Friday, October 29, 2004
Sailing urge steers ship
to South Pacific
As my regular readers know, I've been having a great time captaining my
own boat around the islands lately.
So, since I'm of the generation that if some is good, more is better,
I'm planning a trip to the South Pacific.
I have some details to work out, such as where I'm going and when. But
even though my destination is uncertain and the timing unclear, I'm
determined to sail somewhere beyond paradise.
I'm not looking for a new home. Hawaii really is paradise for me. Nor am
I, this time, pursuing marine animal experiences, although I expect I'll
get some doozies.
No, for the first time in my life, I've been bitten by the sailing bug.
This itch to hoist the sails might seem odd, since I've been riding
around on this boat for nearly 20 years. That, however, was riding. Now
Figuratively speaking, that is. During talk of Tahiti, a friend asked me
how a person sails long distances with only two people aboard.
"It must be exhausting," she said. "I mean, how do you steer all day and
"Oh, no one actually steers the boat," I said. "It has an autopilot."
"And you trust that?"
"Sure. An autopilot doesn't doze off or get confused. You just give it
your course heading, and off it goes. It looks like a ghost at the
wheel, but it's a friendly ghost."
"And who decides the course heading?" she asked.
"The GPS. I tell the map plotter where we want to go. It draws a course
line and displays the compass point."
"To give to the autopilot."
"And what about the sails?" she said. "Do you have to adjust them when
"Not in tradewind weather," I told her. "Once you get the sails set,
that's pretty much it."
"So once you get the boat settled, you don't steer, you don't navigate
and you don't mess with the sails."
"Susan, what on earth do you do out there?"
It's a good question. What I do, when not eating, sleeping or fixing
things on the boat, all challenges in their own way, is sit there and
look at the water. For some people that's hell, but for those of us who
need a break from our runaway brains, it's heaven. It's mandatory
Sometimes things happen that shake me from my campfire-like trance.
Dolphins ride the bow wave, flying fish pop from the water, booby birds
land on the deck. But most of the time, offshore waves in moderate
weather are like flames. I see in them what I want to see, which is
often nothing at all. It's guiltless spacing out.
Sailing can be exciting, too, of course. I don't know when something is
going to happen, and that unknown is part of the fun. When those
tradewinds come on hard, a storm appears or something breaks, my serene
thoughts turn to those of survival.
Thanks to years of experience with my expert-sailor partner, those
moments don't terrify me. I do, however, get extremely focused. This
isn't your standard kind of meditation, but for me it's even better.
Either way, in calm waters or stormy seas, when I'm out there, the
worries, doubts and fears of daily life blow away with the wind. Sure, I
develop new worries, doubts and fears, but they are those of adventure
and that's OK.
"What is this, a midlife crisis?" teased a friend about my South Pacific
"No crisis," I said. "I just want to go sailing."