As I sped down the front of another steep swell, propelled by near gale force winds, in a fog so thick it dripped, I was visited by an old fear. It was not a fear of death, though some may have felt that. My fear was one of smallness, of cosmic insignificance.
On a boat that is arguably ballasted with technology, I found myself dwarfed, humbled, by the milk water fog. With less than a quarter mile visibility at times, I was on constant vigil. All of our technology was not enough to see through the wall of white to the possible hazards beyond. For a moment I wished that we had radar (the one category of tech that we don’t have) and then a timid voice inside suggested that maybe my desire to conquer my fear through technology might not be all that dissimilar from, say, our culture’s desire to buy happiness. Perhaps, the voice pressed, there is no end to this compulsion to dominate nature, and perhaps there is also no end to nature’s dominion over us. Perhaps, and I’m going out on a limb here, we are insignificant in the cosmic scheme of things, and even our grandest achievements will only be noticed by us humans, and only for a small flash of time.
I mentioned that this fear is old. The first time I had it was sitting on a breakwater in Providence, RI, looking out over the Atlantic. I’ve had it on the tops of mountains, but almost any time I’m on open water, out of sight of land, it comes back. It’s a strange old fear. It’s visit feels like a wise old relative, reminding me of my place. I welcome it. Every time it leaves me I feel like I have grown; wizened myself.
So our rounding of the great cape of North America was eventful, if only in my head. The trip south from Morro Bay was speedy and rolly but not nearly what the books promised (in terms of wind or wave height). And while I would not seek to enter a rock strewn harbor in the dead of a foggy night again any time soon, I do feel that I have grown, and that is always worth some discomfort.