"Not only is the universe stranger than what we imagine,
it is stranger than what we can imagine."
Sir Arthur Eddington

It's Complicated


A few thousand years ago, men (and presumably women) sailed the seas and oceans that they knew. We know this because of the wrecks on the ocean floor. They faced the same storms and seas that modern sailors face in the same waters. But think of the changes that occurred on the vessels that are used. Half the equation didn’t change: the seas. The other half went from dug out-canoes and wood timbered boats with no compasses, to high tech multihulls with instant worldwide communication capabilities. And yet, the sea floor is still the final home of some of these modern-day vessels.

We are in Antigua to help welcome the Salty Dawg rally boats that sailed down from Hampton Virginia. We made that 1200-mile voyage three times, each in the early days of November. These “snowbirds” sail south before the cold winter winds settle in and after the last hurricanes sweep up from the Islands. It may sound like the sweet spot in timing, but the reality is that only by sheer luck will the voyage be a “cake walk”.

Cold fronts with north winds start to push south off the coast and battle the south-east winds of the islands, resulting in some very challenging sailing. Sometimes the only driving force seems to be the prospect of Paradise, just over the next swell. Seas build, squalls come in the dark of night, and the wind always seems to come from the direction you want to sail to. Three thousand feet below the keel lies the serenity of solid ground and the last place you want to see.

The Dawgs did make it down here or to the BVI’s or to other islands, some with damage, but none with any serious injuries. No doubt, modern technology enabled this outcome, but the other half of the equation never changes. Many realized this early on as the seas conspired to thwart their southern progress. Undaunted, they pushed on, some stopping at Bermuda before proceeding. We did the same on our last voyage south. For some, it will be the last time they do that again! But the warm sun and sparkling waters heal many wounded memories and soon they, like us, will again sail to distant shores.

It would not be fair for me to say that they have forgotten that half the equation of sailing has not changed in thousands of years. But we are reminded constantly that changes on the other half have improved and made sailing easier and safer every day. Modern technology, what I would call the mythology of technology, proports to make life easier, simpler, safer, and ultimately more rewarding. And yet, fear of an auto pilot failure, fear of a dead GPS, fear of engine breakdowns or rigging failures are complications of the technologies we employ. Most of those failures are beyond what can be remedied at sea.

Technology enables us to do things that maybe we shouldn’t. This goes beyond sailing. Technology has permeated our environment and dictates the running of our lives. I can write these thoughts and relay it to hundreds of people I rarely talk to. But the action of “talk to” is as old as the weather at sea and is immune to the mythology of technology and, if avoided or ignored, imperils our voyage through life. From the easy spread of the pornography of incendiary thoughts to the ability of the leader of the free world to lead by instant tweets, we forget the other half of life’s equation.

We love sailing and view living on a floating platform as a very simple way of life. Technology enables us to do this. But the fear of its failure remains, and the knowledge that half the equation of seafaring and of life is immune to this technological juggernaut is not lost to us. Its complicated.  

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Comments

Lovely to meet you guys up at Shirley Heights! Happy sailing to you. We are back on the south coast of England now and cold dinghy sailing the only option until spring when Muddy Bear gets put back in!

 Claire  11/30/2018

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As always, Bill, you have nailed it.  Thank you.

 Brenda  11/18/2018

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