John and I have written a fair amount on the site about fear and heavy weather. This is not to discourage you from offshore voyaging, nor to exaggerate the dangers involved, but rather to help ensure that you will be prepared for the conditions you may face out there.
And that’s because, if you haven’t been offshore in heavy weather, it’s very difficult to understand what it is like (which is why we spend so much time encouraging you to go offshore with an experienced skipper prior to going in your own boat).
But, if you want to get a taste of what it’s like, sort of like an appetizer before the main course, I suggest you read the self-published book Forgetting About Today by Jim Evans, a local sailor from PEI.
Experience Trumps Courage
Though the main story is about his singlehanded 10,000-nm North Atlantic circle, via the Azores and the Caribbean, back in 1996/97, he also writes about what led to his decision to go on that voyage, his concurrent journey with epilepsy, and his previous life as a motorcycle racer (Jim is obviously not faint of heart!).
But, despite his love for speed and danger (motorcycle racing has got to be up there in terms of dangerous sports), his first experience with heavy weather, on a singlehanded trip to Bermuda, was overwhelming. He writes:
The nature of fear: do you get used to it? A little, perhaps, or at least you get used to the apprehension (although I find I’m getting more fearful again, with age). What you do get used to is dealing with it: you no longer are paralysed into a blubbering, useless lump.
On that passage to Bermuda I was absolutely overwhelmed; when Nellie Lamb capsized on the way to the Azores I was able to take charge, check for damage and formulate a place for dealing with the conditions. This wasn’t courage – it was experience.
Though Jim didn’t go the route of sailing offshore with others first (he just jumped right in with that passage to Bermuda!), his point that experience, not courage, is what will go the furthest to helping you deal with heavy weather and stressful boat events, is fundamental to our philosophy here at AAC.
The Beauty…The Tedium…The Ambivalence
But Jim’s book isn’t all about heavy weather and stressful boat events, he also provides insight into other aspects of shorthanded long-distance voyaging:
…long-distance passage-making doesn’t involve much actual steering and sail-trimming, it’s mostly point the boat, adjust the sails, set the autopilot and let ‘er go while one goes to fix things, navigate, sleep or make a cup of tea.
I can second that. When on long doublehanded passages, John and I usually let the autopilot do the steering. There’s always something that needs fixing, or meals to prepare, or catnaps to take if there isn’t a lot of traffic around.
Yet, despite my best efforts to get everything done and get into the bunk as quickly as possible on my off watches, I always end up sleep deprived on a long doublehanded passage. (But add a third crew member and it’s a whole new world of nod!)
Jim is also very open about the emotional toll this voyage took on both him and his family:
The loneliness and the tedium, the worry about those at home worrying about me, were making me morose but it was so beautiful out here that I felt ashamed of my self-inflicted self-pity.
The intensity of the tug-of-war between one’s life on land and one’s life aboard is different for everyone, but it exists for most voyagers. Grandchildren, parents, pets, even a beloved house, can exert a strong gravitational pull. And guilt for causing loved ones worry can be corrosive.
But I can also recommend Jim’s book as good entertainment. His writing is earthy, his descriptions are evocative, and I laughed out loud a few times.
And, thanks to Jim, I finally have a good answer for when John, my beloved partner in sailing and life, responds to something I’m complaining about with the quote, “What does not kill me makes me stronger”.
Jim writes, “I am far from being a Nietzschean – sometimes that which doesn’t kill one is merely a pain in the ass…”. Ha! So John, get ready, ’cause I now have a reply when you pull that one on me!
A “Real Sailor”?
There is one thing that Jim writes, however, that I am uncomfortable with. He states that, for him (to give him his due, he does say “for him”), a “real sailor” is one who has crossed an ocean alone.
To me that seems exclusionary. Be it on a lake, in a sheltered bay, or out on the ocean; be it in a sailboat, a motorboat, or a rowboat (we’ll be writing more about our new rowboat soon!); it’s getting out on the water—safely—and continuing to get out on the water—because it’s enjoyable—that should be what matters.
Comparing myself to others, having expectations of myself that I can’t attain because that’s how I define what a “real sailor” is, will quickly take the enjoyment out of being on the water. I know, I’ve been there, done that.
But, that little quibble aside, I suggest you read Jim’s book, as it just might help you to judge whether sailing offshore, singlehanded or not, really is for you. And, if you’ve already been out there, you’ll enjoy the story.
- Going Cruising—Being Realistic About You, 4 Tips
- Taming The Wimp Within
- Serve Your Apprenticeship
- Heavy Weather Tactics Online Book
Jim is a friend and a member of this site, but we paid full price for his book and will not get any remuneration for any copies that he sells as a result of this article, and he paid full price for his membership. So, actually, he owes us each a beer because his book cost us more than his membership cost him!