being sailors

“All men will be sailors then Until the sea shall free them…”—Leonard Cohen

Stan, the man Stan, the Captain, the man, the legend“The ocean is the same everywhere beyond sight of land,” I heard from Captain Stan who is also rumored to be Neptune himself trying out this mortal life disguised as a sailor. I haven’t seen enough of her yet to know that or maybe the ocean has a face she keeps reserved only for the gods. Either way, I will believe it and will try to remember it any time I feel unsettled at sea. It must be comforting with a sense of inherent omniscience to find yourself without bearings, to be somewhere, nowhere, and everywhere. More practically comforting, I find knowing even the gods must bear witness to the ocean’s mighty moods without argument and are powerless but to weather their fortunes as sailors every day. Sometimes, you can even catch them cursing the tangled lines under their breath.

Beautiful day for a sail Beautiful day for a sailWe had an amazing voyage to Monterey Bay and back over a course of seven days and over 200 miles. It felt like we averaged 5 to 6 knots though I am sure we sailed for more than 40 hours total. We covered long tracks with marathon sails anywhere between 9 to 20 hours, rotating watch every couple of hours, grazing and recharging as best we could while underway. I had every intention of keeping a detailed log of the passage in my brand new notebook but I became distracted Foggy dawn at Half Moon Bay Foggy dawn at Half Moon Bayand too engrossed. As a novice, I was still finding my way about and not collected enough to assume any habit. So many practices and techniques to discover, discipline to muster, and skills to build. The habits will form in their own time.

Under the ever-watchful eye of Stan and his master instruction, we carried on beating, beaming, reaching, and running but mostly close-hauled, in high winds, low winds, and no winds at all. Always adjusting sails or cleaning up the lines, tacking to stay the course. Always on, trying to keep pace with the wind and moving in the groove.

So dramatic it's comical So dramatic it's comical We practiced navigation skills with regular fixes and learned to use charts and plot courses. We tested our balance and wits cooking fajitas at a 25 degree heel. We learned the science of sails, their trim, and how to find and move the centers of resistance. We tried out our sense for steering in the dark with only the stars and feel for the wind. We challenged our notions of loneliness and perceptions of space caught for hours without a horizon in fog thick as cotton balls. We rode in calm waters, in the chop, into 6′ swells, and finally home under the Golden Gate bridge with the soothing nudge of the following seas.

Somehow, we passed all of the tests.

Every day was a different life time I could have never imagined and every moment a magical affirmation of the course I have chosen.

I feel an addiction coming on.

Things discovered… Things to add to my learning agenda…
  • It’s all doable and a matter of a calculated risk
  • Insomnia comes in handy
  • Reintroduction to land is harder than I took more than a day to shake the daze and emerge from under the spell of the sea
  • Deli meat sandwiches never tasted so good
  • There is no silence at sea, not even at anchor or dock
  • As undesirable as it may be, sometimes you just need to make way with the motor on
  • Rainbows in the spray
  • Passage making is exhausting
  • Smile more
  • Reef early
  • Memorize the chart symbols
  • Always remember your bearings and how to get back to your dock
  • Build upper body strength
  • Use all your senses in the fog
  • Patent biodegradable cigarette filters
  • Make weather your religion
  • Find that practical balance between patience, dexterity, level of effort, precision, inherent margin of error, and educated guesswork when taking fixes and plotting courses

songsSuzanne — Leonard Cohen