A week before Christmas 2016, I invited some friends for a week-long round-trip on my catamaran from Miami to Key Largo. Our promisingly casual cruise down south in Biscayne Bay presented me with a few miscalculations and some unexpectant challenges. These pre-holiday presents actually reminded me of what I needed; not what I wanted.
Just north of Key Largo's Palto Alto Key and a mile east of the southern part of Biscayne Bay Mystique ran aground twice in Florida's shoal-filled Broad Creek. These two mishaps followed another grounding two days earlier in Tarpon Basin, Key Largo. And without the help of Mike and Brian from TowboatUS, Mystique and her crew might still be stuck there.
Staying awake, aware and away from running aground can test any sailor. A depth meter, charts and GPS can not keep a vessel off any shoal. Even a vigilant eye coupled with modern technology does not always guarantee an unimpeded passage. Assessing current, shoal, tide, boat speed, depth and distance often beg for more than nautical understanding. Experience, judgement, steering skills, timing, agility play as much a vital role as one's intuition, instincts, emotions, sobriety and polarized binoculars or sunglasses. While time and moon may "turn the tide" and while wind, waves and current may often "spin the wheel" or "flutter the rudders", it is one's steady mind and hand upon a helm that steers the pleasure vessel. Once beached, the tide ties any vessel to a shore. It's a sure knowing that all sailors and crew either await an ebb, flow or a tow.
Even though a false reassurance has rarely led me astray in the past with my cat's draft only 3' 8", I must confess I have occasionally drifted overconfident with updated charts. She determines breadth and depth. Revised depths on a chart are as reliable as the last storm surge. Revised depths mean little to Nature. She awaits no none. Her intentions proceed without human approval. We watch and await her diversity and transitions. In many ways, she is in charge. When we forget to respect her forces, we pay a price.
Yet, the few reminders of whenever I strayed too far off course, some of these shallow situations have also snagged my disposition or scuttled my spirit, not to mention my crews' and our cruise. No matter what the external or internal factors, whenever my boat bottom caresses sea bottom, I question my own seamanship. Shallow water can delay everyone's day. A half century of sailing matters little with a high and wry hull awaiting a lift. Sailing goes nowhere fast without one's boat afloat.
The reality that my boat had run amuck three times in three days became a wake-up call. Since my solo sail, something had changed. My sea consciousness was somehow different. Maybe I was the one really stuck. Maybe I had been on land too long; could I be simply out of practice?
Once again I had not accurately read the human signs directly and correctly ahead. It is not a boat's draft that runs afoul; it is our human perspective, choices and their consequences that founder our flow. The way I view a grounding - it is not the craft that veered off course; it's the other way around - the boat has a people problem. It needs a whisperer like Buck to right the ship's compass.
After I steered my 40' catamaran into two muddy shoals, a seemingly unrelated childhood memory floated to the surface of my thoughts. After I assessed our boat's situation, this old image somehow triggered my imagination. Even as I write now, my mind recalls and recollects an innocent time 57 Christmases ago. At first, I did not understand the connection between the two. Then gradually the contrast between my 9th year and my 66th year perspectives not only clarified the connection, but moved me to clarity. The metaphor eventually appeared as clear as day. I had misread the signs.
At first, the three channel markers as seen above appeared to mislead me, but then I gradually realized I had misled myself. My GPS and chart had suggested I bear right, but I doubted their veracity. The real time visuals told me to stay left. Even my ego's impulsivity spoke: "The markers were in the wrong location"; "This was another setup"; "I had been trapped by the stakes"; "The markers were placed intentionally to catch foolish wayfarers daring to thread the needle between these two Floridian keys." Then my ego reverted to playing Devil's advocate, asking me "Why did you not trust your instincts?"; "How could you fall for such an obvious ploy?"; "You have let everyone down."and "You call yourself a sailor."
I gradually "got a hold of myself" and turned off my internal chatterbox engine. But before reality set in, a childhood memory somehow drifted into my thoughts.
In 1959 when I was nine years old, I hung out two stockings on a fireplace mantle awaiting Santa's arrival. At that age I figured why not two full stockings. Why one when two certainly nets more. When morning finally arrived, I raced downstairs eagerly anticipating two overflowing socks. Aghast, I noticed I got what I asked for, but not what I expected. One stocking was stuffed with treats and goodies while the other bulged with black coal chunks. What? How could this be? Dumbfounded, I then guessed this suspect Mr. S. Claus had made a mistake. My last year's attitude, behavior and efforts had been exemplary. I had convinced myself my behavior was neither mischievous, dishonest or uncooperative. "Ah", I surmised, "Santa must have mistakened me for another." But as hard as I tried I could not seem to grasp why St. Nick's would leave coal rather than gifts.
