October 25, 2015

Small voyage, big accomplishment

I WAS ONCE introduced to a man who sailed a Wayfarer 16-foot dinghy among the islands of the Salish Sea, here in the Pacific Northwest. He was very modest when he learned I’d crossed oceans. “I only take little voyages, and never out of sight of land,” he said.

I assured him that small, gentle voyages can generate as much joy and satisfaction as long adventurous ones.

The man or woman who gingerly sails a dinghy along a friendly shore is no less worthy of our respect than the sailor who braves the open ocean. 

We all have our own areas of anxiety and doubt in our own abilities, and when we conquer our fears it is just as much a triumph to cross the bay as it is for someone of sterner nature to cross an ocean.

And yet, human nature being what it is, we tend to judge other sailors by the size of their boats and how far they’ve traveled: their most distant ports, and the length of their voyages.

Now it is true that sailors who cross oceans in small boats perform impressive feats of seamanship because they sail the same seas as big commercial ships that have large crews specializing in the various skills needed to move people and cargoes across oceans. Sailboat sailors are their own cooks and navigators. They are their own engineers and riggers. They handle the sails and anchors and electrical circuits. And they face exactly the same hazards as large ships, including the storms, the rocks, and even pirates.

Yet, at the same time, to take a small boat across a body of water of any size is no small feat. To each his own goals and ambitions. We all set our own limits, and who can gainsay our individual achievements? What we all seek deep down is a feeling of ability, of achievement, of confidence. And sailing a small boat on a small voyage often does generate the confidence we need to deal with the greater troubles the world constantly throws at us.

Seamanship is as much a set of the mind as anything else. And small, simple boats can afford pleasure and gratification out of all proportion to their cost. We are the only ones fit to judge our seamanship. We challenge ourselves, we feel fear, and sometimes we get more fear than we bargained for, but we learn and we gain confidence, and are not as frightened quite as much the next time. And there always is a next time for those who challenge themselves.

Today’s Thought
Keep your fears to yourself, but share your courage.
— R. L. Stevenson

Tailpiece
The greatest area of unemployment in the world today is the region just north of the ear.

2 comments:

richard philbrick said...

One doesn't have to cross oceans to go "cruising." Cruising is a state of mind. There are things to see and explore as near at hand as there are on foreign shores.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful article (and comment from Richard). I'll remember this the next time I feel like my little accomplishments as a new sailor are still achievements nonetheless. And yes, "cruising" is a state of mind: not just ponying up to a dock or bar, but exploring and being curious.