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.
Comment by MCinPDX
MCinPDX October 10, 2011 at 11:20 am
I don’t know you, and you don’t know me, but my wife and I have been following your blog, as we’re beginning to lay the early foundation for a few years sailing in the future.
Thanks for a great post. I too have this old fear, and similar to you I REALLY enjoy re-discovering it, as nothing pulls a guy down by his ankles to the earth quite like a robust taste of insignificance.
We’re following along on your journey. Keep up the good work.
Comment by Tucker Bradford
Tucker Bradford October 13, 2011 at 8:20 am
MC good to (virtually) meet a kindred spirit! Good luck on your hatchling cruising plan. I can assure you that it is well worth all of the craziness that you will likely endure to make it happen. These have been the happiest days of life and even if the trip ended tomorrow, I think I would go through it all over again to get another chance at it!
Comment by Deneb
Deneb October 11, 2011 at 12:15 am
I wonder if you felt the same thing at Arecibo. I know I would have, with the hugeness of the dish, and the way-hugerness of the universe it’s searching. Although what SETI makes me feel is not insignificance, but the sadness of distances so great that we may never bridge them. I am outing myself as a terrible dork here, but I thought “Contact” was the saddest movie I’d ever seen, because the likelihood of it ever coming true seemed so remote.
Comment by Mark
Mark October 14, 2011 at 10:57 am
I am glad that you had one exciting experience. The things we learn in our travels are just amazing. It is great that you had faced your fears and accepted the challenges. By doing this, you had produced one amazing and memorable experience.
Comment by Katja Svendsen
Katja Svendsen October 15, 2011 at 12:25 pm
Wow, I saw your blog in Latitude 38 and immediatly looked you up. We just got back from the Channel Islands and were going to go to San Miguel Island but had motor issues. Reading your posts about Morro Bay and Pt. Conception and seeing the pictures of dolphins I smiled. We have those same exact pictures. And, the big seas and wind. I went with my partner and 18 month old son. He enjoyed it, getting off at the islands was a huge plus. I only wish that we would have met you when we were sailing up or down the coast. I have been wanting to meet a cruising family with kids. You are an inspiration to me. Happy sailing and look forward to reading your adventures. Have a wonderful sail down to Baja. Katja, Rich, and Thorston.
Comment by Tucker Bradford
Tucker Bradford October 15, 2011 at 7:51 pm
I’m so glad you found us. The cruising with families community is small and pretty tight, welcome! 18 months is a great time to start. Where do you hail from? What kind of boat do you have? Hope we can meet you out there some day!
Comment by cindy
cindy October 26, 2011 at 4:38 pm
finally have two hands free for two minutes to comment. i have been reading and NAK and can’t always comment but this is a beautiful piece. thank you.
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