Exactly one year ago I started taking sailing lessons here on San Francisco Bay in an effort to gain a better understanding of Coastal Passage Making. My goal is to make it through the Offshore Passage Making Program and master all the techniques required to safely sail around the world some day. I've had countless dreams of boarding my boat and sailing to wherever the wind takes me. No cars, no pollution, no people. Just me on the open ocean drifting through time, flowing with the wind and the currents without a care in the world. Ideally, I envision myself sailing between San Francisco, Hawaii, and Japan once per year with family and friends, or completely alone if nobody is crazy enough to join me.
As poetic as it sounds, the harsh realities of offshore passage can quickly become a nightmare if you are not properly trained and well equipped. I have been out in the water on a variety of vessels over the years which has given me enough respect for the open seas to understand that training and preparation can make the difference between life and death. I don't have time to detail the multitude of tribulations I have endured during my travels on ocean vessels, but let's just say that there is nothing more humbling than getting beaten to a pulp on the high seas.
I've lived near the ocean throughout most of my life and I've been on the water more than most people, however simply being comfortable in the ocean does not endow one to sail around the world. Therefore, before buying a new boat and embarking on any long-term voyages, I decided to become officially certified in as many levels of sailing as possible. I found a great sailing school here in Sausalito (Club Nautique) that offers all levels of instruction for beginner and expert sailors alike. With each new course that I complete, I feel more comfortable sailing a vessel alone and gain more confidence hitting the high seas.
There are various techniques that are required to sail properly versus, driving a car for example. In a car, you simply fill the gas tank, start the engine, and hit the accelerator while steering down meticulously paved and well labeled roads. If you run into a problem, you simply pull the car over to the side of the road and get help. However, on a sailboat you are at the mercy of the wind and currents where you must enter a zen-like state while becoming one with the elements. There are no gas stations out at sea, and no civilization in sight. You need to understand the physics of your boat and sails against the wind and currents, you need to know how to plot your course, how to read the stars, how to signal other boats, etc. You must study your charts, forecast the weather, and follow your instincts while navigating though the currents in search of your destination. I do find many aspects of sailing rather similar to my Pilot's training, however there are also just as many elements that are completely different from flying a plane.
Some of the equipment and techniques date back thousands of years to when man first realized that he could travel on water. Even the terminology sounds old-school with terms such as Port, Starboard, Helm, Keel, Jib, and Poop Deck (no, this is not the toilet). Unsurprisingly, many of the terms originate from France because the French were master sailors for eons. Every single item on a boat has purpose because you have limited space to store the things that might be needed to survive out on the open ocean alone. Technique is EVERYTHING in sailing and gaining a solid understanding of the forces that propel your vessel efficiently comes with loads of practice. Even the way you tie the knots in your lines can make all the difference during emergency maneuvers.
I truly enjoy the adventurous and spontaneous nature of sailing versus flying. Inevitably an instance occurs that you didn't think of or plan for and it is these moments that get your adrenaline pumping full-power. It's the ultimate test of ingenuity and willpower where you must focus all of your attention to the task at hand and have faith that you_will_make_it. Some people find this to be a bit too much to take on for a hobby, but I find it exhilarating.
I also absolutely LOVE the solitude, the tranquility, and the vast nothingness of sailing the open ocean. Nothing clears my head more succinctly and nothing makes me feel more content (well, except maybe surfing or flying). The amazing thing is that you have no choice but to relish in the insignificance of your existence here on Earth. You are simply a small drop in an infinite pond where your impact upon the Earth is of no consequence. As quickly as you make your wake with your boat, the wind and currents swiftly sweep it away. You could easily sink down to the depths of the ocean forever with no trace to be found.
From a practical standpoint, sailing is the most efficient and environmentally friendly way to travel from continent to continent on your own. You don't need to buy fuel and you are not emitting hazardous waste in any form (which cannot be said for flying). You are simply utilizing natures amazing forces to propel your vessel wherever you want to go. The best part is that you have your own mobile home on water where you can eat, sleep and live on your vessel anywhere in the world. I plan on decking my boat out with solar panels to provide heat and lighting. Freaking AWESOME!!!
While I'm out at sea I often let my mind wander to magical places. Due to the fact that I am completely out of reach from civilization and free of any distraction, my imagination begins to invent it's own worlds and scenery. I find myself fantasizing about fictional places and imagining myself in other-worldly environments. The rhythmic movements of the wind and waves hitting the boat puts me into a trance-like state at times, making it that much easier to escape to wondrous lands. These are the moments that I live for, those brief instances where my mind can freely wander in absolute bliss. Whenever I'm out in the water sailing or surfing, I feel as if I am reversing my own evolution and returning to the waters from which I came...