Sunday 9 March 2014

On The Other Side Of Fear

This last week was very interesting from a psychological point of view. Sail boats and sailing have some interesting aspects that us sailors sometimes forget about.

For a start, getting anywhere is quite easy. You get in the boat and just sail there. Except of course when the place where you are going to is on land. But otherwise the idea stands. Going to a place by road is slightly different. Going by road is always the same. You may take a different route, but there is only so many routes from place to another.

On the water it is different. Especially when sailing. There is a myriad of routes to follow to get to your destination. Add to this the changes in weather and the experience gets quite varied.

I had the opportunity to live through this yet again during the last week while introducing people to the art of sailing.

We were on the water for a night sail. This was the students' first sail, so we set out on our voyage shortly after lunch. The idea was to get in some decent sailing before sunset. However, shortly after leaving port at Cape Town the wind died, so we had to motor to our destination to the north of Robben Island. A reminder that you can harness Nature but you can't control her.

Later in the afternoon a breeze came up and we could sail the last bit before heaving to and cooking dinner. The sunset was an exquisite sight, as always at sea.

The wind increased twenty knots to over during our stay, making the preparation of dinner a whole new experience for the new sailors. A galley bobbing around where nothing stands still is not something that you will easily find on land. Dinner at dusk out in the open with some water splashing aboard every now and then added yet another part to the experience. I sensed that the students were somewhat apprehensive as the wind was blowing quite hard as the day came to an end. Some real adventure afoot for these novices.

The fun started shortly after dinner. The dinner service was packed away and the boat secured for the sail back to harbour. By this time it was quite dark. There was only a small sickle of moon. Robben island was silhouetted against the city lights of Cape Town. A wonderful sight indeed.

Except for the students. We had a heavy wind against us, making the going quite tough. And of course the boat heeled quite dramatically. It was then that I realised that the heeling of the boat was quite unexpected for some of the students. Something strange to me. Not having sailed before, there people did not quite understand that a boat may heel under certain weather conditions. The fact that the keel will stabilise the boat and prevent it from capsizing altogether was totally lost on these people. It was dark and the boat was falling over.

There were some very wide eyed people aboard on that night. Being the instructor has its moments, as I had to be extra cautious at this time to ensure the safety of those aboard.

I read an article recently about fear and personal growth. There was a statement to the effect that your future lies on the other side of fear. Susan Jeffers wrote a whole book about this subject. Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway. Quite an apt title.

The realisation then came to me that I am but the guide to my fellow sailors. A guide through their fears, no less. The sailing instruction is but a vehicle for the experience. Then I felt good about this. Being a guide and a mentor rather than a technical instructor feels a lot better.

One's understanding of the behaviour changes. Along with that comes a change in one's own behaviour. Perhaps it is thinking at a different level. Who knows.

As fate would have it, the wind died half an hour after dinner and we had to motor back to Cape Town.

For all of us it that half hour after dinner was like a portal through to another dimension of thinking. And it was enlightening.

The next day was not much different. We left Cape Town port for a picnic at anchor off Clifton beach. Shortly after leaving port the fog set in. Not too heavy, just enough to have only two hundred meters of visibility. Safe to sail, but tricky to navigate into a rocky cove. More apprehensive faces aboard, your intrepid instructor hopefully showing an unperturbed face.

Mother Nature smiled at us and the mist cleared just as we arrived at Clifton. We anchored and had a marvellous picnic in the cool autumn day.

By the time we got back to port the students were all changed people. Not only did they have an adventure, they also were changed in their mind sets. Hopefully for the better, making them stronger in their thinking. Not that they were in danger, but just having had that little bit of new experience. The experience of passing through their fears.

The physical experience perhaps much less scary than the psychological one.

A rich life indeed.

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2014-03-09

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