Sunday, 10 August 2014

I sail therefore I am therefore I sail

I wanted a boat since I first fell in love with the sea and sailing when I was a naive, enthusiastic twenty one year old first experiencing life on board. (This is what Sealegs is all about.)

I got lucky: ie, had some spare cash when someone turned up, twenty odd years later, looking for people to co-own a boat. I also had the time and flexible working patterns to sail around Scotland and the Irish Sea for the past six years. Lucky, too, to have a strong enough friendship with the co-owners to sail with them.

Dreams are, of course, nebulous, capricious. And, six years on, I'm wondering how much I love having the boat, sailing it, whether I am the best owner for it: care enough for it.

I've written plenty about sailing: the joys, headaches, the creative manifestations that come from it. So you know it's a complicated beast. There are elements I love deeply:

Helming through a force 3 or 4 across flat glimmering seas, where I can lose sense of myself in the stretching out of water, sky, navigation, and possible glimpses of creatures ... When I am forced to connect deeply with the natural world.

Sharing the load of inching down a channel at night, looking for lit buoys, water depth and the overnight anchorage with people I trust and with whom I toast the phosphorescence sparkling off the stern.

Arriving anywhere by sea fills me with the pioneer spirit. Even Whitehaven.

But because of weather restrictions, the limited range of sea/land we can cover and, more problematically, lack of companionable crew, these highlights are becoming less and less frequent. Raising the number and frequency of downsides:
The not knowing anything about engines which does not shift no matter how much I try to learn
The stress of coping with weather changes, thwarting destinations, challenging decisions
The recurrent first day's seasickness
The difficulty of training friends while sailing
The being responsible for other people's lives, the boat I share with others

And the past couple of summers I've not done so well with weather or crew to enable long weeks of pootling, obeying wind whichever way it suggests. In short, luxuriating in the positives

There is conflict between idealism and reality. While saying I wonder how much I love having the boat, I know I absolutely love having my sense of self wrapped up with it. My love of sailing and boats has existed for longer than my not knowing anything about them.

"I am Sarah, I sail." sums up so much of my understanding of who, how and where I am in the world. And implicit (for me) behind that statement is "I am serious. I am committed. I co-own a boat."

The cost of owning a boat has been famously likened to standing in a shower tearing up fifty pound notes. If that gave me pleasure then it would be worth it (if I had an acceptable stash of fifty pound notes) but right now holding on to the boat brings guilt for not using it enough and weariness at the thought of using it. Where do I find the pleasure in that ratio?

I want to be committed to that sailing, co-owning, committed self, but right now - after a trip of choosing four hour sailing days over twelve hour days, after realising I am at the mercy of an engine I do not understand, after enjoying the days ashore more than the days at sea, after feeling dependent on sailors who do not want to sail anymore - I do not feel so certain about my commitment.

The shake of that certainty brings a shaking of my identity. As F said "We shore up our identity by what we do, by following our heart.'

Who am I if not a serious, committed sailor? I was one once... or was I? How much can I force myself to be that person still by holding on to the boat, at all costs? What use is having a sense of identity so reliant on what I do / have, rather than who I am? Something as intangible as personality surely does not need tangible components? It feels as ridiculous as claiming someone is untrustworthy because of their eyes, or sinister because they are left-handed...

What I do is a result of who I am. The who I am remains pretty constant. How it manifests changes, sometimes subtly, sometimes more radically. Sailing and co-owning the boat has changed me - shifting my understanding of the sea and weather. Not owning a boat wont undermine my appreciation of them, although will affect how I react to them, assuming I'm landlubbed. Ultimately, though, I'm as interested in understanding as acting on that understanding. There are plenty of ways of implementing understanding, the more understanding, the endless they seem ...