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The Zen of sailing is in savoring the quiet moments

2012 February 6

Isailed with a friend on his Something-or-Other 40 recently and it was an altogether pleasant day on the water. We weren't going anywhere in particular, tacked when the mood took us, talked when we felt like it, and kept our silence when it seemed right.

But when we returned to the dock, he turned into the Energizer bunny. Coiling lines, stashing cushions, getting the hose aboard to rinse away the salt water, all within minutes of hitting the dock.
"Hey," I said. "What's the hurry?"

"Oh, no hurry, really," he answered. "But what's the point of just sitting around on the boat?"
And I realized that is exactly the point.

It's about savoring an event just as you might linger over the last bite of a hot fudge sundae.

Another of my bad habits besides boats is cars, and many, many years ago as a car-crazy youngster, I happened to ride my bicycle past a house with a bright red Ferrari in the driveway. I stopped and tiptoed up to get a closer look at this fabulous creature just as the owner came out to clean the windshield. I froze but he saw my interest and casually said, "Hey, wanna go for a quick spin before I put her away?"
Well, duh!

We zoomed up a narrow canyon and, to this day, I remember the ripping sound of the exhaust, the wind in my face, and the surge of the car under fierce acceleration.
When we pulled back into his driveway, I started to get out but the man said to wait.

"Just sit here for a bit," he said. "This is almost the best time, remembering the drive, thinking about how you might have taken a curve differently, and just enjoying
the moment."

He was right, and it was almost a Zen-like peacefulness as I felt the supple leather, examined the chrome windshield trim and truly savored my wonderful fortune.

It was good advice that has been repeated by equally wise men other times in my life as well. When I was first taking flying lessons and after greasing an early attempt at landing, I was ready to jump out of the cockpit and, I don't know, perhaps roll on the grass in ecstasy. But my flying instructor said essentially the same thing as the Ferrari owner: "Hey, stay and savor the moment."

And so I did, sitting in the quiet cockpit while the engine pinged and popped as it cooled. I pulled my logbook from the flight bag, carefully noted the hours and made a brief notation that included the word "greased," and handed it over for him to initial. He smiled at my notation, now that I had actually landed an airplane a half dozen times. He held it for a moment as we sat in the gentle sun, and I had another Zen moment, appreciating the typical cockpit aromas of hot oil and vinyl and perhaps a little sweat from that greased landing.

I later moved into soaring and sailplanes, but now I was wiser and, after landing a single-seat glider, I would tilt my head back against the headrest, feel the soft breeze from the open canopy, smell the freshly mown grass of the field and, yes, that's right, savor the moment.

And that's the way it is, or should be, with sailing.

Planning a sail is all about the tingle of anticipation, wondering about the wind and the weather, thinking about the sails, deciding which of the many directions to head. It is the very essence of expectancy.
The pleasures of actually sailing have been the subject of books, but they are more the essence of immediacy. Wind, spray, sun, fun. It's all about the here and now, dealing with a sail that needs trimming, making a mental note to touch up a spot of varnish, bracing against the motion of the boat.

But the time after a sail is a special time, and too many people give it short shift. It doesn't matter whether you've crossed an ocean or spent Sunday on the bay, that time is never going to happen again and the afterward is when you celebrate and enjoy it. It is when you engrave it into your memory so you can draw it out at another time, remembering and enjoying the moment again.

Snow skiers even have a phrase for it, après ski, that describes the pleasures after a day on the slopes. It's come to mean hitting the pub while wearing your ski jacket and lift ticket to prove your mettle, but it is really about reliving the day.

I see too many sailors miss these moments that are so special. As a day of sailing winds down, they seem to think that returning to the slip marks the end of the book, when it's really just the closing of a chapter. As a youngster, I sailed with some adults aboard a converted 6-Meter and, after a day of racing, it was an enjoyable tradition that we would share some quiet time in the cockpit.
After the sails were packed and the winch handles put away, it was time to find a comfy spot in the cockpit. At first, I was in a rush to get to the yacht club to share the day's adventures and brag about our racing, but I soon realized that this was even better.

It was a moment, for lack of a better word, of bonding. Enjoying a quiet moment as the sun drifted down, laughing about the day or razzing someone good-naturedly about a klutzy moment. It was sharing the pleasure of a wonderful sport, and celebrating the moment.

It was about savoring every morsel.