Viewpoint: The Discomfort Zone

In my early 30s I went on an Outward Bound expedition. It was designed for adults and boasted an alluring theme: life renewal. Like any Outward Bound experience, the trip was intended to push a participant’s physical and emotional limits, and it delivered in spades.
Author:
Updated:
Original:

In my early 30s I went on an Outward Bound expedition. It was designed for adults and boasted an alluring theme: life renewal. Like any Outward Bound experience, the trip was intended to push a participant’s physical and emotional limits, and it delivered in spades. I returned home with a scraggly beard and a big grin, full of piss and vinegar and ready, with my freshly inflated ego, to take on the world.

I’ve often thought back on that experience and wondered just what I gained from it and why I pursued it in the first place. What is it that compels us to climb mountains, scuba dive with sharks, skydive, bungee jump or plunge down a zip wire? Why do we push ourselves to do things that are outside our comfort zones? Are we merely adrenaline junkies seeking a fix at every corner, or is there something more profound going on?

Last summer my wife, Carrie, and I sailed our 34-foot cutter from southern New England to Bermuda and back again—640 miles each way, during which we saw no other boats offshore. We did this not as part of a race or rally, but completely and utterly on our own. For us, this cruise was the culmination of what started over 10 years ago as a dream, not uncommon among the sea-struck, to sail offshore to distant and exotic places, just the two of us.

To reach this point, we climbed a long, steep learning curve aboard a series of progressively larger sailboats on which we cruised the New England coast, slowly acquiring the requisite skills for distance cruising—navigation, sailing techniques for both light and heavy weather, coping with storms at sea, diesel mechanics and boat maintenance, provisioning and cooking, communications, and so on. In the off-season we read books and trade magazines, practiced celestial navigation, studied the all-essential discipline of weather forecasting, and acquired a ham radio license.

Our cruise took a month and included two blissful weeks in the beautiful archipelago of Bermuda and 12 days sailing beyond sight of land. We encountered dolphins, sharks, flying fish, Portuguese man-of-wars, rain, mountainous seas and dead calms, star-studded night skies, and lightning storms so intense it felt like the end of the world. It was invigorating, exhausting, humbling, exhilarating and surreal. It was, for us, a true passage.

I believe it strengthened the bond we have as husband and wife and prepared us, in some way, for challenges yet to come. In the course of our lives we all encounter difficulty and danger, dilemma and turmoil, a lost job or home, illness, a death. Over and over we step up and are tested. Will we persevere or knuckle under? What prepares us to face the heartbreaks and calamities that are such an ordinary part of life?

Maybe our self-imposed challenges also help us to muddle through the ones that come clear out of the blue. Life experience, for better or worse, leads to growth. As Mark Twain put it:

“What is the most rigorous law of our being? Growth. No smallest atom of our moral, mental, or physical structure can stand still a year. It grows—it must grow; nothing can prevent it.”

The passage to Bermuda may well have been the swan song of our offshore sailing dream, but we continue to grow in any number of ways as a result. Just recently, for example, my wife, who is also my barber, insists something has begun growing again on the crown of my balding head—new hair! 

Related

01-LEAD-IMG20210409160620-copy

Cruising: La Soufrière Volcano Eruption

This past spring my family and I were at anchor aboard our 50ft steel-hulled cutter, Atea, off Bequia, a small island five miles south of St. Vincent in the Southern Antilles. Bequia’s large, protected bay is lined by a collection of beach bars, restaurants and hotels, and is a ...read more

01-LEAD-GMR_ISLA_0415-1

Electric Multihulls

Witnessing the proliferation of Tesla automobiles you would have no doubt that the revolution in electromobility is well underway. Turn your gaze to the cruising world, though, and you might well wonder what went wrong. Where are all the electric boats? And as for electric ...read more

Lee-Cloths-Lee-Boards-and-single-bunks-on-ISBJORN_by-Andy-Schell_Trans-Atlantic-2019

The Perfect Offshore Boat: Part 2

November, 2009: Mia and I were sailing our 1966 Allied Seabreeze yawl, Arcturus, on our first-ever offshore passage together, a short hop from Wilmington, North Carolina, to Jacksonville, Florida. Our second night out, the brisk northwesterly wind shut down, but the sea state ...read more

210727_JR_SE_Tokyo20_186871368

Tune in for Olympic Sailing

Today marks the start of 470 and NARCA 17 racing on Enoshima Bay, and racing in the other seven fleets is already underway. A few of the American sailors are already off to an impressive start, with Maggie Shea and Stephanie Roble currently in second place in the 49er FX, Luke ...read more

Happy-Cat

Boat Review: Happy Cat Hurricane

I’m not sure what I expected from my daysail on the Happy Cat Hurricane. One thing I do know is that the day didn’t go as planned. The SAIL staff was invited by Alex Caslow from Redbeard Sailing to Gunpowder State Park on Chesapeake Bay near Baltimore. We were to test several ...read more

210722_PM_Tokyo20_4910_5979-2048x

Olympic Sailing Guide

The Opening Ceremony for the Tokyo Games is finally here. From July 24 to August 4, sailors from across the world will be gathering on six courses on Enoshima Bay to race for gold. Ten classes will take part in the event: RS:X (men), RS:X (women), Laser Full Rig, Laser Radial, ...read more

01-LEAD-TobagoCaysHorseshoeColors

Chartering: Voltage is King

For some time now, both in the pages of this magazine and with individual charterers, I’ve talked about how important it is to pay close attention during a charter checkout. The idea is to listen “between the lines,” as it were, to be sure you aren’t missing any hidden red flags ...read more

AC75-No.-1

ETNZ May Abandon New Zealand

Remember when the Kiwis were the young, underfunded upstarts of the America’s Cup world, with right on their side as they took on the Big Bad Americans? Remember the withering criticism leveled at Larry Ellison when, in the wake of “The Comeback” on San Francisco Bay, arguably ...read more