South Pacific: Outside the Comfort Zone

Various books stress the value of getting outside one’s “comfort zone” as a means of self-improvement. Part of the rationale of taking an eight-month sabbatical on a sailboat is to literally and figuratively expand my horizons. Unfortunately, the consequence of stretching one’s limits is that it is, by definition, uncomfortable outside the comfort zone. This discomfort encompasses not just the “I-should-be-home-in-a-warm-bed” feeling of pulling on a wet “mustang” in preparation for a cold turn at the helm. More fundamentally, it refers to the questioning of one’s basic capabilities and judgment. For me, the first moment of doubt occurred less than twenty-four hours after leaving Rockport, Maine. Just inside the entrance of the Cape Cod Canal, with strong currents and fresh winds, the approach to the Sandwich Marina fuel dock looked like an invitation to disaster, a quick end to the voyage, or at the very least an extended layover to repair splintered fiberglass.  The onboard expert, Dave Dickerson, offered me the helm… “No thanks,” I replied, “I think you had better handle this one.

The Bourne Bridge over The Cape Cod Canal

In my defense, the Lillian B. is built more for sailing than docking. Weighting in at over 30,000 lbs, with a nearly full keel, to the novice she has some idiosyncrasies at low speed. My experience of three summers with Lillian starting and ending at a mooring rather than a dock had not sufficiently schooled me in this regard. As Dave would teach me, Lillian likes to back to port, but not so much to starboard, due to the prop wash. Whatever the cause, that night I dreamt I was at the helm, standing next to Arnold Schwarzenegger, and crashing Lillian into cars like a scene out of Terminator 3. 

Over the next two weeks Dave would patiently guide me alongside fuel docks and into slips. He would teach me to watch the effects of currents and winds, as I learned the response of the boat. When the next leg begins, I will still be outside the comfort zone as I learn to navigate coral reefs, with one eye on the weather. But, thanks to Dave, I feel nearly ready for the Sandwich landing.

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