beautiful sunset happens, you enjoy it.  What if the wind's on your nose? Well, maybe it's time to change your course. Pick another spot to anchor. Your bilge pump stuck? Not much of a decision to make there. Fix it. Replace it. Whatever it takes. The decision is easy.

I feel sorry for people who have never gone to sea. How do they make all those decisions? Watch TV or fix the screen door? Neither is important, so how do they decide?

I figure about 1% of the people on earth go to sea. That means there are 99% that are always running around confused.


tags: Lifestyle, Sailing

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