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Voyaging skills

Jan 1, 2003

Voyaging has always been more than the act of traveling by water. Since early man first hopped on a floating log, he has sought the limits of his world, and in so doing he has explored the edges of his own capabilities and limitations. Successful voyaging imbues us with a feeling of having earned our access to new sights and experiences, much more than driving or flying somewhere. Also, in each new port, as we seek the local welder for repairs or chat with the fishermen, we enter a new world through the back door, like a neighbor rather than a tourist.

Of course, even mammoth supertankers rest on the back of the Earth's greatest wilderness like microscopic fleas, and an angry ocean can prove heartless and cruel. The sea is no theme park. Once we cast off, if we start to feel ill or fed up, we cannot simply sit out the ride. Maritime tow trucks are rare, and we let ourselves down if we call for one, so we hone our skills to handle any situation. We joyously slip into our little ships, cast off, and set our wings, because stretching our limits allows us to glimpse the sea's majesty, taste its mystery, become enthralled by its magic. Each difficulty overcome only heightens our sense of unparalleled freedom and fulfillment. We let the best take care of itself by preparing for the worst and tuning our senses to every nuance of sea, sky, and shore. We then become the brains of our manmade sea beasts, guiding our vessels until they soar like shearwaters.

Ashore, short of a hurricane or blizzard, weather affects most people very little. We hop from office to car, from car to health club. At sea, at zero knots of air, we curse the slamming sails, roll about, bake, and beg for a breeze. At 10 knots, we waft across the gentle contours of the sea, smiling. At 20, we're yanking down soggy headsails, dumping the water out of our seaboots, and bracing ourselves against bruising breakers. More than any other factor, weather and the waves it generates determine our standard of living afloat. Only when we mate the miracles of long-range communications, weatherfax, and real-time satellite photos to what we see around us, and develop an understanding of weather's fluid nature, its norms and exceptions, can we develop a route that is the most efficient, comfortable, and safe.

Once at sea, however, in almost any conditions, most vessels are quite secure, even if they are a tad uncomfortable. It is that crinkly interface between water and land that poses the greatest risks. Although new anchor types continually emerge on the market, anchoring is an ancient skill little changed in centuries. Still, many more boats are lost when their anchors drag than are overwhelmed by typhoons and waterspouts. The art of becoming properly hooked delivers us the security to grasp the brass ring of voyagingthe freedom to explore new ports, make new friends, and expand our own borders.