Sunday 30 March 2014

Sailing Into Maturity

The screen saver image of sailing.
A rite of passage, perhaps.

How do we grow up? We go to school, get some education from the school environment in addition to that from home. Then we perhaps go on to study at a tertiary institution and get some more education.

Education as opposed to training. According to Wikipedia, education in its general sense is a form of learning in which the knowledge, skills, and habits of a group of people are transferred from one generation to the next through teaching, training, or research.

Training, on the other hand, is defined by Wikipedia as follows: Training is the acquisition of knowledge, skills, and competencies as a result of the teaching of vocational or practical skills and knowledge that relate to specific useful competencies.

So, in one case you learn some techniques and a craft, if you will. In the other case you get taught habits and behaviour.

In my younger days we had national service in the armed forces. This forced one to stand on your own feet and understand that the world does not revolve around oneself. A rite of passage in itself, as your parents also got used to the idea that now you are an adult. Letting go of your mother's apron strings, so to speak.

Are you mature enough to take charge of a boat like this?
S/V Georgia, once the largest sloop in the world.
Some of the indigenous people here in South Africa still has the practice of a circumcision ceremony lasting a week or more and a rite of passage before you are regarded as a man. The girls have a similar rite of passage.

But in our modern urbanised society children increasingly live at home until quite an advanced age, sometimes into their late twenties. Well, for me that seems an advanced age. Yes, work is scarce for young people nowadays. But living at home under your parents' guidance seems to be not quite the right idea in terms of reaching maturity and self sufficiency as a useful citizen of your country.

Here in South Africa we have what is generally known as a democratic society. Everybody has a say in government. However, to me it also entails taking responsibility for what one perpetrates as one stumbles along your life's path in the search for happiness and contentment.

Enter the sailing world.

I had this gleam in the eye for sailboats and sailing in general from a very young age, but never had the chance to go sailing until I was a student at university. I remember my first sailing experience with some nostalgia. It was on a racing dingy and we swam more than we sailed on that day. A sobering experience at best.

My next sailing experience came when I made a concious decision to dedicated myself to sailing. A lifestyle change, if you will. I went into keelboat sailing. Sailing boats that can take you across an ocean. And the first, most noticeable impression was that one needs to take responsibility for the boat and those who sail with you. You are dependent on each other. Your very lives may depend on this coherence, if you will.

Are you also lost in the land of nod?
And a sailboat is not a democratic environment. No, it is very autocratic indeed. This idea comes home on every course that I teach. On more than one occasion I had to enforce an instruction in some way.

Sometimes it is simple and quite funny. A student that is scared that the boat will capsize when it heels and then refuses to steer the course as instructed. This person then steered a course that kept the boat upright, but aimed directly for the shore about three hundred meters away. I had to keep my foot on the tiller to keep the boat pointed in the right direction. The student in question quickly overcame his fear of the boat heeling and we all had a bit of a giggle afterwards.

There are more examples of this nature. Overcoming fear and extending one's comfort zone. There is another aspect of personal growth, however. This relates to the educational part of sailing a boat. The part where one learns the habits and gain knowledge of the sailing environment. And this knowledge does not relate to the finer skills and arts of sailing, but more towards the management efforts in and around a boat.

The part where one needs to understand that managing the boat is an autocratic process and that  teamwork is imperative. Aping around when your shipmates are dropping and stowing the main sail is not on. And the skipper's decision is final. There is no arguing on whether to make way against the wind or to have a nice outing instead. Is there enough food, water and fuel on board? Who's responsibility is this? What happens when something breaks? Phone a friend does not help, you are out in the ocean.

There appears to be a lack of understanding authority. Complete with a lack of understanding responsibility and accountability. Coupled to a lack of management skills in terms of basic decision making. A fear of making decisions or simply a lack of interest.

Hanging on to the apron strings, perhaps?

Increasingly, I get the idea that young people entering life after school lack some of this understanding. Is it due to the easy life in an urban environment? An easy life at home? Does the education system fail us?

Where is the natural rite of passage into adulthood? Who knows.

But it is most satisfying to see people grow in their maturity during a skippers course. And emerge as skipper material after some psychological growth during the week.

On a boat you can sail into maturity...

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2014-03-30

1 comment: