Monday 17 March 2014

Awareness: A Change In Perception

The last week saw me instructing yet again on a sailing vessel. New people, freshly off the street, so to speak. Young people that saw the inside of a boat for the first time ever when they stepped aboard. Boarding the boat to embark on a Competent Crew course. Some of whom have never been out on a boat on a dam, let alone going to sea.

This is one of the wondrous things of  the sailing world.  To introduce people to the vagaries of sailing. No engine noise. Only the sound of the sea and the wind. Every now and then a creak or gurgle from the boat as she cuts through the water making happy sounds. Very romantic indeed.

But the most wonderful part is in seeing the change in the people as the week progresses. I see the change from street-wise kids from suburban backgrounds to a person with some sense of wonder and a light in their eyes for more adventure.

Especially after sailing into the night. This must be one of the most effective eye-openers you can have, without using chemicals. Bear in mind that these people are not mere passengers on board. No ma'am, they are sailing the boat themselves. Harnessing Nature's forces and feeling the wind and the spray on their faces. Getting blisters on hands not used to the coarse and salty lines. Trimming sails on a small boat requires real effort.

And all this while having to think about where they are going, where the wind is coming from and taking note of other vessels and obstacles.

Then the sun sets. In the Cape this is always something special. Table Mountain with its table cloth, signalling heavy wind in the form of the famous Cape Doctor. Perhaps some clouds to the south and west. The city lights coming on little by little as the dark settles in. The wan sound of the foghorn on the isolated danger mark just outside the port entrance. Those small details that make you feel very alone and small on the open ocean. Especially if it is your first time out on the water.

The darkness of course transforms everything. After all, this is when the little voice in the back of your head starts to subvert your reverie and asks questions to scare you.

I recently had a student that had a real wake up call when the boat started to heel as we left the dinner spot. He had never experienced a sail boat heeling. We had no wind out of Cape Town, so we motored to a suitable spot near Robben island. Dinner was completed shortly after dark, by which time the wind had come up. We then proceeded to sail back to port in a steady wind of just on twenty knots. Wonderful sailing conditions on flat water.

In the dark. That part was a real revelation to this person and he got a real scare for a few minutes as the boat heeled under the full sail. Having this new experience in the dark. Scary? For a novice, certainly. This fear was short lived, however, changing into an elation and a smile that got broader as we sailed on into the night.

This last week had the same revelations to me. I yet again saw the looks of apprehension turning into broad smiles as each of the students changed their perspective.

This change is wonderful to see and to experience along with these people. After working hard at learning the knots and the ropes, this was the reward for their hard work. Really learning the ropes. No pun intended, except on a boat ropes are called lines...

Somehow, along with all this, I get the idea that they all changed their way of thinking about adventure. Forever they will now judge a new experience or base a decision on the emotions that they experienced on the course.  And you may well ask how this pertains to awareness.

SV Georgia.
Until recently the largest sloop in the world

Well, it is clear to me that all of these people think about risks in a different way after having had the experience of sailing and living aboard for a week.

And the learning and perception changes make them all more aware of their own psyche as well as what goes on around them. For some more than others. An introduction to yourself, after a fashion. Peter Senge's book  “The Fifth Discipline” comes to mind. In the book he discusses the concept of personal mastery. Knowing yourself and understanding about your own limits, being aware of your limits and learning more about them.

And then he goes on to discuss the same subjects in a group environment. Learning organisations. Groups of people that have to work together experiencing the more abstract characteristics of their group or organisation.

And it so it is the same for sailing a boat. There is some form of organisation required, otherwise the boat will go in one direction only. And there is some team awareness required, otherwise the crew will not be able to tack through the wind or turn the boat around.

But the best part of all of this learning is that this awareness come unconsciously through the adventure.

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2014-03-17

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