A sailing craft is a scale, a balance of forces. The reward for balancing these forces is propulsion. Water over your rudder, steerage over the horizon and freedom to explore.
The mast of a sailboat is a great big lever. The sails are attached to the lever and gather the wind. The wind in turn ads force to that lever and tries to twist the boat over on its side…. That’s where the keel comes in.
The keel weighs allot and because the boat is floating. When the big lever gets pushed over, the keel gets lifted up, higher and higher. Once the force on the lever stops or is reduced, the keel is waiting, ready to fall back down because of its weight. This stands the boat upright again until the force is returned or increased.
When the force becomes to great in the sails, the boat can become pinned down against the water. Then the sails themselves gather the sea. If the boat is filled with water, it will become overwhelmed and possibly sunk.
On the contrary. When there is no wind in the sails and no pressure on the big lever, no propulsion can be had.
In this seemingly harmless scenario the scene is quiet. The sea is calm. But danger thrives when a boat cannot be steered. Being adrift is being marooned on an Island with no trees. Where recourses are limited and the air is stale. You are owned by the currents and a sitting duck for large ships helmed by sleepy crew and lively autopilots…
So obviously the answer lies in the middle somewhere. We need wind. Without question this force is our harvest.
To reap this harvest, we need skill and appreciation. Like a Harvester reaps his crops, we must learn to gather the wind.
A gentle breeze is like a seedling in late season. It is not to be wasted or cast aside, awaiting the ideal winds. We cannot be to lazy when it comes time to change sails and bend on the drifter or spinnaker. We must trim our sails thick, so they have more power and gather it like dew in the dessert night. We should be thankful for each breath on our cheek and never curse it for its meekness. A slow sail still beats a fast row and if the boat is moving, it can be steered. If we can steer, we are on our chosen path. Wind is spice and flavor. However mild, it is better than nothing.
A raging gale is like a massive tree, split and rotten, looming above us. This kind of force can overpower our mast, destroy our sails and punish us for mediocrity. Working as an Arborist from time to time in Alaska, I have fell many such trees. I was terrified when I first began climbing them with my spikes, lanyard and chainsaw. But I soon learned that if I climbed high enough, the tree above me became very small. I soon made a rule that if I was tied into the tree, I would never cut a piece off bigger than I could push away with my arms. This way I would not be crushed. Nor would the houses or power lines around me. I began building my skills in; climbing, precision, planning, focus, controlling my fear, resisting complacency and respecting gravity without fail. Through this process I was able to dissect and dismantle hundreds of dangerous trees, one small bight at a time.
I would liken this process to sailing in heavy weather. Make your sails small like an axe and chip away at the wind. Focus on the next wave; next branch, next step, next cut, next tack, next knot. Rest when you can and stay busy with solutions. Do this and you shall whittle that widow maker to a stump before you know it. The horizon will clear and when it does. You will sleep hard, eat hardy and have a new appreciation for light breezes…
15 knots of steady wind, is the low hanging fruit. Easy pickings… Plenty of wind to go fast and have fun on all points of sail Not so much wind that you will broach a cruiser. Smooth water with a little splashing chop for fun and effect. Wind direction is obvious and easily harnessed. I dare say, of they could pave the oceans; they would pave it with 15 knots of cool steady wind.
Balance in all winds is the mark of a wise sailor who’s harvest is not bound by seasons.
A sailing craft is made to heel over. N fact, slight heeling actually allows you to sail more directly upwind. Everything on a sailboat makes more sense when you are heeled over. Door latches and step angles; gimbals, tread patterns, handholds and all sorts of curious angles all become more comfortable as she heels under the pressure of the wind. Even the visibility is better, as the mast simply steps out of the way…
This is where life is awakened under sail. Slight to moderate heel with the wind balanced by the keels pendulous swing below, Surging forward on her course, in safe enjoyable control. Not without thrill, not without rest. This is the recipe for enjoyment of life under sail with a side of perpetual adventure.
A true sailor knows all this to well. The wind must be matched to the keel. The sails, and the trim thereof, are the mechanisms that govern our way; our joy and our balance.
Quite possibly the most influential lesson I have learned to date is this. “Emotionality and Rationality are like 2 kids on a teeter totter.”
The game is most enjoyable when the children are balanced. If you are too emotional you will become irrational. Your rationality will be helpless and stranded, dangling mid air while you sit in the muck.
If you are too rational, your heart will never jump, your legs will never spring and your face will never smile. You will be adrift, living on stale crackers and rainwater. In an attempt to control your emotions by ignoring them, you will starve away. Hollow and grey
If we could all picture this throughout the day, we could see what kind of life we are living. Are we stone cold and heartless, in fear of caring? Are we a mess of anxiety, fear or rage? Are we fixated in caring for something, or someone we don’t even know? Are we fixated on not caring at all? About anything or anyone? If so we are unbalanced.
The winds are full of emotion and life. Movement and charisma is unleashed when we gather it in our sails. But too much wind and too little thinking will overpower the rational in out keel. Overpowering our rudder, sending us off course and even broaching us under the slightest gust. If this happens slide the big kid toward the center of the teeter-totter and let the two play in balance. Take some sail down. Move it toward the keel and make it smaller, so you can think, eat and rest.
Its never to late to learn balance. Fear and sloth keep us at the dock and our sails covered up tight. Pride and arrogance keeps up full sail in a storm.
Balance caring enough about life to live it, with a healthy respect for things that can sink you and you are well on your way to enjoying the next harvest, the next watch and your new playground…