The Spirit of Adventure and its Treasures

I write this at the close of my most recent voyage of discovery, crewing Soteria, a classic, wooden two-master, from Fowey in Cornwall to La Gomera in the Canaries, via the Bay of Biscay in storm season, with stops in mainland Spain, Portugal and Madeira.

The trip contained everything my adventurous pirate heart could wish for, except for copious quantities of rum – I guess that’s what you get for signing up to crew a dry boat. I knew there was a flaw in the plan. There’s always a flaw in the plan. Why do I keep trying to make a plan? Never have I felt more connected to my alter ego Captain Jack Sparrow in his mournful observation “Why is the rum always gone?” In this case, it’s particularly always gone when it never even existed in the first place. But, stepping away from the non-existent rum bottle, back to adventure.

It started with a storm in the Bay of Biscay. Any sailor knows about Biscay and what it can offer and I became particularly aware of this on discovering that you have to have special insurance to sail after September. A small detail that became increasingly more significant as our departure date slipped well into October. Biscay didn’t disappoint, with winds gusting at force 10, towering black waves, a helm with a mind of its own, a galley (muggins here was one of the two main cooks for 12 starving sailors) which seemed intent on bucking me off my feet or pitching me directly into the oven. The saloon had definite overtones of Hades in the wet season in it’s chaos as night watches changed over; wet weather gear hanging everywhere, damp sailors sleeping anywhere they could due to water-logged bunks, water running in rivulets through various cracks and crannies. You’re getting the generally soggy theme of it?

In fact, I loved sailing the storm, with some serious reservations about the wisdom of my two attempts to sever my connection with the boat and enter the watery and fairly terminal embrace of the Atlantic. My first effort left me hanging doggedly from a rope along the boom as my feet, which had been firmly planted on deck, suddenly dangled over nothing but churning, terrifying water as the boat heeled over. Shortly afterwards I found myself clinging onto something, quite possibly the beard of one of my crewmates, to resist the efforts of a wave that had broken over our bows to re-unite itself, and me with it, with the awfully big, drowny body of water it calls home. These events left me with very wobbly knees, a fine appreciation of my pirate-like, tenacious grip on life and a mental note to self to not be such a complete numpty in the future, and clip on.

Further adventures followed as they do at sea, interesting encounters in foreign ports, new foods, including some particularly grim combinations of cold cans when we ran out of gas and finally being becalmed and swimming above thousands of feet of water in the Atlantic. The swim was utterly magical, until someone idly wondered just how many miles of water there were under my careless toes, at which point, being back on deck suddenly seemed like the attractive option.

Not all of the adventurous possibilities of sailing come from physical action. One of sailing’s greatest gifts comes from its ability to bring you slap, bang up against yourself, and the opportunity to fully experience being cell-tinglingly alive in every moment. This aspect of sailing isn’t as good for toning as the physicality of hoisting, and pulling things, such as the aforementioned crewmates’ beards, but it is certainly food for my soul.

There is a quality to life at sea that makes it so easy to succumb to full appreciation and receptivity. From stunning sunsets and sunrises to the stately, wheeling progression of a ridiculously impossible array of stars at night, reflected by the magic of a phosphorescent universe below. Other beings that we meet inspire awe and gratitude, from muscular, racing dolphins to ponderously huffing pilot whales, even once a little sea bird that seemed to be very happy keeping it’s new, very big mate company, swimming companionably alongside us as we ambled along at 0.0 knots.

Being on the sea does something to the soul. You can’t help but be present in the moment, fully appreciative and alive to the beauty of what’s around you, and the reality of what might need attention. Maybe that’s why sailors are on the whole such a great bunch of people. There is a mixed quality of presence, of practicality and of romanticism in many sailors. Add a sense of humour and even just a dash of sexiness in a man, mix it together in a boat and I’m salivating and ready for dinner. You can see why my own dashing pirate remains somewhat elusive – a lolling tongue and drooling mouth isn’t a good look anywhere, even out of sight of land and civilisation.