At my ninth Xmas skepticism was leading me into some shallows. I needed an honest answer to Santa's authenticity so I conducted an informal investigation of sorts with my three younger brothers ages 8, 6 and 2 in tow (crew?). I felt confident I could set the record straight about this bearded Claus character once and for all. So my crew and I left a glass of milk and chocolate chip cookie on a plate on a stool near our chimney. And for good measure we added a pad of paper and pen for Santa to leave us a note. Surely, if he were real, he would have time to thank us. The next morning an empty glass and a cookie crumb remained alongside a note and signature. Though the penmanship reminded me of my grandmother's, the evidence felt inconclusive.
At the time I recall my parents played perplexed and innocent though I remember a few furtive parental smiles and snickers slipping their lips. Soon some subtlety suggestions surfaced that maybe Santa knew more than we gave him credit for and possibly I been naughtier than I imagined. These hints did not go unheeded, but in my own innocent and limited perspective, I still saw myself as dutiful, obedient and cooperative...not just for more than an entire year have you, but for my entire near decade of lifetime.
My two filled stockings made me take stock of myself. They gradually helped me realize I had been both selfish and greedy. I wasn't the "golden boy goody-two-shoes" I thought I had been. In fact, the more I examined my impulses, the more I realized Santa knew more about me than I ever gave him credit for.
As I stretched my thoughts around these groundings, the recollection of my adolescent Christmas story began to make perfect sense. Those youthful events were the first times I became aware of misreading myself and the worlds I was stuck in. It felt like the first time I ever really read my internal signs.
Reading oneself accurately often takes a lifetime. Feelings, emotions, instincts, reaction, reflections, impressions, thoughts and understanding float past and often sink into a muddy and muddled psyche. It has taken me over half a century to realize I have been stuck many times and many ways. But what excites me at this stage of my life is that sailing struggles often help me comprehend life better. Life can be simple as facing each obstacle as an optimistic opportunity.
As I reflect on my 1959 Christmas awaking 57 years later, I notice how stuck I once was in my past:
- I must have thought I could outwit Santa.
- I must have believed debunking Santa would benefit me.
- I saw honesty as helpful.
- I thought deception was dishonesty.
- I was good, but that was my label.
- I gave myself much more credit than I deserved.
- I was ignorant about being self-centered, selfish and greedy.
- As the oldest brother, I felt special, entitled...maybe arrogant.
- I thought I was more deserving than any other family member.
- I believed getting was more important than giving.
- I had yet to understand the meaning of gift-giving.
- I thought being honest was what life was all about.
- I was naive; I believed I could get what I wanted.
- I did not know reality was imaginary.
- I did not know wanting more gives less of what we all crave.
- I had yet to truly learn the difference between naughty and nice.
- I had yet not realized how impatience and misperception lead me aground.
- I had yet not realized how my actions could affect an entire crew.
So while this blog may appear an odd, even abstract towline between three recent sailboat groundings and a Santa tale, it feels somehow timely and relevant during this holiday season. There is, after all, a child within all of us. So I suspect Mystique's other three crew may have felt some distant tug pull at their childhood while we were stuck and stranded. Maybe even one or two remembered being grounded. Maybe even a metaphoric mud. Not necessarily on a boat off the coast of Florida in mid-December, but an incident where one felt out of control, helpless, alone, isolated or even just uncomfortable. We have all had them.
If my life force is any relevance, my guess is all of us experienced reactions, feelings and thoughts where our proverbial craft stopped and delayed its forward progress. After all, these associations live within all of us. We all know what it feels like to have all been trapped or waylaid from our destination.
Jen, one of our foursome, reminded us all that groundings are metaphorical. Maybe they remind us of being stuck in other areas of our life as much as they do of how to get unstuck from immobility. Maybe they remind us of how to become more grounded. Or maybe they act as a reminder about how our human thoughts become stuck such as one mindset. Maybe they simply remind us how costly getting stuck can be.
Maybe connecting 3 groundings to a child's Xmas memory was about my waking up. Maybe it was about my desire our 6 days to be filled with joy. something, but not too much. And my wanting something did not mean it would materialize as I had expected. And if I wanted more than my share, I would receive what I deserved. Getting what I deserved. Not being told any truths. Being mislead once again to continue the fantasy. Are we nine? We certainly have a great deal more growing up to do before we learn our lesson. I learned not to be greedy and selfish, but I didn't learn another about the true meaning of the holiday. Maybe if I could have learned the lesson of giving rather than receiving, I would have had the best Xmas ever.
I actually love life's assistance. She helps me push my pause button. She reminds me when I fall unaware or need some stark reminders. Her multilayered messages may initially appear as muddy questions, but with patience and persistance her meaningfulness often surfaces. To those sea beds that ground you for some time that remind you - a message and meaning is awaiting. Stuck or Unstuck? Delayed or Delighted? Imprisoned or Impassioned? Sped Up or Slowed Down? Wanting or Waiting? Wrecked or Reminded? Reminded or Rewinded?
To any of you sandbar-tenders or seaside-shoalers, happy time on and off!
BTW - December 25, 2016 is America's 240th Christmas. 'Tis time again to live my lessons of the past.