Prologue


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Most people would not cruise on a thirty-foot boat. Probably the best reason "not to" is because you will be forced to face the unknown. You will meet challenges that you may not be able to solve with the skills you have already learned. You may only overcome some circumstances with ingenuity, perseverance, and luck.

There are other reasons I have heard to not go cruising: it is not practical, it seems like an ambiguous goal, your family would consider it frivolous, it is not the answer you're looking for, it is not logical.

All these reasons are subjective arguments that not only keep people from taking a risk and sailing around the world but also might keep them from having a creative life no matter what they might do! You don't have to be a radical to believe that some changes could be made in your schedule of events that would enrich your life; yet, many people abandon the responsibility to accomplish innovative and creative new concepts with their lives. Are they stuck?

You don't have to sail across an ocean to change your life. You might go on any adventure, even if the adventure is flying first-class to a palatial resort with room service. Treat your self. Unless the good Lord takes you quickly, someday you and your physicians will be trying to plot your escape from the unforeseen disease or accident that is inevitable for every corpus sanctum. As a mortal this is guaranteed. And at that moment all your opportunities will be behind you.

Cruising the ocean highways is a glorious, challenging adventure. It is an amazing thing that we now have thirty-foot boats circling the globe! Less than 500 years ago the European people trembled at the thought of going into the "great void." Even just a hundred years ago only a handful of sailing ships would sail the coasts, and they were huge clipper ships! Today, despite talk of coastal traffic and possible collisions at sea, the truth of the matter is that once you are even just five miles off the continental U.S.A., you are five miles from 300 million people and you are alone. If you are out fifty miles or so you might only see a few other boats in a week and they are likely to be freighters. At a distance of a thousand or more miles from land your perceptions of yourself and your journey become a very singular experience. You find yourself totally free of any social pretensions or calculations.

If I had my way these bold and courageous people who are called "cruisers" would get a parade at each port! A cruiser who sailed his Valiant 40, Carina, into San Francisco the night before we arrived with Querencia said to me, "You'd have thought we would get a medal when we finally passed under the Golden Gate bridge!" Both Carina and Querencia had experienced horrendous seas and odd weather coming down from Canada. It isn't always a luxurious picnic amongst the lily pads out there. But it is glorious! It is an exceptional mixture of discipline and high flying freedom, somewhat risky yet predictably divine.

The sea drowns all worry. You say things to each other like "Will I die?" and "When do we eat?" almost in the same breath.

Is it a curious blend of godliness and hedonism that keeps a sailor longing for the sea after he has gone back to life on land? Is it the smell of the ocean breeze? The sailor, after all, lives and breathes the weather. The weather is the topic of every prayer and every cocktail hour. The sailor stands in awe of the weather and respects its mystery for it determines many of his actions.

Pick a night, not just any night but one when you feel slightly insecure -- one when you feel the lonely darkness of the soul. Now add twenty-five knots of wind and a bit of a nip in the air. Take away all your familiar surroundings including the ground you stand on and replace them with a wonderful boat about the size of a small room.

Now add motion, lots of it: up and down, left and right, pitch, yaw, and roll. Add one empty stomach. You appreciate your empty stomach because at times the waves seem as high as the mast.

In the pitch black night you can see the white froth curl around the rail of the boat. The roar of the ocean and the howl of the wind are all you can hear. You stand in your rain gear, hanging on to your flashlight. The sweat beads up on your forehead, and the heat being generated underneath your hat makes you uncomfortable.

You are thankful for your crew, your family, people you love and cherish that can keep you company. Only now they are not with you in the cockpit because it is your night-watch, not theirs. You hope that they are okay, that they are sleeping restfully and will be ready when they are called.

You only have a general feeling of knowing where you are -- at least until daylight. Then you'll catch up on your navigational chores. You only hope that the those jet-black clouds on the horizon won't turn this sprinkle of rain into a downpour of hail and even more wind. You're not in the mood for things to start crashing around any more than they are.

Good sailors, however, rarely complain of the weather, at least not too loudly because they depend on the weather to get them where they're going. It's also true that more often than not the hail, the thunder, the crashing storm, never come. Instead, when the sun rises the ocean is peaceful, like a large lake with a gentle breeze blowing across it. The sailor may feel exhausted and aching from an uncomfortable eight hours, but that passes just as the blackness of the night does. His boat heads in towards shore -- a tropical paradise where he finds freedom among giant palms, white sand, warm water, and balmy weather. The life of a sailor is a special life of rapture -- one that is hard to explain.

When you live on the ocean you become the ocean. It will take you away from not only man's busy civilization, but from the solid ground on which you stand. Then it will consume you totally; so totally, that land will only be a memory. It is probably true to say that it is more than a little helpful if you truly do love the ocean before you begin your journey; for when you sail across Earth's huge waters you will be feeling out reality itself instead of ideas and opinions about it.

I do remember once at night in a bit of a blow going below decks and turning on the saloon lights and suddenly being struck by the absurdity of the motion of the saloon, tossing this way and that, every which way, like a living room thrown into a clothes dryer. It struck me, the uniqueness of that living room in which I was standing.

The profound sense of now creeps in along your watercourse way, everything that you hear, see, feel, and smell reminds you of the natural world outside you. There is no way of deviating or separating yourself from your experience. On land you may imagine that you are outside or separate from nature and the universe. At sea you recognize, rather, your explicit innate existence, and see your imagination as just another facet of your self. You learn that inside your self there is another universe as well. One that also has sequences and weather that seemingly vibrate of their own accord. You learn hope because it is the hope of seeing the sun rise that enables you to make it through the night. You learn faith because you witness yourself having faith that the guiding star will return when the clouds move away. You learn that hard work, creativity, and laughter make you happy. You learn to love life. You understand that your love of life is a very real thing. Just possibly most of all, you learn that the world is truly cyclic and that by seeing and choosing alternatives you are protected from a humdrum existence. I learned this at sea; I'm sure all adventurers feel it. Adventure delivers us from the tedious sameness that tends to trap modern man.

I must admit right here that I am by no means such a sailor as, Chichester, Slocam, Hiscock and very many other sailors who have spent their time on the rolling heap. But I do believe that I understand the basic principles of sailing as thoroughly as most sailors and that I understand some principles of science, medicine, and humanity that many do not. I must also confess I am a romantic.

Many of us view life as if from above through a big magnifying glass. This view misses everyday features of existence. It seems to me that it is the higher nature of man to see himself as an immortal who has control of everything that happens to him.

My hope is that this book will show that "getting back to reality" means what it must have meant originally, to get back to living in a world of mystery and surprise, rather than in the eternal boredom many of us would like to think we have successfully manipulated with our lives.

Sailing has taught me and my family wholeness for in itself sailing is a whole art. As often with life, it requires you to keep wind in your sails while moving in a different direction. Trusting your self is very similar to trusting your boat and your work and your community. Each of us is truly sailing across the universe. There is nowhere else to be.

There are two options in a person's life -- reflection and action. One is an opportunity to think about it, the other an opportunity to live it.

What follows is just a wonderful true story about all this. The story wouldn't have been possible if it weren't for a thousand incarnate souls who shared their lives, and for those hundreds of authors who have left their indelible marks upon me.

Aloha,

Dr. John F. McGrady






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Sailing the Dream 126,754 words
Copyrighted 1996-2009 by John F. McGrady
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