Wednesday, April 22, 2009

It's in the details

Sailors are always aware of the details. Every small thing counts - where a line lies across the deck, especially in relation to other lines, the shrouds, etc. They are aware of the depth of the water they travel over, and of the currents, and the details of the bottoms they float above. They watch the wind, the slapping of the tell-tales along the sail, the weather, and the roughening of the water ahead of them that signifies wind, puffs that last an instant, but move them forward or to the side. They seek out tiny details and markers on the distant shores they parallel or head towards.

When heading out for the day, they are careful to close every vent, every drain, to put things in their place in the cupboards. To lock cupboard doors and close up cabins. Things move of their own accord when you're sailing. They topple off shelves and countertops if they're not put away and go clattering across the floor.

If water can find its way in, whether sea or rain, it will. If you leave clothes on the lifelines to dry outside overnight, or even during a lull in the day, Nature may turn jokester and pour the rain down, making them even wetter than before. (This isn't always a bad thing if it washes the salt spray off.)

Sailing, you become aware of every inch of exposed skin. Miss a centimeter of flesh when you put on the sunscreen and that centimeter will redden and burn. Keep your fingers around a rope seconds too long when releasing a sail and that same rope carves blisters into the surface of your hand. When one of your boatmates walks past you in the cockpit when you're underway and the boat is well-heeled (tilted), you watch where your toes are, lifting them from the deck so you don't get stepped on.

And as the boat tips to accommodate and use the wind, you keep yourself upright, using the always mobile horizon and the surface of the sea as your guides. Your body works in subtle and not so subtle ways, adjusting its position, flexing through your core and riding the swells like a well-seasoned cowboy on his favorite horse.

You learn to brace yourself against things - a rail, a lifeline, the bottom of the table, rather than always holding on. Your toes become appendages almost as useful as your fingers for keeping you upright, splayed out against the surface gravity is pushing you towards. You quickly know which surfaces are solid and safe and which are not. Eventually, you even learn to sleep sitting up, propped against something, staying upright, the inside of your elbow hooked around something to keep you where you are.

And then, at some point, it happens. For an instant, a few minutes, or longer if the winds and seas and your boatmates permit it, you forget everything but the very instant you are in.

You feel the wind against your body, the deck rising and falling predictably beneath your feet, the sun on your face. You find yourself smiling. There is only you and the skies, and the oceans, and you become one with them and the boat. There is no effort, no concern, only the pure, exhilarating joy of being in that moment, in that place. You exist within Nature and she lifts you up, her favored child, for just that brief, shining second. This is what brings you back, again and again. This is what makes you smile. This is sailing!

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