Sex and Sailing

Sex and sailing.  It all comes down to this really.  The heart of my myth is that simple.  Around half a lifetime of experience (all being good, maybe a bit less if I stop drinking like a pirate), four years of challenging myself, giving myself over to my intuition, trying new things, learning about new passions, reflecting lots, freeing myself of the old and embracing the new, and that’s the beautiful core of what I’m about.

To date I’ve been rather more up front in this blog about my love of sailing than my love of sex.  What can I say? I’ve been feeling my way, finding my courage and my own voice of conviction.  There may be some relevance in the fact that I have regrettably chalked up more hours rolling around in boats than in beds in recent times, but nevertheless my reticence to date has more to do with caution than a lack of tales to tell.  Caution isn’t something I’m generally known for, but in this case I’m glad to have entertained it.  The time that I have sat with this has greatly clarified my intention and my purpose in opening up this conversation, as well as bringing me to a place where I simply can’t keep it within me.

The last five months have been a time of personal challenge, of grief and introspection.  Although the cause of that time remains painful, it has nevertheless given me room to reflect and the impetus to make some important choices about my future, about what I stand for.  If I have learnt anything in this time, it is the importance of creating our own story, standing up for what we believe and taking action to bring what we love to life.  I love sex (and sailing) and it is time for me to claim my purpose, to express my passion and engage my voice, the voice that each of us has within us, to explore and address one of the most important aspects of human life.

Sex is a beautiful, wonderful and I fear often mismanaged area of human interaction and potential.  It is a meeting place, a place of love and intimacy, of fun, of incredible pleasure, of connection and of deep creative power.  Sex is also sadly a place of darkness, of power games, of violence, of judgement and shame.  Sex is a powerful indicator of the state of play between man and woman*.  At the micro level sex is one of the first things to be sacrificed within a relationship that is not flourishing.  At the macro level It shows us, through common attitudes and prejudices, social convention and quality of conversation whether or not, as men and women we are engaging with ourselves and each other with the full joy, power and creativity of which we are, each and every one of us, capable.

My choice now is to direct my energy, my skills, my passion and commitment to making the world a sexier place.  A sexier place with boats.

* A major aspect of my interest in sex is in the broader play between masculine and feminine in individuals, in relationships, in business, in government, in communities.  My own experience and insights are those of a heterosexual woman, and much of my language and focus will reflect that.  I believe this conversation is equally valid for gay as for straight people, and welcome input from those with other experiences and perspectives than my own.

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

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.

Pulled by the Energy of the Sea

My blog writing has been quiet recently, rather hampered by the fact that I’ve been living the dream for the last 5 weeks on board a lovely boat called Kipper, first sailing to Ireland and back, and then doing my RYA Day Skipper qualification. If you’re hearing something of a smug grin in there, spot on.

I have literally been pulled back to writing by the energy of the sea as I have just experienced it in Brighton on a visit to my Mum. Rarely have I seen the sea in this part of the world so exuberantly un-restrained and energetic. Surging white caps, foaming breakers, wheeling gulls, mistily seen through my quickly salted specs. The real power was in the pure rush of energy that surged through my body, blasting through my core, and connecting all of me to the full power of the wind and the waves as I stood and received the sea.

It took me back to words spoken by Einstein and posted by a friend today on facebook.

“Everything is energy and that’s all there is to it. Match the frequency of the reality you want and you cannot help but get that reality. It can be no other way. This is not philosophy. This is physics”

For the moment let’s leave aside my growing belief that Einstein, genius that he was, knew facebook was coming and devoted huge chunks of his time to thinking up sayings that we could scatter around our online world to inspire our ongoing efforts to have a life. This one really does it for me (again).

It has become clear to me that my future is intrinsically tied up with sailing and the sea. The Ireland trip was very much a choice to test my relationship with this wonderful activity. Am I a fair weather sailor, happy to have a couple of weeks on the Med in summer, or up for the full deal? Struggling out of a narrow bed for the 4 am watch, being thrown around a boat bashing through waves at a silly angle and laughing with my watch mate about buckets of water being flung over our heads at regular intervals showed me that I was up for all of it. I love the sea in all its shifting glory, I love the cleverness and beauty of boats, I love the team spirit of a crew and learning from skippers who have mastered this ancient skill.

Building a new business, with money tight, and nothing certain, it seems like a ridiculous luxury to be devoting scarce resources to sailing (you don’t even want to know the cost of sailing boots, although they are simply wonderful). But there is an energy there that meets mine and today demonstrated that without any doubt.

It is out on the water, and tied up on quaysides, that I find my bliss. Little bubbles of inspiration are rising that bring together the deep, intuitive sessions I would love to offer people to help them transition from one level of life, up to the next, and the opportunity to take the learning of those sessions into a new, potentially testing environment to see what comes up. Little seeds of possibilities. The challenge for me is to keep connecting with, and embodying the frequency of this thing I love by going to sea, and knowing that it is there that the myth I love to create comes alive.