Friday, 15 March 2013

Summer Plans and the Art of Vulnerability

In just 6 weeks, we’ll be pushed out of our comfortable nest in the port of Vannes, ready or not.  The classic boat festival “The Week of the Gulf” will be invading the port and our winter contract will come to an end.    

Scenes from Gulf Week 2011.
But this is the moment we’ve been waiting for, right?  Time to sail away to see the world!  So why are we so nervous?  

First of all, we haven’t quite decided where to go.  The typically summer range for most sailors in this area is “Cerveza to Guinness” (Spain to Ireland).  One involves crossing the Bay of Biscay, a notoriously rough 3 day offshore passage.  The other involves a 1 day offshore crossing of the bumpy and cargo ship clogged English Channel.  We’ve done both as crew and while both were uncomfortable for long stretches, they weren’t as daunting as their reputations.

Where to go ?
But when we think about doing either of these alone in Spray, our swashbuckling chutzpah evaporates and re-condenses before our eyes as menacing storm clouds.  Friends tell us we’re ready, but we’re way out of our comfort zone with either of these choices.  And isn’t this supposed to be fun?  We want to be baba-cool bohemian sail bums, not intrepid adventurers looking death in the eye over the crest of each wave.  Won’t we slowly gain experience and confidence so that these types of crossings don’t seem so frightening?

The French philosopher Fabrice Midal reminds us in his most recent work, The Tenderness of the World: the Art of Vulnerability, that life without anxiety isn’t possible.  Dreams often turn to tragedy because one is forced to alter reality to achieve them.  A dream usually boils down to doing away with pain, fear, or unhappiness.  But life without these anxious states is not possible in a world where people care about things or each other.  He suggests developing a realistic relationship with anxiety. 

If I ever figure out how to do that, I’ll let you know.  I have learned to put my anxiety to work for me, though, since it allows me to play out every possible doomsday scenario in my head, over and over again, preparing me for what actions have to be taken when the time comes.  This practice was helpful recently when our motor died in a 25 knot headwind coming out of a rocky channel.  Patrick later congratulated me on my quick actions (getting the sails up alone while he went below to alternatively plead with /  hurl insults at the motor).  Quick action was only possible because I had rehearsed the situation in my head one hundred times already.  The down side of this is that every new proposal (e.g., “Hey … let’s check out that little cove over there !”) is met with squinty eyes and a blank stare while the movies of everything that could possibly go wrong roll in front of my eyes, which only permits a luke-warm reception to even the best of new ideas.

For now, developing a relationship with my anxiety will start with reducing it to manageable proportions by taking a realistic view of our dreams so that we don’t have to (tragically ?) alter reality to achieve them.

So here is the Reality Check:  While Patrick and I have been sailing for over 10 years now and have logged almost 6000 nautical miles, we have only been sailing “alone together” on Spray for 34 days, and have logged only 492 nautical miles.  And in that time, a lot has gone wrong.  We could effortlessly sign up as crew on an around-the-world adventure with the right boat and skipper, but heading out of the protective confines of our own bay on our own boat is still a wee bit stressful.  The sea looks very different when you’re the skipper and it’s your boat.

No, friends, our mantra for this summer will be “discretion is the better part of valour,” extended title, “it’s supposed to be fun.”  We’ll stick close to the coast in areas where safe havens are within an easy 1 day sail and if we feel better about things along the way, we’ll have more adventurous options available.  Heck, we may even make it to Spain and/or the UK / Ireland this year.  The goal for this summer, however, will not be about reaching a set destination, but rather about mileage building, confidence building, gaining skippering experience, getting to know the boat and our own reactions to her, deciding if we’re cut out for multiple months of living on the boat, and more mundane-yet-essential things like how to leave the house for months at a time (bills, yard care, security, etc.).  That’s enough for one summer.  Swashbuckling can wait.

For more articles about sailing in the face of fear, visit The Monkey's Fist !