When you decide to, it’s easy to take yourself on an adventure. You find something a tiny part of you would love to do, which the more vociferous aspect of your nature absolutely refuses to do on account of the fact that it’s clearly insane, and you go and do it. I re-found my own sense of adventure in my 40s. I think I might have dropped it down the back of the sofa that I spent too much time on in my 30s, and it took a bit of a full on spring clean to unearth it, along with a load of copper coins and a dusty ear plug. With a little practice, here I am now, 46 and living a life on the seas of the world, and on a voyage of infinite possibility discovering the unchartered realms of my heart and that.

As a regular adventurer, I am aware that it is also possible to disconnect from what is most important in life by taking yourself on journeys. The constant seeking of the new can become a way of avoiding the intimacy, depth of experience and connection that is such an important part of a life well lived. Sailing as an activity can take me very aloof from the world, yet by it’s very nature, receiving what is moment by moment, it also brings me into close connection with what I most value about life.

In this last voyage, my greatest treasure was in moments on night watch when I felt, in my missing of family and friends, a deep connection with them, and a dizzy sense of gratitude that I have this rich and bright thing at the centre of my crazily swinging compass. I want more of the vivid experience of physical adventures, the immediacy of a life lived with spirit. I choose this as part of a greater whole that is about being awake to the possibility for greater intimacy, openness and love in the moment. After all, we just don’t know where, or with whom, our greatest adventures start and it would be a shame to miss something beautiful that presents in the moment, because I have my telescope too firmly fixed on a distant horizon.

Swimming in water 4 miles deep while becalmed

Jumping in to 4 miles of water while becalmed in the Atlantic

Storms can be fun, but they play havoc with your hair - as do violent crewmates

Biscay Hair – Storms can be fun, but they play havoc with your hair – as do violent crewmates

Sunset and sea inspired happiness

Sunset and sea-inspired happiness

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The Freedom of Wind and Tide

My maritime adventure is once again alive and kicking as I write from my funny squidged up bunk on a lovely old schooner, Soteria. I am jammed in with suitcases, sails and the horror that is ‘the locker under bunk one’ right in the bow of the boat (pointy end). If anyone needs anything that’s likely to be in there, they generally only find the courage to tackle the piled up layers of sails and other paraphernalia, with a strong cuppa and lots of gentle encouragement, followed by a counselling session on their emergence. One of the delights of life on board a working boat.

My crew mates are around the boat, washing up, sorting out bilge pump problems (I’ve cannily stayed away from that one, knowing that boys like to meet the challenge of this sort of thing and I shouldn’t dilute their fun), humming while sorting and tidying gear. Outside, St. Peter Port in Guernsey, where we are docked, is shaded in a deep, damp sea mist punctured only by the soul cry of a foghorn.

This voyage has been an adventurous sailing experience, from La Coruña in North West Spain, across the Bay of Biscay and over to the Channel Islands en route to Weymouth. We have been carried here on this wonderful, old, wooden two-master whose name means ‘salvation’, or, in its shortened form of Soté, ‘to be made free’. We are embracing traditional sailing in honour of the age and nature of the boat, and a slight lack of engine power due to a gear box failure. It has given the journey an elemental simplicity – if it doesn’t work with the wind and tide, we can’t do it. It has also given me the odd moment of idly wondering whether we might end up needing more salvation than is entirely healthy.

Zooming towards the coast on our way (theoretically) in to port at Roscoff I uttered the fatal words “I think we’re all going to get a full night’s sleep in the marina,” which was of course the cue for the wind to relax to a whisper. My watch started at 6am, with us in almost exactly the same spot as when I had gone to sleep. And then, bless it, the wind woke up again all rested and feisty and ready to give its all to blowing in completely the wrong direction for us. Suddenly it was all hands on deck and all macs on backs, to tack and tack into wind and rain to try and make the entrance while avoiding the dark, pointy rocks lining our route in.

