First World Problems

I’m very lucky in life, I’ve been fortunate in many ways and, unlike a large number of people in the World, I have little to worry about and those things that I do worry about are more often than not ‘first world problems’.  So as I plan this trip and venture off, I will no doubt come up against challenges, frustrations and difficulties but I must keep them in context; after all I am planning to pause work aged 35, take 3 years off, and sail around this big, blue-water-clad boulder floating in space.  Any issues associated with this are clearly surmountable… but I am human, if you’re reading this, probably you are too, so regardless of the beauty and fortune of one’s position the human elements are bound to come through.

For those who follow Sailing la Vagabond (…) you may have seen their video on the darker side of the cruising life.  Filmed during their crossing of the Pacific Ocean they mention the emotional issues that they, as a small crew of three, faced on a journey that took them so far off shore that their closest land was the ocean floor, 8 miles down; their closest neighbours were the astronauts on the International Space Station, 22 miles up; and their closest medical response was at least 2 days’ away.

So these sailors have their own yacht, they sail wherever the wind takes them, they dive and spear-fish for supper, and frequent havens of golden beaches lapped with clear blue water – so what are they complaining about?  It’s easy to see a video like theirs in a critical way but we shouldn’t.  Regardless of whether we are on an island paradise with lush flora, friendly fauna and plenty of food, or the slums of Delhi, we are emotional creatures and when presented with continual pressure and an inability to escape, we all begin to fray.

I’ve experienced a number of situations where pressure has been a constant component of the role; whether this be during a year’s Army Officer training at Sandhurst, working in a high-tempo Battlegroup Headquarters on operations, or being 1st mate on an Atlantic crossing together with 13 strangers, each situation affected those present in different ways.  As people, we deal with stresses differently and of those three examples the Atlantic crossing (even though a voluntary trip) was no less difficult.  The isolation from the ‘normals’ of life was actually more pronounced in the Atlantic.  Being without any external communication or even the option of walking away from a tense situation creates a feeling of enclosure that when coupled with tiredness, leads to heightened emotional states.

The studies on the effects of long periods at sea, especial single handed, make for somewhat unsettling reading.  Andrew Evans’ “Thoughts, Tips, Techniques & Tactics for Single Handed Sailing” (link) opens with a fascinating chapter on these effects, digesting many articles and reviews and forming interesting opinions and ideas. Sailing la Vagabond’s openness to showing how they were affected is also excellent to see.  Another case is that of Mike Perham, who during his non-stop single-handed circumnavigation experienced similar issues when faced with the fearful task of leaving his yacht mid-ocean to fix a problem with his rudder (…).  Perhaps it is the very exposure to these emotions that makes the achievement of reaching one’s destination all the greater.

As I stepped ashore in Portsmouth after three weeks at sea I said to myself that I’d never do an ocean crossing again…  safe to say that I was looking for opportunities to cross other oceans within a matter of weeks.

Fair winds,
John and Coralee

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