Saturday, October 8, 2011

How long will it last, this peace I have found at sea?

It is all of life that I contemplate-sun, clouds, time that passes and abides. Occasionally it is also that other world, foreign now, that I left centuries ago. The modern, artificial world where man has been turned into a money-making machine, to satisfy false needs, false joys. - Bernard Moitissier

I am currently reading Robin Lee Graham's account of single handing around the world in his 24 foot sloop Dove. He regularly refers to his frustration with the way he and his voyage were depicted by press coverage. This started my own reflection on the way our own little sailing trip was perceived and represented with a baffling degree of cynicism after we wrote and released a handful of songs documenting the experience.

Never once had I seen a sailboat before that day in early January when Patrick and I left Denver for Ft. Lauderdale and took a bus to the coast. As I watched, for the first time, a small ship's sails unfurl and billow in the wind, I was largely unaware of the prevailing association of sailing yachts with the wealthy leisure class, or of the tendency for the word "yacht" to leave a bad taste in one's mouth. My impression of sailing was shaped by what I had seen or read in the forms of Robinson Crusoe, The Island of Doctor Moreau, or The Old Man and the Sea. I thought of the ocean as a lovely and terrifying entity experienced only as a matter of necessity. I thought of it as a rite of passage, one that elicits our potential greatness and exposes our frailty. In this way, an encounter with the ocean of my own seemed more essential than frivolous.

So when our undertaking was referred to by one journalist as a "cozy excursion" of the middle class angst variety, it made me think only that what we tried to do isn't attempted enough, otherwise so many people would not feel affronted or bewildered by the idea of it.

In some ways this seems like a problem of shared experience. Different presuppositions and perspectives tend to recast meaning and significance. The most personal concepts or events stand to lose the most. I am sure I am not the only one who tends to interpret the vision and accomplishments of others in a suspicious and defensive manner. I wonder what it might imply about my own life and resent it for being intrusive even after it is clear that it has nothing to do with me, that I am merely a by-stander.

Why did we go sailing? I can tell you it had nothing to do with self-indulgence, as some might like to think. It was not motivated by arrogance. It was was an attempt to create meaning where there would otherwise be none. What is the harm in that?

When Bernard Moitissier, poised to win the first non-stop single-handed race around the world, decided to forfeit and carry on around the world once again without returning home, it was not to belittle his competitors or the lives of those he left behind on land. It was to protest prescribed meaning, and to create his own. There is no inherent value in sailing or the sea, nor is there any inherent demarcation of status or ability. Sailing is only a means to an end and that end is not the same for everyone. Everyone has their own ocean. The purpose of this blog, if it even has one, is to encourage others to seek it out and pursue it bravely, like the sailors who came before us.