Learning to Sea
Stretching and Strengthening Limits
Sailing the North Atlantic
Riding a Reindeer
During the 24-day 3,000 mile sailing adventure, I shared nothing about my eye "accident" from 18 months earlier. None of the other seven crew members on board knew about my limited vision. Or at least, never let on. None certainly inquired or mentioned anything. Maybe they knew somehow. It didn't matter.
When I eventually wrote about our exploits in my blog in 2013, I didn't mentioned anything about my injury in writing in any of my 30 blog posts about the voyage. My injury didn't seem relevant until many years later when I realized it was missing from the story. Part of me just didn't want it to be a issue at the time of the trip or when I wrote about it many years later. Part of me knew that if it had been a issue back then, it might also have also been considered a concern. During our voyage, I didn't want my physical flaw to be any handicap. Maybe I was being selfish and not informing the skipper. Maybe I didn't see it as a limitation and didn't want others to view that way either. At the time I had no one to prove my mettle but me.
Before we set sail from Newport, I knew being a crew member on Reindeer would be a means to an end. My main intent was to prove to myself I had not lost myself. In my thinking at the time, this seafaring challenge would prove to nobody, but myself that I had at least partly recovered from my accident. That is if we completed the trip. At the time all I truly wanted was my 26 year-old self to return. While intellectually I knew that was impossible, emotionally I was still healing and in some denial. Sailing across the Atlantic would give me a true measuring stick who I was so I thought.
At the time I thought no one else need know my challenges. They had their own flaws and limitations, and this transatlantic trip wasn't really about my personal aims. But crew goals and personal ones are united in common efforts. While I also knew my psychological trauma hadn't disappeared by this time, I knew my physical health had returned. So in many ways in my mind, I was fit to face a few challenging adversities ala an Outward Bound experience. My healing and recovery were tied to my relearning to sail again. And to accomplish that I knew I had to return to the sea to see better. I never have liked drawing attention to myself. Humility always felt the best part of valor.
Of course, I was still growing accustomed to limited depth perception. I still bumped into Reindeer's crew members, salon table and mast throughout the voyage partly because stability is challenging with 30-40 foot waves, 50-70 knot winds and exhaustion. They may have more responsible for some of those occurrences. My reduced depth perception was not the only factor in my search for physical and mental stability.
Going on watch, I took lookout duty as a personal challenge. Some competitive juices in me wanted to be the first to sight anything significant. I remember spending hour upon hour watching the horizon for ships, icebergs, birds, floating debris. "Land-ho" is always a welcomed announcement from any crew at sea for an extended period. Maybe I felt I had to prove to myself that one eye was as just as good as two....maybe better!
As it turned out my eagle eye did sight something directly ahead off Norway's coast that could have been quite damaged Reindeer if I hadn't noticed it.
My greatest healing came when the day-to-day struggles and endurance made me forget myself. We were a crew that helped each other any way we could. We worked together and made teamwork work. In many ways I discovered a more selfless me. What was great was my eye loss didn't matter as much any more. While sea time sometimes felt endless, the sea and our boat issues helped my mind move away from my personal matters. What mattered was not only our survival against the elements, but also our pushing forward toward destinations. We were not racing or on some clock. We weren't individuals competing or crossing the ocean separately, but a group of men sailing together. As cliches sound sound trite, they do sum up the truth. Our joint efforts were all about the journey. And by the time Reindeer arrived in Norway, 60 miles north of the Arctic Circle, I felt like a new person had been born..or reborn. I remember part of me didn't want to get off the boat even with a new crew soon arriving.
As it would turn out the second half of that summer of '76 where I hitched-hiked through Scandinavia and Northern Europe for a month would offer me additional mending as total strangers housed, fed and transported me across much of it. As I realized many years later, the incredible kindness and generosity of complete strangers had much to do with helping me cross my mental oceans.