It was during a particularly inky-black night, when our boat was slicing through a patch of luminescent plankton on a recent trip from Bermuda up to Portland, Maine, when the feeling of “This Is Why I Sail” washed over me like the warm breeze that was pushing us north. And I know I’m not the first sailor to be moved by stars, and phosphorescence, and silky smooth wakes.
But that feeling of gratitude, and awe, and wonder, and humility, and contentment, and maybe even a dash of uncomfortable (I hadn’t had a proper shower in days) is something I’ve been lucky enough to experience on a boat more than a few times. And it’s the memories of those times that buck up my flagging spirit when I’m bashing into a snarling headwind, or upside-down in a too-small engine space trying to get an obstinate engine started, or hot and sweaty, or cold and clammy, or hard aground up on the beach in the middle of the night when the mooring fails!
And I’ve also come to realize that those “This Is Why I Sail” moments are as varied as the places we’ve been, and people we’ve met, and boats we’ve sailed, and (gasp!) the decades I’ve spent getting wet on boats of various repute.
I’m not sure if this picture above really captures how fierce the wind was, or how damp and salty and stinging the spray was. Trust me, the horseshoe PFD that’s literally being blown off it’s hanger, and the ocean that’s literally being blown white were a sight to behold. And even though we’d had it up to our eyeballs with DAYS of winds in the 35-50 knot range, I felt invigorated. After the initial shock of being in such nasty weather wore off, and even though the stomach queasiness never really did, and we lived at 40 degrees of heel for 72 hours or so, I remember the feeling of aliveness that happened when I left the protection of the bimini to trim our handkerchief of sail, or to adjust the autopilot a few hopeful degrees closer to our destination in St. George’s, Bermuda. I also remember being just a little freaked out when I was on deck at night, in the Gulf Stream, in those conditions when the “If I fall overboard right now I WILL DIE,” thoughts came up. I sail to get to the picture-perfect tropical anchorage, but I also sail to get as close to the edge as I can, as well.
During the halcyon days of my misspent youth, being able to sail solo around the world (actually sail over the horizon and away from my “problems”) was, so I thought, “Why I Sail.” But once I experienced the bone-crushing loneliness, and the limitations of my little boat, limited sailing experience, and limited/non-existent bank account (and some other personal revelations) on my early solo-sailing missions, I soon realized that yes, I want to sail (and sail long distances) but I want to do it with other people! And I’ve found that the people I’m with make the trip just as much as the destination and the weather, and in the case of the photo above and the photo below, the perfect way to ring in the New Year.
Or sometimes, I marvel at the fact that in our hyper-tech-no-time-to-experience-life world that seems to be gaining speed with every passing day, the idea of using wind and sails to get from one place to another basically the same way that Columbus, and Magellan, and Drake, and Nelson, and Chichester, and those cranky Puritans on the Mayflower did makes me chuckle, and even feel connected to them in some abstract, though satisfying way. I don’t sail to connect to the past but it’s still a pretty cool way to get a respite from the digital world.
Surely there’s got to be an easier way to get to St Lucia, right? Easier, maybe, but I can’t think of a cooler way to enter any country for the first time than by watching it slowly appear over the horizon, and then ghosting into a harbor that you’d only read about in books and cruising guides. I still remember the first time I cleared into Bermuda, or Antigua at Nelson’s Dockyard, or Tortola, or… any of the other countries we’ve visited by the “slow boat” method!
And the reasons for “Why I Sail” multiplied by a factor of “cute!”
We took him sailing when he was 6 months old. As you can see, the Lil’ Admiral just loved it! Sure it was kinda challenging to have a nearly newborn on the boat with us, but, the challenges were insignificant in comparison to the joy.
In between the thoughts of “I hope his little brand-new skin isn’t getting sunburned,” the magnitude of turning the little one on to the pleasures of sailing, swimming, and the sea at such an early age started to sink in.
There’s no real way to know if he’s going to like sailing or not when he grows up. And the truth is, it doesn’t really matter. He’s just one of the many reasons “Why I Sail.”
I could go on but I want to hear from you. So let’s hear it. Why Do You Sail?