Fearing The Unknown


Have you ever noticed how many really great boats sit in their slips every weekend, week after week, month after month and year after year? There is a reason for that. Not a good one, but a reason none the less.


Fear has kept more adventures from happening than any other single thing. What’s sad is what most folks fear is the unknown.

Adventure is going out into the unknown and making it known. For folks who fear the unknown, they will never experience adventure.

I remember when I got my first boat, a Cal 28, I used to think what a great experience it would be to sail to Catalina Island. It sat there, taunting me, just 26 miles across the channel. I wanted to sail there, but I was nervous. Nervous is fear wearing a satin jacket. A lot of folks don’t recognize it.

My first sail to Catalina Island was a real adventure. It was as exciting as any voyage I have ever made since. There was no real weather to speak of, nor were the seas high. There was no fog, and even the freighter traffic was nonexistent.

What was exciting was the fact that I learned there was nothing to fear out there. In the 30-odd years since then I have sailed hundreds of times to Catalina, but no trip could ever equal that first one, when I conquered my fear of the unknown voyage of 26 miles, and learned the most important lesson of my life.

A few months later a buddy called who was crewing on the 74’ square-rigged, topsail schooner Stone Witch. He told me they were putting together a trip to Central America, and he wanted to know if I wanted to join the crew.

My first thought was to say no. In the ‘70s Central America was a hotbed of bad news. Of course, back then I actually believed what I saw on the news!

But I choked down the fear and signed on. A few months later, as we sailed into Guatemala and El Salvador, I felt as at home there as if I was in my mother’s loving arms.

I learned a lesson from these events; one that has gotten me through my life experiencing adventure after adventure after adventure. It’s a simple lesson, but one that is better to learn early in life. You cannot have security and adventure simultaneously. If you stay in your secure zone you will never know adventure. And when you are living an adventure, you will not feel secure.

Yes, you can feel securely at anchor. But show me a sailor who isn’t ready to hit the deck running if he hears an unusual sound while in a strange anchorage.

And so we walk the docks of America, and see hundreds and hundreds of boats sitting in their slips or on their moorings for months and years on end. Dreams unfulfilled.

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”

Helen Keller (1880 – 1968)


  1. I loved this article the first time I read it. We are buying our first cruising vessel, a Morgan 462, this month that has been sitting in her slip completely unused for the past two years. We've watched her sitting there at the marina begging for attention and to do what she was built to do. Her owner is really nice older gentleman who bought to her to take off and cruise. I suspect that fear has been the only thing to hold him back. This is our third year of working towards satisfying our wanderlust and to say we have been and are scared to death would be an understatement of epic proportions. Selling your large suburban home, changing occupations, and moving your family of four onto a floating tube is not a natural act. At the same time, we are so excited that we can barely contain ourselves. My wife busted into alligator tears this weekend while we were showing the boat to our 10 year old son. Indeed, the biggest and hardest step of actually buying the boat and moving aboard will now not bring fear but relief and euphoria.

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