Velella's Drift

An account of Velella's voyage from Seattle to New York via Panama, 2009-2011

Chicken of the Sea

I am officially scared of sailing. I didn’t realize this until I was halfway down the Pacific Coast. I think somewhere outside of Monterey I actually admitted it to Prescott, and I was really surprised when he wasn’t surprised at all.

Yes, sailing down the Pacific Coast is objectively scarier than daysailing on calm blue Minnesota lakes. But the fears are largely the same, and they’ve been around since I was young.

I think fear of one’s own ignorance might be the single greatest cause of the swearing-sailor character you find on every dock. The ones who, pulling into the slip, are cursing at their wives (or husbands), yelling “HOLD HOLD HOLD IT CLEAT IT NO THE OTHER ONE GOD DAMN IT THE FENDER THE FENDER WATCH THAT ROPE IN THE WATER THE BOWSPRIT CLEAT IT!” It’s not just that they’re uptight assholes. (Well, they might be that too.) But they fear, greatly, the boat kissing the dock because they don’t know how to fix a scratch in the gelcoat themselves. Because a problem like that would require paying someone $90/hour to do it, the boatowner’s angst increases. Blood pressure is directly related to the monetary cost of potential problems.

On the other hand, those salty sailors who fix everything themselves are rarely the ones throwing cusses around the docks. Because everything becomes much less of a big deal when you know how to fix your own mistakes. And every sticky situation becomes a whole lot simpler and safer the second and third time around.

I am naturally the swearing-sailor type. (I’m sure my dad would be quick to say I come by it honestly.) We’re both perfectionists and emotionally in love with the clean lines, sharp style, and ingenious inventions of the sailor’s world. But we also are both fearful of what we don’t know how to fix.  The accidental jibe could be so hard on the rig that it cracks the mast, and then what. You’re not capsized, but the potential just got a whole lot greater and what do you do about it? Scraping the keel on the mud bottom could be a non-event, but it could, at worst, require a haul-out and major reconstructive surgery to the hull. With people who fear, the danger in our minds is always the worst one.

Prescott, through questioning my every source of stress on the boat, has gently pointed out my fears to me over the course of this trip. It seems he never gets scared of anything. I started out by thinking that was because he knew so little about sailing and the dangers therein, but at this point I know that’s not true. He and I have exactly the same amount of blue-water experience, and he’s 98% of the time cool as a cucumber. (Me, more like 50%.) The other two percent of the time there is an indisputable and immediate danger at hand, so I always hop-to.

It was deeply kind of him not to point out directly what a coward I can be. I realize now that he has just continually asked me to swallow each fear in a mature way. I think he knows that if I sit through enough night watches I will become accustomed to the “ghost ships” that used to scare the crap out of me. I will not need to call him to help me tack the sails or identify what’s on the radar. I will dock or anchor (dreaded land is always the most stressful place to be) without acting like we’re having a problem. He knows I will gain confidence in myself the more I am forced to sit through my fears without having a breakdown in the meantime. So I can see that he does what he can to pad every situation and make it super-comfortable so that I can get through it positively and stress-free. Who knew this kid who didn’t know how to sail at all could make a respectable sailor out of me.

I had no idea when I asked him to come on this trip that he would be the person who could help me tie reefs in my fears as they sprung up full force. I am learning, slowly, anchorage by anchorage, to grow confident in our skills. I am learning, too, to slow down and listen to Prescott’s annoyingly level-headed assessments before ruining our day with my worries. I’m enjoying this trip more and more the longer we’re on it (and I’ve no doubt that Prescott is too).

Of course, I still have those moments of fear that turns itself into stress, and I probably always will. During those times, Prescott has taken to affectionately calling me “chicken of the sea.” Which I have to admit is totally appropriate.

PS. In my defense, don’t forget, I bring the organization skills to the table. : )

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2 Comments»

  Lin wrote @

yeah…you always know where the peanut butter is.

he is annoyingly level-headed–i’ve noticed that about him. does he read long books on the boat, too? 😉

  josh wrote @

I love this post. Made my day:)


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