Sailing Into the Abyss: Facing Doubt, Fear, and Humility (Part 1)
My darling husband Andrew sure has some funny ideas from time to time. Six years ago he’d said, “Hey honey, what do you think about getting rid of our house, most of our material possessions, buying a pop up tent trailer, and moving to the beaches of Baja?” Being one for adventure, I’d enlisted before he’d even completed the sentence. That experience had turned out to be one of the best of our lives and we wouldn’t have traded it for anything. Then five months ago he’d said, “Hey honey, what do you think about selling our tiny house, downsizing again, buying a sailboat, and moving back down to Baja?” Like a moth to the flame, before the sentence had completed, I’d jumped in, hook-line-and-sinker.
Learning how to sail had been a goal for as long as I can remember. My maternal grandfather had been a sea captain most of his career, commandeering the world’s largest tankers from continent to continent. Summers in my youth on the west coast of Sweden had always involved adventures on his personal boat and those experiences had sank deeply into my marrow and being. I had learned early on that although mighty, the sea was my ally.
Through a series of magical events, Andrew and I had found our perfect boat just three weeks into our search: S/V Journey, a 1992 42’ Catalina sloop. You can hop over to this article to read the full details of how that transpired. With the first major obstacle conquered, we’d had one small detail to reconcile: neither Andrew nor I had known how to sail. We had been on a few sailboats in our youth and teenage years, but truly had known zip-zero-zilch about sailing. Being of the cautious variety, we’d decided that sailing instruction was a MUST so when we’d placed our full price offer on Journey, we had requested a 7 day private live-aboard class with the previous owner (who just happened to own the third largest sailing school in the world: Nautilus).
Had I known just how hard this week would be and how overwhelmed and challenged I would feel, I’m certain I wouldn’t have felt quite so euphoric as we left the marina in La Paz, BCS, Mexico on February 3 and headed out into the abyss. Andrew and I had taken turns at the helm that day and the warm breeze kissing our cheeks, the cool touch of the wheel in our hands, and the open horizon of promise before us had roused a sense of true contentment. I had found my place in this world and life.
Day two had brought continued confidence and an understanding of our lessons had come effortlessly. We had passed our first test with nearly perfect scores and I could now easily name every part on Journey. We had practiced man-over-board drills, anchoring, and had gone through every single mechanical system onboard; the mysteries of our new home and the sea revealed themselves. I had felt empowered, guided, and confident.
One critical aspect of our curriculum had not yet been taught though: sailing. No winds had come so we had been under power through each nautical mile traversed. It had been easy to feel like a “natural” at the whole “sailing” thing in those conditions. This was all about to change.
Late into the second night, the winds picked up. The sound of air forcefully breaking and entering our peaceful home through every nook and cranny awoke me with a start. Journey heaved and bucked in the waves and no matter how deeply I wedged my earplugs, I could not escape this violence. My pulse increased and my mind traveled at warp speed towards catastrophe. I envisioned our anchor popping loose from the heaving and saw our battered bodies awash on a rocky shore. I tried every trick in my playbook to ease my mind and go back to sleep but when I felt the anchor chain literally chatter, I knew with certainty that we were loose and skipping. I had to save our ship.
I crawled over Andrew and out of bed, past the sleeping dogs (how could ANYONE sleep through this??), opened the companionway, walked up the stairs and braced myself. But what was this insanity?! Had the wind come to a screeching halt? I went below and heard the roar and snarl of the hungry wind again. I went back up and suddenly came to grips with reality; clearly I’m an idiot. And a coward.
Rather than seeing us adrift in gale force winds, I felt only a light wind. Where I’d imagined other boats hanging on for dear life, were only neighbors gently rocking in their slumber. The winds had reached a pathetic 8 knots and those terrible sounds and all that bucking had been the response to this benign breeze. This was the first of many times during the week when I would have the following three thoughts: “I’m an idiot”, “I don’t think I like sailing after all”, and my personal favorite “I think we made a mistake”.
This was part 1 of a multi part series…stay tuned for more!