Monday, May 9, 2011

Bankruptcy of reason?

With my recent posts, I feel the need to chide myself for the number of times I have used the word "dream." There is nothing more offensive to my cynical side than having to slog through some sentimental mush let alone being the one responsible for creating it. If I had a dedicated internet connection offshore, there might have been posts from the times where I was cursing and swearing that the boat, the sailing, the whole thing was a miserable mistake and that I made a promise to never return to sea if I got through the current mess... And those physical and fear oriented challenges are the easy ones. Cruising as a lifestyle is fraught with more profound negatives like the transient nature of relationships because of the continual movement, the fact that most cruisers drink more alcohol out cruising than they did on land because of the increase in down time, or the minimal connection to people in countries visited because of language barriers.
These negative aspects are not unfamiliar to those chasing their “dream.“ One could argue that this is infact what gives the dream such allure. Dreaming of casting off the lines and traveling the world in a boat or whatever method is not on the agenda for the masses of “normal“ people. What makes the dreamer different then? Sterling Hayden has, in a way, dismissed the notion of privilege, To be truly challenging, a voyage, like a life, must rest on a firm foundation of financial unrest. Otherwise, you are doomed to a routine traverse, the kind known to yachtsmen who play with their boats at sea… “cruising” it is called. The phenomenon that Hayden mentions is the “cruising” that is sold to us. It is a product marketed to upper middle class whites approaching retirement. There are cruising grounds all over the world that cater to this breed of sailor. Mexico is a good example for California and Pacific NW sailors. These sailors are not dreamers. Maybe some start out as dreamers but quickly sober up when it starts to get messy. Don’t get me wrong. I am not condemning this style of sailing and I admit that I am a good portion cruiser myself. Money lubricates and the more of it the better, but would you still go if you didn’t have it?

With privilege or money removed from the equation, because it doesn’t create an “authentic” experience, the essence of the dreamer is revealed. What is left is a type of insanity. “You have to be crazy to do something like that” Insanity may be a bit dramatic word choice (I have even heard “love” substituted), but it captures the crucial aspect that the dreamer is thinking against his own interests. Much like how awareness of the void gives us a vantage outside our natural rhythm, the dreamer too is fixated on something he imagines as transcendent. I remember meeting an Argentinean single handler in Colombia who told me about his misadventure in the San Blas. He required the assistance of several other cruisers to pull his boat off a reef. Turns out he was motoring slowly at night without charts only using his depth sounder as a guide. As he related the story, I tried all forms of questioning and reasoning to get him to see the irrationality of his approach. It wasn’t until I gave up and told him that it was the stupidest and most foolhardy thing to do that his face cracked and lit up in a smile…

Everyone has a sense of where their comfort zone ends. When we encounter someone whose limit is a bit farther out, we often label them as “crazy.“ This feeling of seeing the insanity in the dream is the exact effect the classic work, The Circumnavigators by Don Holm triggers. Although Don is a confessed dreamer that never cruised himself, his work is focused on facts and doesn't come off with any motivating agenda for the reader to go follow their own dream. This is partly why The Circumnavigators is such seductive reading. The real power with this work is in the exceedingly eccentric nature of the facts the author spent a lot of effort collecting. The book is filled with little gems like how after a dismasting during a capsize off Cape Horn, time was spent first sharpening all tools prior to starting emergency repairs that demanded immediate attention! When the depictions of the sailors and their stories start to become larger than life, it depends on the reader's own reserve of dreaminess whether the work inspires or is simply a description of madmen...

Here is an excerpt from the intro;

This book is my attempt to pull together the best and most representative of these voyagers, and to try and define for my own personal satisfaction and curiosity, if nothing else, many of the underlying reasons that motivate a man to leave the comforts of an established society and bounce around the world at an average rate of five miles an hour in cramped, damp, and often extremely uncomfortable quarters.

Who are these people? What are they really seeking? What motivates them to undertake the risks involved in crossing vast oceans in tiny ships, frequently alone, always dependent upon the prevailing winds and currents, subject to all the raw hazards of the open sea, the possibility of accident and sickness, fearful uncertainties of the unknown, and the inevitable and exasperating red tape of many petty customs and port officials in foreign lands? Certainly, there is nothing easy or simple about a blue water voyage.

Are these people seeking adventure? Romance? Escape? Or are they really searching for meaning in their lives? Do they desire fame and fortune? Or is it just an impulse for achievement against overwhelming odds?

Are they anachronisms in a world that no longer has use for explorers and pioneers? Are they bums, dropouts, copouts, or just plain nuts? Do they have something that you and I do not, besides money? Or, as one psychologist opined, are they just people with suicidal compulsions, their voyages being spectacular manifestations of it?

Here then are the most notable men and women who have circumnavigated the world, and especially those who have solo navigated. World voyagers are the elite of modern travelers, and circumnavigators in small ships are the nobility of the elite. The solo circumnavigation is the epitome of all personal odysseys.