January 24, 2013

We still need the adventurers

 AM I DREAMING, or has it become more difficult to have a real adventure these days, compared with 50 or 80 years ago?  I ask because I’ve just been reading about Dana Lamb and his wife, Ginger, who set out from San Diego, newly married,  in a home-made 16-foot sailing canoe with a rifle and $5 between them, and ended up three years later in the Panama Canal after 16,000 miles of adventures and exploring. That was in the early 1930s

In the Great Age of Exploration, all sea voyages were adventures, of course. Charts, such as they were, were marked with areas that said “Here be dragons,” and “Terra Incognita.” Fearsome sea creatures—krakens and giant octopuses—adorned the borders. But now we know what to expect. The dragons these days come in the form of government officials, greater regulation, more rules, and more paperwork.

Nevertheless, in an age of ease and luxury enjoyed by many, it’s not so easy to have a real adventure nowadays unless you try very hard. A rifle and $5 in cash don’t make it any more.

Cruising under sail these days is split into two categories: 1. The liveaboard wanderers, and 2. The dedicated adventurers.

They’re not hard to tell apart. 

The wanderers are probably older, richer, and more cautious. They own over-appointed and complicated boats.  They don’t like to be confronted by the unexpected. They prefer an orderly, regulated life and no surprises — or at least, just little adventures, if any. They spend a lot of time planning.

The dedicated adventurers are usually fewer, younger, poorer, and less worried about taking risks. Their boats are simpler and more Spartan. They live on adrenalin. They thrive on not knowing what’s going to happen next. They cultivate an almost carefree confidence in their ability to cope with any sudden new circumstances.  To them, just about everything is unexpected. And exciting.

My dictionary describes an adventure as a “daring enterprise, an unexpected or exciting incident, a hazardous activity.”  It sounds very much like something parents strive hard to prevent happening to their children.

I would class Eric and Susan Hiscock as liveaboard wanderers (in fact, they had boats called Wanderer) and Bernard Moitessier as an adventurer. The Hiscocks planned meticulously and worked hard to bring their plans to a successful conclusion. Moitessier, on the other hand, was a nautical hippie who shot cormorants for the pot with a catapult.  He gathered the eggs of protected sea-birds and begged a dog-food manufacturer for free samples of their product for his pantry.

They say that poor preparation and lack of experience are the parents of adventure, and there’s no gainsaying the fact that a modicum of planning is necessary for any sensible sea voyage, if only to avoid being in hurricane territory at the wrong time of the year.

But we also need the adventurers. Human beings have a unremitting urge to explore the limits of their accomplishments. Every year we break records. We run faster, we jump higher, we climb taller mountains, and we reach farther into the stars.  We constantly transcend ourselves.

And in the small world of ocean cruising, we need the dedicated few to go out and throw themselves fearlessly into adventure, to discover, to explore new horizons. It’s our small contribution to the store of human knowledge and experience that will enable us one far-off day to make the greatest discovery mankind can ever hope for — to know who we are, where we came from, and where we’re going.

 Ø Dana Lamb’s book, Enchanted Vagabonds, is now available as a print-on-demand volume. If your local bookseller can’t print it, go to abebooks.com

Today’s Thought
Life ought to be a struggle of desire toward adventures whose nobility will fertilize the soul.
 — Rebecca West

“I want one of those new terrorist stoves.”
“What the heck’s that?”
“One with an eye-level guerilla.”

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


Ben said...

This post is exactly what I needed today. I'm inexperiencedly failing to properly prepare for an epic under-funded sailing adventure, and was considering more boring alternatives. I would end up hating myself if I didn't at least try the crazy path. Usually my crazier adventures are less oceany, more deserty, but I always jump in fully. Taking it slow sailing would have sucked.

John Vigor said...

Good luck, Ben. It's better to have tried and failed than never to have tried at all. We're rooting for you.

John V.

Jack said...

If you you want adventure and think youth is a required factor, I can only suggest to go to Webb Chiles website to discover that "adventure" can be for the young and old. www.inthepresentsea.com Is the link.

Webb now in his 7th decade and is in the planning stages to sail the globe in a 24 Moore.This will be his sixth time I believe.... For those who are not familiar Webb, it's a must.

The Unlikely Boatbuilder said...

There's a third category that I think I fall into: those who try to plan and avoid adrenaline-pumping adventure, but fail, and have it anyway. Unless you never leave your own harbor, it's hard to anticipate everything. If you adventure into the unknown, adventure will find you, whether you want it or not.

Anonymous said...

John. You talk the talk, but that's about it.

John Vigor said...

Dear Anonymouse, Yes, talking the talk is what I do. What would you like me to do?

Junaid said...

I am guessing these guys would fall into the adventurer category.


Roger Jones said...

I beg to differ. I think you have it wrong. Going to the moon was an adventure. Leaving on an ill equipped boat and being lucky enough to not be killed is stupidity. Not to mention all the people who have been killed attempting to rescue the stupid.

Even on the best prepared boat (and I make no representation that mine is the best prepared) stuff happens. We recently crossed the Atlantic. The main sheet shackle broke. The wheel steering broke 1000 NM from land. We managed to overcome these problems with a bit of stuff on the boat and a great deal of creativity.

To the specifics of your question, yes, I think one can still have an adventure without being NASA. For many people crossing the Gulf Stream for the first time is an adventure. For others it requires something a bit more difficult. I am turned off by "the youngest," "the oldest" etc. Sure, I could try to be the first to circumnavigate drinking a case of beer a day. What would be the point?

My two cents.