©1997 REESE PALLEY
The Secret Joys of Sailing
A sailor's joys are as simple as a child's
Thus spake Moitessier in
The Long Way, a book that conveys more of the joys of sailing than of the dull business of how-to-do sailing.
His ebullient recantations of small thrills and large personal revelations are familiar to any who have sailed the deep oceans. His pleasure in a bird, a fish, a wisp of air after a calm, are really what ocean sailing is about. How dull is the business of 'where I went' and 'how I did it.' Who cares....what the ocean sailor cares about is how he feels at sea, not what he thinks and even less do we care about what he knows.
The transfer of technical sailorly information takes place between the sailor and his living vessel, not between a sailor and any book that has ever been written. It is from his ship that the lubber becomes a sailor after ten days and a 1,000 miles out at sea. It is a learning process which simply cannot be conveyed in print. What you read about sail handling is parsecs distant from the joy of learning that takes place as your muscles sense the tension and the liveliness of the pull of your sheets.
Even less can be read about that instinctive tugging and tucking that takes place as you reef in a rising breeze. True, an old sailor can pass tricks and techniques, but that stuff only goes into your head....what is necessary is sailing lore that goes directly into your muscles.
One of the truly great joys of sailing, as Moitessier knew in his bones, is the melding and merging that joins skipper to tiller to vessel. Each dip and wallow, each pull and release, imparts volumes of information to muscles and heart...so much information that were it routed through his brain, it would only stunt the sailor's fathom of the manner that he must deal with the Sea. Synapses between heart and gut are an order of magnitude greater than those inside our slow and bumbling brain. The stuff you learn in your muscles is never unremembered....learning sailorly skills is like learning to ride a bicycle, you cannot be taught it by others, are almost unaware of learning to ride and incapable of forgetting.
The ocean sailor recaptures those joys of childhood when every taste was new and every vision unique. When learning of the world came as a blinding rush that melts into endless revelation. The simple joys of childhood emerged from the newness of each experience. It is the lovely gift of sailing that reinvents newness for the sailor. Experiences on land that have become dulled with familiarity and old and boring ways of thinking of the miracles around and within each of us, are renewed in the so aptly named 'cradle' of the sea. We sailors are offered the inestimable gift of rebirth. We are Botticelli's Venus emerging from the sea, newly made, fresh and, in our minds, beautiful and filled with the beauty about us.
Like children, the sailor loses sense of time. A week, a month is the same as the moment in a day when something extraordinary happens at sea. Like children, we sailors on a long ocean passage, have no limiting sense of future, only the endless rolling of the seas beneath us that promise to go on forever. Like children, time has no stop for sailors as the senses are disoriented by the separation from land and cares. We sailors are granted a limited immortality, a doubling of the experiences of non sailorly folk.
One of the simple joys of sailing is the naming of our vessels. We do not name our houses or cars, nor do we have anything to do with naming the cities and the streets where we live. Even the naming of our children sometimes dismays as when a 'Grace' is fat and dumpy and an 'Angel' becomes anything but.
The names we give our boats are never a disappointment. We name our boats as children name the unseen, imagined playmates of their secret and unseen lives. My own vessel, UNLIKELY, was named when I sensed how strange it was that I, overweight, over mortgaged and overburdened with cares of family, was about to set out across 3000 miles of open ocean.
After 17 years of circumnavigation I found myself battling a minor heart attack. When that battle was won I came across an ancient little 25 footer to tootle about in. She was named, of course, HEARTFELT. Like a kid I still giggle a bit inside when I toy with the conceits of UNLIKELY and HEARTFELT.
Our boats names are our secret dreams of childhood. A Russian friend who grew up on the cold steppes of Siberia named his first boat ARIZONA....he could imagine no place warmer and no place more unlike Siberia. Or the unselfconciously named LA FORZA DEL DESTINO .....a name only a kid could dream up. Or the surgeon who could not avoid the truth and honestly named his boat ELECTIVE SURGERY.
It is not the large events in our lives from which we derive the most coin of pleasure. The big stuff that happens has too much chance, too stochastic, for us to honestly claim credit. It is the small events for which we can honestly claim kudos that evoke the largest emotional response. Like a child who will find endless joy in a pile of sand on a beach the sailor must find his reward in the pure pleasure of smallish events. Like a child whose emotional swing from tearful scary, awe to pure and unrestrained euphoric laughter, the sailor too can allow release of all of his hidden, inner self, exposed only to a beloved shipmate or two and insulated from the judgmental crescendos of the too crowded land.
At sea a sailor's freedom is a child's freedom, unrestricted, untrammeled and involved only in the event of sailing itself. The universe in a child's eyes, of which he is the master, is the far reaches of his sand box. The sailor's universe, in which he is master and ruler, is not much further to the three mile reach of his horizon.
A bit small, perhaps, but quite enough to return the largest joys as Moitessier, himself, well knew.