I was staring at the headsail for five or six minutes before I realized I was daydreaming. I do that a lot once I get into cruising mode.
With me, cruising mode takes approximately three days before it sets in. It’s a state of mind in which, for no apparant reason, your thoughts drift off into flights of pure fancy and fantasy. You know you have achieved it when you can hear, somewhere in the dim recesses of your mind, that you are being called for your watch, and you can’t remember if the growling in your stomach is for breakfast or dinner.
It’s as if you are in limbo. Non-cruisers always ask, “What do you do when you’re at sea for weeks at a time?”
I can recall day after day of living the most exciting adventures, while kicking back on a downwind run to the Tuamotus or the Azores. Reality and fantasy blend into whatever book you are reading, and time dissolves.
After you have been at sea a few days the only importance there is to time is if you want to take a noon sight. Depending on how your watches fell, morning can be anywhere from dawn till noon. Underway you find being able to sleep is an asset. It makes the crossings go faster.
Once awake, you grab a book, nestle yourself into a comfortable nook, and delve into worlds far from the vessel you are on. While underway it is not strange to read three or four books in a week. The beauty of the lifestyle is, as you read each book you get drawn into it as if you live the adventure you are reading.
When the weather starts to kick up, your real life adventure takes over from the imagined. You find that weather that would have kept you in port back home, now turns on the excitement. Many say that the adventure truely begins when something goes wrong. As the signs of turbulent weather begin, you sense things that you never would have noticed before. A slight shift in the wind, and you are alerted to a change. You are a part of the immediate surroundings, not sitting in an air conditioned world watching it on the boob tube.
And when you get through it! Ahh, then you know that your are really alive. When the winds are blowing on your bow, and the sea is soaking everything on board, you may curse the gods that turned the weather against you (and probably will!). But these gods are smarter then we mere mortals. A lot smarter. They know that the feeling of accomplishment achieved by overcoming adversity is the most fulfilling feeling a human can have. And they know the harder the adversity is, the more intense the feeling of achievement.
Like when you read a great novel, the hero must dive into the depths of hell in order to achieve greatness. A story with no strife, or a life without struggle, cannot create a feeling of greatness. Sailing through turbulant seas can be this way.
A voyage goes from day to day, month to month, and year to year, building on what has happened. Most voyages start by heading somewhere “safe.” A cruising ground of some familiarity, where a new captain feels in control. You will notice that, as the months of a cruise extend to years, the destinations get a little more exotic. Most cruisers that we have met underway, sail to places they never thought they would be going when they first set out. Once they have proven to themselves that they can depend on their personal strengths, they start sailing off the beaten path.
Looking back to a first cruise will usually put a smile on any cruiser’s face. To think about that first leg, with all of the anxieties that went into the preparation, are so trivial in retrospect.
After a few years of being out there, you start to achieve cruiser’s Nirvana. All of a sudden you’ll find that, instead of looking for the easiest and most comfortable sail, you start choosing crossings a little off the beaten path.
New cruisers always seem to look for a harbor that has plenty of other boats in it, so he can anchor where it’s safe. Experienced cruisers will seek out the less used, remote anchorage, and anchor safely.
Whenever I am asked, “What it is really like once you cut the lines and get out there?” I find it a very easy thing to convey, so that anyone can understand what it means to cruise as a way of life. When I am working at trying to get back to the sea and the cruising life, it seems to me that the life of a cruiser isn’t real. It seems as if it is just a dream. However, when I am out here where I belong, life back there seems a nightmare!
Now I have to make the biggest decision of the day. The headsail seems to be luffing a little up near the leading edge, and if I snugged it a little it might give us a bit more speed.
Yeah, I think it would. “Hey, Jody, remind me to snug up the Jib a little later, will ya?”
Bob’s “Attitude” articles first appeared in Latitude and Attitudes magazine and can also be found in either The Sailing Life or Starboard Attitude books.