"Be true to your own act, and congratulate yourself if you have done something strange and extravagant, and broken the monotony of a decorous age. It was a high counsel that I once heard given to a young person … Always do what you are afraid to do."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson from his 1841 essay, “Heroism”
This seems like the perfect time in our There to Here series to talk about dragons. Perhaps I sound like a broken record. If you’ve followed our blog for any length of time, you’ll know that I’ve written and spoken about dragons several times in the past … in articles, blog posts, at seminars and in countless conversations with newbies and old salts alike. In fact, I've had this very same conversation with two women at Atlantic Yacht Basin within the past week. Dragons are real; they’re scary; they come in different sizes; they’re devious. They creep up on you and nag at you to distraction. They keep you awake at night, make your stomach churn and your heart pound in anticipation of the unknown, of what’s to come, of all those things you dread … the unknown territory.
I remember all too well having second thoughts as we crammed all of our worldly possessions aboard Nine of Cups. Living aboard took some getting used to. I adapted. But leaving the security of the marina? Leaving sight of land? What did we really know about boats and sailing and living on the water? The fear became oh so real and suddenly seemed overwhelming, but I was darned if it would get the better of me. David is the more adventurous one, but if this new life was going to work for us at all, it was time for me to start thinking in a new way. We talked about it openly and frequently. We began to view our “harrowing experiences” as adventures rather than mishaps and each time we overcame a fear we called it “slaying a dragon”.
The first time approaching anything new can be unnerving. Fear of the unknown is a special monster unto itself…a dragon of fearful anticipation that can eat at you and stir up your juices so completely that finally you either face it or turn your back and run. Leaving the dock in Kemah was a sizable dragon, especially in light of the fact we had never done a multiple-day passage nor a night watch and we were heading across the Gulf of Mexico. Get the armor, shields and lances ready…we were talking big, nasty dragons … a horrific flight of them.
Despite my dread, we left one sunny morning and sailed into a dazzling sea. To my surprise and relief, the weather crossing the Gulf was calm. We made mistakes, but none were fatal. The most difficult part of the trip ended up being the constant work required to maneuver around the never-ending oil platforms … and putting out a small fire in the engine room when a plastic toolbox got too close to the engine exhaust and started melting. The engine quit a few times, but David managed to coax it to life again. We had our problems, but they weren’t insurmountable.
As night approached that first evening and it was my turn to stand watch alone for the first time. I could barely contain myself as David headed down below to the bunk for his off-watch nap. What I dreaded the most turned out to be a time of silent contemplation I never dreamed I’d enjoy. The stars and moon never seemed so bright or close before. I could hear the distinctive breath sounds of dolphins as their choreographed ballet took place off our bow. In their wake they left a glowing trail of bio-luminescence. It was glorious. The night watch dragon disappeared. One by one other dragons raised their heads and were slayed …only to be replaced by more dragons as we ventured further.
It seemed that each time we planned to venture to a new place, we were always warned off by those who had not conquered their own dragons or those who tended to over-dramatize a bit. We labeled these folks the “nay-sayers”. We listened selectively, but did our homework and made up our own minds. We remained cautious, but not afraid.
There were the day-to-day dragons, too. Anchoring in shallow water, anchoring in deep water, anchoring in a crowded anchorage, anchoring all alone…in the beginning, just plain anchoring. What we’ve learned, however, about ourselves and cruising in general, is that we would have missed so very much by giving into our fears and staying tied to the dock. Experience is, indeed, the best teacher and we’ve discovered that advance discussion and careful planning significantly diminish the size and strength of the dragon.
Admittedly, sailing isn’t for everyone, but slaying dragons isn’t just about living on a sailboat or heading off on some wild adventure. It’s about trying new things, experiencing everything that life has to offer and not being afraid to try.
Nearly two decades and 90,000 miles later, our dragons are fewer and farther between, but they still raise their ugly heads once in awhile. We’ve had some big dragons like transiting the Panama Canal, sailing across oceans, around great capes and crossing the Great Australian Bight. May I add that in our entire sailing experience, though I have been uncomfortable, sick, rattled, and, yes, on occasion scared … I have never felt life-threatened.
Everyone has their own dragons to slay, whether it be sailing around the world, sailing to the next port, hitching up a trailer and driving a big rig across the country, giving a speech at work, applying for a new job, sharing with others something you’ve created ... they’re all dragons and you need to be ready to face them.
Go ahead … do something that scares you today. Go slay a dragon!