September 25, 2011

The need to dream

IT’S NOT SOMETHING you hear much about, but a surprising number of sailors undertaking long voyages suffer from hallucinations caused by fatigue. Psychologist Dr. Glin Bennet, who interviewed competitors in a singlehanded race across the North Atlantic, discovered that 50 percent of them experienced one or more illusions or hallucinations.

I remember Frank Robb telling me of his experience one day in my office at the Natal Mercury newspaper in Durban, South Africa. Frank was an intrepid seaman, a fisherman and a sailboat owner who learned his lessons in the stormy waters of the Cape of Good Hope, and who sometimes voyaged rather farther afield.

He was singlehanding in his old gaffer when he encountered four days of rough weather in the Caribbean. As usual, he was deprived of wholesome sleep during that time, and when the storm subsided he wasn’t too sure of his position. But soon he spotted a fishing boat, and, in the distance, an island with a protected harbor.

He sailed in, waving to a launch crowded with sightseers, and found a good anchorage. With the last of his energy he lowered his anchor and went down below, where he passed out in the saloon floor.

Twelve hours later he woke up and went on deck. There was no land in sight, There were no boats around. Nothing but sea. The anchor was down, however, dangling uselessly at the end of eight fathoms of rode.

Luckily, he felt no anxiety about his hallucination. He realized that sleep deprivation had affected his judgment, and that his overtired mind had invented the island to relieve him of the anxiety that was preventing him from getting healing sleep.

We now know that dreams are important for mental health, and if storms prevent you from dreaming, your mind will eventually compensate with a parade of waking dreams called hallucinations. The good news is that hallucinations leave no bad effects on the mind, so there is nothing to be frightened of.

Today’s Thought
Dreams are true while they last, and do we not live in dreams?
— Tennyson, The Higher Pantheism.

“Boy we had some excitement at our place last night. We had a burglar in the house. You should have seen my husband coming down the stairs three at a time!”
“Did he catch the burglar?”
“Hell no, the burglar was upstairs.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


Deb said...

Funny. When I saw the post title in my Google Reader before I actually read the post, my first thought was that you were talking about the need to dream as in having a dream. It is also very necessary, especially for those of us who are still land-locked and in the middle of seemingly endless preparations for casting off the dock lines.

S/V Kintala

Salty Bob said...

I experienced hallucinations when returning from an offshore delivery attempt a couple years ago. I saw an old Victorian home that moved around in front of us as we sailed back to The Straights. I always assumed it was the scopolamine patch I had on for 4 days. We were definitely fatigued after sailing in two gales.