Saturday, April 04, 2009

Why Do You Want to Sail Around the World?

Here is one man's thoughts on his motivation to sail the globe on his new to him Valiant 40:

"What is it that motivates you to want to sail around the world?"

I’m been considering this question in greater depth lately–more people have been asking, and I’ve been more closely examining my standard response.

My standard response goes something like this: over the past decade I have experienced a substantial amount of adventuring around this country, largely through climbing and canyoneering, and the excitement and newness of those activities has faded. Four years ago this culminated in looking for a next step, a new activity, a grander undertaking. Learning to sail, then saving money to buy a boat, then buying a boat and fixing it up, then sailing the boat around the world–all of this combines into one very ambitious new adventure.

I want to encounter new people and new places, I want to experience things that take me beyond my current boundaries, I want a larger universe. The few times I have traveled abroad have been rare and precious gifts. Each occasion has provided unequaled education and inspiration–I return home invigorated–and I constantly ask myself what is my major malfunction, that I don’t travel more frequently.

I want to run away from it all. Other cruisers commonly advise that escaping is a really bad reason to sail away. Better to face your demons at home they say, deal with the root of the problem rather than running away, because the demons are really inside you and you’ll take them with you wherever you are. They are surely right–but I also think that escape can be a good reason to go. I want to escape those cancerous aspects of my current life that I have been trying, unsuccessfully, to excise for some time. Sometimes one needs a dramatic departure from the current life–a discontinuity–in order to make a new start.

I’ve started sleepwalking through this bay area life, and I hate that more than anything. I hate the sleepwalking! I think it happens to everyone, it’s a natural consequence of human makeup. It’s evolution, our minds are hardwired to turn things into habits–it’s the smart thing for the body to do. When an activity is new it takes extra time and concentration and energy; when it becomes a habit it requires little effort or thought, and we can do other tasks at the same time. Learning to drive a car requires concentration; you have to actually think about turning the wheel and pressing on the gas and when to do it and how much, etc. After you’ve been driving for a few years is is completely habitual and requires no conscious thought, and because of this you can eat food and carry on a conversation while driving. Making habits is efficient and natural. It also robs us of the excitement and risk associated with activities. You figure out a route to work, you learn how to complete your job the same way every day, you eat at the same few restaurants each night, you sleep on the same side of the bed with your head at the same end, every day. Eventually the whole day, the whole month, a whole year just becomes a habit–then you’re sleepwalking. And the insidious thing about it is that sleepwalkers don’t realize they’re sleepwalking. The mind doesn’t give you feedback about how habitual an activity is becoming. It just gets easier and easier until you consider it boring and you don’t think about it anymore–if you’re like me, your day job provides an example.

Are these motivations sufficient? A good enough justification for spending all of my money and time and putting everything on hold for five years in order to sail around the world? Are the motivations strong enough to withstand the knowing look of a good friend (someone who can effortlessly identify and dissolve bullshit)? Are they strong enough for my family–the watchdog reminding me to spend my life in a worthwhile way? Am I bullshitting anybody? Am I bullshitting myself?

I am engaged; Karen and I are getting married next fall. Karen and I have talked a lot about our future after the boat, and we are optimistic and excited about that part of life too. So the question of motivation gets harder to answer, as life on land looks pretty promising too. The sailing trip isn’t the same no-brainer easy "yes" activity that choosing to do a hard climb, grueling canyon, or lengthy road trip once was. People talk about how hard it is to go skydiving–when the moment comes how can you jump out of the plane–but that’s why it’s so easy–it’s only a moment. You just have to get up your gumption, your "f-it, just do it" for only an instant and then you’re out of the plane you’re committed and reasserting your commitment is irrelevant. It only took a second of effort. If you had to maintain the same motivation–that level of fearlessness that it takes to push yourself out into the air during that moment–if you had to constantly sustain that day in and day out for years, it would be impossible. Preparing for this trip has not required just one single huge sacrifice or commitment or leap; it has required years of plodding sacrifice and commitment which will continue until the moment we sell the boat.

So you tell me: are my motivations sufficient? Do my answers to the question justify all the time, effort, money, and sacrifice in order to take a sailing trip around the world? My reasons for taking the trip haven’t changed, my motivations are intact. So far I remain satisfied with my answers. They don’t silence the internal questioning as easily as they once did–my life is more complicated than it was when we first embarked on this project–but they still quiet the doubts. I examine my motivations much more frequently than before; my answers are correspondingly more polished, more carefully given.

If you would like to check out his blog, click here.

1 comment:

Matt H said...

thanks for quoting one of my posts, I'm glad that you found it interesting--additionally please feel free to credit me as the author, and to link to the original post from which you copied:

matt holmes
"syzygy" valiant 40 #201