Three hours later we were finally almost within touching distance of the marina only to be met by a puzzled Harbour Master asking if we were lost. It turns out we were.  The actual harbour entrance he pointed out (built after the charts were created) was absolutely inaccessible to a boat without engine power with the wind we had. Our only option was to turn around and whoosh out of the bay that had held us captive over long hours, and follow the wind to the Channel Islands. You’ve got to laugh innit?

It had been a hard, but exhilarating morning and very, very good for toning my incipient (or possibly actual) bingo wings. It also resulted in one of the most glorious afternoons of sailing that I have ever experienced; bright sun on a white-capped, surging and profoundly deep blue sea. The waves rolled through from behind us, as did the wind, urging us speedily on to Guernsey, a very interesting, slightly lucky, engineless docking experience and a few gratefully received days of still land, pubs and watch-free nights.

It seemed to take forever for this voyage to come into being for me. I had spent such a long time feeling landlocked and blocked in following my desire to live life on the water. I am experimenting in following the energy of what pulls me towards my end results, rather than pushing and forcing things. The way this comes up for me is to really listen for warm and resonant invitations and see where they take me. This one took a while to come and it was so hard not to push, to strive and force something to happen. It was worth waiting for.
Having done some crewing with just myself and the owner/skipper, I really felt I wanted the broader support of being part of a bigger crew. Suddenly there was a wonderfully warm email from Vicky (Soteria’s owner), desperate for crew to get her back to the UK for engine repairs. Before I knew it, with some fantastic support from friends and family, I was suddenly in Spain – a country I love and have missed – and joining a new crew for an exciting experience on a classic and classy boat.

Four solid days of sailing put me right into the heart of what I love doing. It can be tough, getting up for night watch, dealing with the weather and getting to know people under demanding circumstances. But after a while the watches flow, the days and the nights segue into each other, strangers become crew mates who know how you like your tea, sleep comes easily and food tastes wondrous. Always and endlessly there is the sea and the sky, joined by a delightful vessel that responds to your needs and to your attention, and surges through the waves with elegance and determination.

A friend recently reminded me of Joseph Campbell who said that if the path ahead of you is clear, it probably isn’t your path. I don’t know where my journey with the sea will take me, and the level of my cluelessness in this indicates that this is definitely my very own obscure and adventurous pathway. I continue on it in the confidence that so far it has only taken me to wonderful places where I wanted to be, and the freedom of Soteria certainly counts as one of them.

Hello Mythter and Mythis

The thing that I’ve realised about myth in the last hour, is that if you want to write, or have a conversation with myth as the theme, you quickly sound like you are more than a little drunk, or you have a lisp.  Notwithstanding this slight disadvantage I have decided to plough ahead and create this forum to explore, write stories about, and discuss the ways that we can use myth to both question our lives as they are, and to re-weave the fabric of our lives to make it something that delights us.

It is impossible to write about myth without pulling on and honouring the work of the legendary Joseph Campbell who spent his life studying the myths and religions of the world to uncover the truths of humanity which lie behind the stories and characters within them.  If you haven’t come across his work, I will be delighted to introduce you to it here but I will try to fight the temptation to insert reams and reams of his very quotable quotes as an alternative to my own thinking, writing and experiences.  However I will without doubt borrow a bit.  He does it so very well you see.

The fundamental concept behind this blog, which it is only fair to let you in on from the start, is that everything around us has been made up by someone at some point.  Everything we have, everything we are, came from nothing but a spark of a conscious, or an unconscious, thought.  Our ability to create stuff as humans is phenomenal.  So, if it’s all made up, how about we make up a version of life that we love?  How about making up, and making real a life that is full of the things, the actions, the people, the activity that we love?

This is my choice now, to keep making up my own myth, to make up my life and keep making it up.  Rather than feeling that I have to follow a dreary path that has been set out by others, I am making it up myself.  I love sailing, I love my coaching practice, I love dancing, romance, sex, sunshine, travel, learning and teaching.  I’m busy making up a life that has all this and more – not just in moments, but woven into the very fabric of my daily life.  This is what I’d love to share with you, and learn about with you.  So please join the fun, and make it up with me.