Everything I Need to Know I Learned on a Sailboat
While I was in Oakland for the Strictly Sail Pacific Boat Show last month, John Arndt, editor of Latitude 38 came over to chat about his pet project, Summer Sailstice, his way of sharing the sheer joy of sailing by getting hundreds of thousands of sailors from as many countries as possible out on the water on June 21st and 22nd. He spotted the brochure for Voyaging with Kids, on my table. I explained I am publishing it for Fall 2015 release. “That’s great. My daughter has always liked sailing with me.” John said. “Just a few months ago I took her along on an eight day delivery trip. She said it provided a real life lesson and proved it by writing a story for me.” I asked permission to share Sarah’s story, one with lessons for all of us. If you want to see photos of Sarah and her sailing companions take a look at: http://www.summersailstice.com/article/first-offshore-passage
Everything I Need to Know I Learned on a Sailboat by Sarah Arndt
I grew up with the best sort of bedtime stories a little girl could ask for – her father as the hero of various sailing adventures. Many a night, my dad would sit on the edge of my bed recounting stories of spearing stingrays, encounters with bloodthirsty sharks, getting lost at sea, a late night rendezvous with Russian tank workers, crashing fancy yacht parties, and clashes with the Coast Guard. When the possibility of an eight-day ocean passage with my dad from Hope Town, Abaco in the Bahamas to Portland, Maine was brought up, I leapt at the opportunity.
The folklore and wisdom of the seas goes back centuries, but sometimes lessons are best learned through experience. My top twelve takeaways are no 21st century Moby Dick – but they are applicable for sailing adventures, other adventures, or the adventure called life – interpret as you wish:
- There are good times. Then there are bad times. The bad times really suck. Storms will arise. You will vomit, possibly for hours. You will be continuously wet until you start to feel soggy and molding. Sleep is a delirious taunting dream. Layers of sunscreen, sweat, and salt will mix into a permanent, sticky film of filth coating your skin.
- However, the good times would not be so beautiful were it not for the storm.
The blending of ocean and sky will take your breath away. From morning; when the sky is a baby blue pantone color strip, to evening; when the sun melts into the ocean and fools you into thinking air and water, mixed, can make fire, tonight; when the stars in the sky and the ocean’s phytoplankton mirror one another.
- Also, memory is funny. The bad times recede and get fuzzy. The good times grow and exaggerate.
- There is no way forward but forward. When you’re at sea, there are no time-outs, no breaks, no holidays, no rest stops, and no half times. Every moment is a moment forward. Enjoy the trip.
- Take advantage of the calm days. But don’t let them fool you. Beauty does not exist just to be admired, it exists to be used, taken advantage of, and appreciated. On a boat this means: Use the opportunity to SHOWER! Do your laundry! Fix the broken boat parts! Cook a meal! You never know what could happen in an hour.
- Humans made time up. TIME IS NOT REAL. Mind blowing yes? So you already knew that. Time does not dictate your needs, you do. Sleep when you’re tired. Eat when you’re hungry. Pee when you need to. Brush your teeth when you want to.
*Author’s side note: But also, see above, prepare. Sometimes, like say before a test or a long car ride, I’d recommend peeing in advance.
- Wake with the dawn and sleep with the dusk….when you can.
- You can live without fresh vegetables. Not saying you should. Just that it’s possible.
- Planning is essential. A good sailor comes up with ten different navigation options based on what the wind and the currents might possibly do and then wings it when it actually does the 11th option you didn’t consider. My take away? Planning is helpful, but that’s all it is…helpful. Storms come up, the ocean changes its mind and currents go right instead of left, fishes bite your line, the sunset is so pretty you forget to cook dinner, whales almost crash into you. The plan itself can be useless; the point is the process of preparing. Learn to love the planning, and then embrace the plan you didn’t plan for.
- Expect the unexpected to happen when you least expect it. The fish will bite when its hungry and the wind will blow when it wants to. The ocean will change. The timing may not be convenient for you. Too bad. Despite your plans, the only guarantee is no guarantee.
- Sometimes hurricanes are nearby and sometimes they hit you. Be prepared for the worst (work hard), hope for the best (dare to dream), and when that fails, have faith. If you do, you’ll make it to a safe harbor. I’m not saying it’s the harbor you planned for, or even a harbor you wanted. But a harbor is a harbor. We made it to one (in Massachusetts, not Maine).
- Be optimistic. We don’t get to decide when hurricanes happen, so decide to be optimistic instead. In general, things are much better when the glass is half full. I mean that literally. And figuratively.
- Just because you’re back on land doesn’t mean you have to turn your phone back on. (However, my instagram of my fellow sailors still remains among my top ten most likes ever. My fellow sailors were three men over the age of fifty though…a tough act to follow.