I’m lying on the deck, tethered on, mummified in foul weather gear. I am trying to close my eyes and rest but keep staring up at the mast, rigging and sails waving across the sky. We just finished tucking in our third, final reef and rolling up most of our blade. But we’re still racing, bashing into 10-15 foot gulf stream seas making 8 to 9 knots. I’m participating in the 2015 Marion to Bermuda Yacht Race aboard S/V FEARLESS. I. Don’t. Feel. Fearless.
I feel ill. Not seasick; if this race has proven anything it’s that I don’t get seasick. My mind is full of doubt and I feel it in the pit of my stomach. That sick feeling when you have a near miss while driving or turn down an ominous alley is constant and fatiguing. As my doubts accumulate they sour and unsettle my stomach.
Lying here I realize it’s not the kind of fear that you can overcome with bravery. I don’t doubt that we’ll be able to handle the next thing that goes wrong. I’m just anxious about what that thing could be. Trying to figure out a way to prevent it from going wrong before it does. Trying to figure out how to avoid the wear and tear on vessel and crew fixing something after it breaks will incur. Trying to overcome my doubts with preparation and knowledge; knowledge that I’m picking up as we bash on.
The weight of my unexpected responsibilities weighs heavily on my shoulders; self-doubt is added to my tally of doubts. I signed up for this race as the official “herder of cats”: emailing, crew management, race organization, etc. I wanted to get some offshore experience and I was certain I could help organize things. Nobody was planning on me being the leader on deck of my first ocean race and second offshore passage. But sailing and life often don’t go to plan:
Nobody planned on the owner, an ocean racer with 30 years experience, to tear a ligament in his knee (edit: I’m told it was actually fractured). This normally unstoppable man was in such pain he had to take a break getting from the wheel to the companionway. But if anything happened below he was elbows deep in a fix before I had figured out what was going on.
Nobody planned on two of our crew getting seasick to the point where they needed IVs. Yet they did and our first mate/navigator spent much of his time below tending to them. On top of his watches and helping out on deck this usually inexhaustible force aboard spent “more time resting than I ever have while sailing”.
By day three when we needed to make a new watch schedule the crew asked me to do it. When we had to repair an escaping batten I selected the plan. I wound up directing the action on deck as well as doing as much of the heavy lifting as I could. I made the call to put the third reef in as well as being the one climbing up to the boom, dangling over the sea and untangling the third reef line to make it work (though, having rigged the reefs I guess that was my department). There were plenty of people aboard with much more experience than my one 800nm offshore passage; including some with several ocean races. Yet somehow I stepped into the leadership role on deck. I doubted whether I was equal to the task but it needed to be done so I gave it my best.
On the other hand, every time I start to feel lost I lean on the crew and they stand tall. They provided calm consideration of the challenges we face and options we might employ. Watching them step up and help each other with challenges that arose makes me realize that everyone on board has my back. Watching them take care of FEARLESS and each other demonstrates our strength as a team. Together we are strong.
Over the Horizon
As the second night began I might have cautioned you, dear reader: “be careful what you wish for”. Maybe for some that will be what they take away from reading this. For me that’s how I’m sure this was truly a trial.
Did I mention we crossed the gulf stream in a gale? It was my first gulf stream crossing. And my first gale. My comfort zone had long since vanished over the horizon. Yet this is exactly what I had signed up for. I doubled my offshore experience and learned a ton about ocean sailing (coming soon to SavvySalt: much of what I learned). My knowledge and experience allowed me to take the lead on deck adequately.
The most valuable lessons were the ones I learned about myself. I am still a capable when I’m this anxious. I harness doubt to act prudently. To motivate myself to stay ahead of the curve. Anxiety didn’t drive me below to hide. Anxiety had me on deck every waking moment (and a few sleeping moments) doing whatever I could to get us to Bermuda safely. Somehow I still managed adequate sleep.
I’m all in now. When I signed up for this race I couldn’t be sure it would turn out to be such a trial; it became the very trial I was hoping for. It was my trial and I was equal to it. I still have much to learn. I will seek out more experience. I will prepare thoroughly to expand my comfort zone yet remain willing to exceed it. It was the very trial I needed to figure out the answer; my answer:
I am not FEARLESS but I’m going anyway