Standing up to Fear


Mike aboard S/V Elsa took this shot of us as we passed each other out on the bay.

A few days ago I did something special. Something I have been thinking about doing before we even bought our 25 ton, 47 foot ketch.

I went sailing, by myself.

In our posts, I think we have shared some of our anxiety about handling this boat in and around docks, other boats and the usual crunchy bits that comprise an important part of the cruiser’s world. We have had some anxious moments and even done some damage to Galapagos as we have worked to sort out the complexities of launching and landing a boat that is bigger by far than anything we have piloted in the past.

That anxiety had festered, grown and created tensions within each of us and between us that threatened to rob the joy that our little cunning plan represents. Melissa and I have invested so much into manifesting a future that is premised on not being ruled by fear. Being open to the joy and curious wonder of our world is how we hope to live the rest of our lives.

And so, after a few hours of tinkering with the new solar panels on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon, I started the engine, slipped the lines and left our marina.  The wind was only about six knots and out of sheer laziness, I used only the headsail for a few hours on Commencement bay.  It wasn’t terribly different than taking our sweet Cal 34 out on the bay as I had done dozens of times before. With only the headsail, we made about four knots but it was a glorious four knots that gave me a sense of mastery over this ship that had been lacking.

Later that afternoon, I brought our little ship back to her slip. There was an opposing current and a little crosswind but the procedure was not much different than our Cal; more free board and you can’t shove this boat around as easily.  I was pleased when one of the marina employees, working nearby, jumped when he suddenly saw Galapagos sidled into her slip. He ran over to help cleat her off and said, “Your boat is so quiet! I didn’t hear you pull in!”

Docking a boat should  entail some level of anxiety. A little stress keeps you on your toes and that is never bad when dealing with the vagaries of wind, current and a full keeled boat. But the distance between a healthy awareness and paralyzing fear can be surprisingly short for many of us.  Marking that distance and not being ruled by fear is something we have to learn and re-learn throughout our lives.  Every time we leave the dock.


4 thoughts on “Standing up to Fear

  1. Oh man, I feel you about the docking! The process was terrifying at first when we just bought Sundowner and we even “came in hot” a few times in bad winds and damaged her a bit. But as time went on we got better and better at it and now it is so much easier and we feel more in control of her. Good job facing your fear and getting a handle on that girl!

    At our marina back home I was always amazed but this guy who regulary undocked and docked his giant Westail 42 (close to 50′ with the bowsprit and boomkin and extremely wide) by himself. He went sailing by himself and effortlessly docked his large boat. I thought you know, I bet it just takes practice and I bet with practice of my own I could be as good as him, even with a 50 ft boat.

  2. The actual time spent in leaving a slip or returning to your moorage might be less than two minutes. Out of all the minutes spent during a day of sailing, it might represent a fraction of a fraction of one percent of your time. If only we could spend a commensurate portion of our time worrying about it.

    I want to be that guy on the Westsail and I believe I will get there. We have a beautiful 42 foot J-Boat a few slips down from us. I watch him back in to his slip like he was backing into his garage and I am filled with envy. But only when docking. we love this boat under sail.

  3. Steve on Crazy Love a C&C 36,
    Best thing I did when I bought my 1st boat , a 33′ C&C was get a friend that sails and sit them down midship, they say nothing (think insurance) and one day take the boat on and off the dock 10 times front and back. Facing fear is the very best way to deal with it. While I am writing this I am reminded to take this advise. Lol

    • It is good advice and needs to be taken with some regularity. I find myself more aware of how I hesitate to act out of some sense of fear and that usually prompts a more mindful response.

      I need to back my boat in so we can put the boat name and Hydrovane mounting hardware on the transom. I am looking forward to the practice and am already acknowledging that there is some anxiety that goes with backing this big girl up. Half the battle is not being afraid to look a bit foolish.

      On a related note, I follow a blog called the Art Of Manliness which just posted an article on addressing one’s fears in life:
      Despite the blog’s seemingly masculine focus, it contains a lot of good content about living a more intentional life.

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