Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Sailors' High

I wish I had the ability to write about sailing last Sunday. I don't. But I'll try.

I find it easy to write about the quirky curious things that draw my attention from day to day such as rattlesnake catchers or nipple rings or deodorant fragrances. It's so, so much harder to describe to someone else why I have such a passion for sailing. But if I could capture my feelings on Sunday you would understand it.

It wasn't the weather. At least not the sky. A bright warm sunny day certainly has the ability to lift my spirits and make me feel glad to be alive. But Sunday was cool, and damp, with dark, low, black clouds scudding across the sky and the threat of rain always present. If you had planned to go for a hike or do some gardening or go for a bike ride you would probably stay inside and watch the baseball on TV and get depressed.

But the weather was part of it. Or more precisely, the wind, of course. For a sailing day to be one of those "glad to be alive" days the wind has to be just right. And it was. I'm not good at knowing what a wind speed is in knots. I tend to relate the windspeed to how you sail a Laser in that wind. Sunday was a hike as hard as you can day. A feel so much pressure in the hiking strap you think you'll tear it out of the boat day. A day of wild planing reaches with the board humming and the spray flying that just last and last and last. Are you starting to get a feel for it yet?

And it wasn't the competition. I wrote a few days ago that I get more of a kick out of sailing if I have the challenge of competition. Now I think that's not entirely true. I enjoy sailing a racecourse more than just cruising around aimlessly. But the truth is that our new Sunday Laser fleet is not giving me much of a challenge yet. So every race was one of those ideal "win the start and extend your lead" races.

But the satisfaction was not from beating the other boats - I knew I could so where's the feeling of achievement in that? I admit that coming first sure beats coming in last. But racing in front of the fleet has another payback. You are sailing in clear air and can focus on watching the wind and eking out every ounce of boat speed. You are not distracted by other boats tacking on your air on the beats, or sitting on your wind on the runs, or luffing you up on the reaches. The wind is all yours to play with and exploit. Looking for the gusts, going for them, finding them and taking off on another wild, crazy ride. That's part of the pleasure of special days like last Sunday - you're alone, playing with the wind, not with the other boats. Of course boat to boat tactics are a pleasure all of their own. But Sunday was different. I owned the wind and nobody could prevent me from indulging myself.

I hope you're starting to understand. But I haven't begun to capture the full nature of the experience yet. The essence of the enjoyment I get from sailing a Laser is in the sheer, physical thrill of moving fast on this 14 ft slab of fiberglass. I know, it's not even really fast when compared to most 21st century thrill rides. Just a few knots. But it feels fast because you're so close to the water and you're working every muscle of your body to hurry, hurry, hurry. It's more exciting than skiing flat out straight down the steepest slope you can find. It's more breathtaking than diving off the highest board at the pool. It's just a bigger buzz than anything else I've ever experienced.

Then on top of that there is the feeling of mastery. I know just how to handle this beast. How to settle it down when it's feeling quirky. How to speed it up when it's feeling sluggish. How to keep it in the groove of fast and high, fast and high. How to let it go when it wants to accelerate in a puff. It - I've never called it she or given it a name - it is a wild beast, a bucking bronco that wants to throw me off but I know its tricks. I'm in control - but only just. I'm living on the edge.

So the thrill is all those things - solitude, freedom, speed, effort, risk, mastery. And more. There must have been something showing on my face or in my body language because the race committee seemed to be sensing I was out there, in some world of my own, on a high. As I passed the committee boat on the run of the last race I'm sure one of them said to me, "You de Man".

Runners talk about the "runners' high." There's all sorts of discussion about whether it exists or not and, if it does, its chemical cause. Endorphins they say. On Sunday I definitely experienced the sailors high. And it lasted a long time. I woke up at 4am on Monday morning and the memories of the afternoon were still bouncing around my brain. It was so intense I couldn't get back to sleep.

I wish I had the ability to really tell you about sailing last Sunday. I don't.

Perhaps the little kid in the snakecatcher story had the right answer. "Why do I do it.......Because it's fun?"

1 comment:

EVK4 said...

From this post, I'm starting to "get it" a bit when it comes to racing. When I'm sailing without any particular place to go, I pick out a mark and try to get as close to it as fast as I can. For me, a race isn't exciting, it's controlling the boat that's fun.

I have fun when racing, but more because I sail on San Francisco Bay and there is nothing better in this world than sitting on the rail for the beats and enjoying the scenery (the beauty of foredeck).

Maybe if I ever race my own boat, it will become completely clear, but until then I'll just read your blog.

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