It is good that sailboats are simple systems because they are in an environment that is complex and incomprehensible. Two particular aspects of sailing are totally impossible to manage. One is the weather. You do get some weather forecasts, but with all the computing power and modeling and patterns, we still get it wrong half the time. The second aspect which is difficult to predict and impossible to manage is people. The people you have on your boat. Even less yourself. And the major difference is that you kind of agree you can do nothing about the weather, but you still believe you can influence people. You don’t get pissed off with the weather. You don’t get mad at nature – nature is nature. You don’t hold it against nature, you don’t hold a grudge against it, you don’t look at it in terms of fair and unfair. With people, you can influence them, but only to an extent – and you can never reach the last few percent. In extreme situations, it is the last few percent that matter. You expect people to deliver these last few percent, and when they don’t, you get pissed off with them. Instead, you should probably be mad at yourself.
You remember how genuinely happy we were when we were young kids? I mean we still had our frustrations – not enough ice-cream, too much homework, parents not buying all the toys, that kind of stuff. But the world was a pretty cool place in general. Now this is what I call the happiness of innocence – before life starts burying you under piles of serious shit, when you still live a somewhat sheltered life. And then later on, there is the happiness of wisdom. When you have seen it all, you have made some sense of it, you realize that shit is just part of the whole deal. While almost everyone experiences the happiness of innocence, less people get to know the happiness of wisdom. Because they never manage to put that shit in perspective, and instead become bitter, cynical, angry people. Your choice, remember.
Q: Don’t you get lonely during long ocean crossings?
A: I have chosen to be on my own. Why would I miss other people’s company, if I chose not to have it in the first place? You can feel lonely – which in fact means rejected, excluded, inadequate, at the wrong place – only when you are in other people’s company, the wrong people’s company. Which usually happens in the big city.
How natural it has become to live suspended on the water. The rhythm of nature – the swell, the tides, and day and night, the weather fronts. Your body and mind synch with the ocean. Under your feet there is half an inch of plastic, then a few kilometers of water – first warm and welcoming and comforting, with the sun rays penetrating and somehow domesticating it – then comes the dark and the cold and the monsters. What is at the bottom, this universe where our bodies have not been to, but only our imagination has traveled to? Imagine your body floating there? And the night, wow! I miss being alone on the dark water, the sky and the stars. No night sky is like the sky in the South Pacific. Opens up your mind to new dimensions, you go through these Doors of Perception. Disappeared sailors: are they really washed away, or have they decided to move on to the other side? Of course at night your see all the huge sea monsters reaching for you… Was it JP Sartre who said that he was afraid of heights not because he might fall, but because he might not resist the temptation to fly.
Imagine a block of flats. Hundreds, thousands of people suspended in the air, eating, sleeping, making love, making important decisions to rule the world. Distanced and disconnected from the Earth. No good energy can be generated there – I don’t think so. Only frustration and fear.
I am not talking any of that back to nature, Amish, no progress, no technology stuff, Rousseau, the French and other utopians. Not at all, none of that. All I am saying is how unnecessarily complicated we make things sometimes. And how hourly Tweets on Paris Hilton do not really improve my quality of life. Or news on some minor starlet’s suicide attempt, OD-ing on homeopathics… organically grown… please… to avoid side effects… and to support local producers… and reduce her carbon footprint… no kidding… gimme a break…
When people from a small village on North Efate have a celebration day, they call it a festival. Others call it Christmas, Hanukkah, Easter, Ramadan, etc. And they do what everyone else does: get together, get pissed, sing, dance, communicate with outer worlds.
Take the Two Moon Festival. It too has its celestial origins. Some 10 years ago the Survivor show came to film on the island. They were shooting a scene, and the moon was not where it would look best on the show. The way to solve the problem was to cut out a card-board moon and hoist it on a bamboo scaffolding. All fine, till the locals took notice that there were two moons up in the sky! Out came the shamans, the drums, the kava, the all-night dancers. There you go – a new religious celebration. Every year now, on the same date.
How much of our lives is controlled by fear? Religion, politicians, global warming, loosing your job, corporations, Israelis, Arabs, Al Qaedas, marriages, not being the perfect father or mother, your parents getting old – can’t you do more to alter the course of nature – all fear and guilt.
Fear does not make sense. There is no logic behind it. Simple – here is how it works for me now – but you have to find your own way to make it work for you. There are two types of things in life – things where you have control and things where you do not. When the shit over which you have control happens, well, you do what you are supposed to do and know how to do, and things are ok again – so why worry about it. When the shit over which you have no control happens, there is nothing you can do anyway – so no reason to worry about that either. Simple.
It did take me a while to figure it all out. Forty five years. It dawned on me while I was single-handling the big stretch from the Marquesas to Samoa. Twenty days. Closest land was about five miles away – below me. No land, no ships. Not a soul. The ocean, the sky, and the boat – my world. No words to describe this bliss – blessed are those who have lived it.
Amazing how ocean sailing makes you at the same time more humble and more confident. Contradictory but true. You come to terms with how small and how big you are.
And then the strangest thing happened. Now that I am back on land, fear is back. Mostly fear of loosing… what was never mine, what never belonged to me. Isn’t it time to head back for the Ocean…