First Time's the Charm
In a world growing smaller by the day, a seasoned circumnavigator finds that with the right mindset, the exotic is everywhere.
The round-the-world myth, which held me in its grip, stemmed from a time when there was hardly a sailor backed by any capital. Sterling Hayden, the Hollywood hero sailing aboard his ex-San Francisco pilot schooner Wanderer in Tahiti, thundered out sentences like “To be truly challenging, a voyage, like a life, must rest on a firm foundation of financial unrest.” The Hiscocks’ motto, carved into Wanderer III’s companionway, reads “Grab a chance and you won’t be sorry for a might-have-been.”
|The life of a long-distance voyager has many facets: enjoying the company of friends, pondering one's surroundings, the constant need to provision for the crew and care for the vessel, and reflecting on where one's been and what one's seen along the way.|
The boats were small, the sailable world large, the route usually in the tropics. The oceans were crossed without safety nets; in most remote areas, the knack for improvisation counted more than money. Three-quarters of the globe was relatively pristine ocean, a veritable rejuvenator, an unspoilt melting pot, not only for sea dogs and vagabonds but also for the couple from next door who’d succumbed to sailing wholeheartedly. As different as their reasons may have been, round-the-world sailors seemed a homogenous bunch, cloaked in the myth of independence. Such voyages didn’t draw the masses. Nobody counted the years they took; on the contrary, the longer the voyage, the greater the kudos. As a matter of fact, they were story collectors. And that was what I wanted to become. To me, such a circumnavigation required spunk and magic. Self-determination riding on my own planks; I couldn’t imagine it any other way.
But other ways exist today, and in many variations. Nowadays, a young person can quite easily fly somewhere and be fairly sure of finding work as crew on a large yacht. It’s a sunny life. With some luck, you’ll land on a boat that moves a lot. One earns a good living and soon gets accustomed to large dimensions. Many 20- and 30-year olds who feel the intense urge to go to sea that I had back then choose this lucrative path. If you then want to add a circumnavigation, you’ve seen much of it already.
It’s been many, many years since I’ve been to the tropical maritime hot spots of Tahiti, Tonga, or the Caribbean, so I haven’t needed to ask myself, “What am I doing here, on my own boat, among all these charter yachts?” But in other places, I’ve felt economic realities play a role in my own voyaging. Yachting infrastructure now spans the globe. It’s no longer a problem to get a mast flown around the world or to leave your boat safely somewhere. With easy GPS navigation and total connectedness via satphone and the Internet, one would think that global sailing would be as attractive as never before. Indeed it is—but as a part-time venture, not in its classic form.
This has come about because of a modern paradox. To be unconnected is totally unthinkable for anybody who grew up with modern communication technology. Modern sailors can no longer imagine it. Yet, precisely because you can stay connected with home, you—out cruising on the blue—are more likely to give in to the option to return home when the urge hits you. Precisely because you stay mentally connected with home, you return there physically more easily. Because the faraway immerses you less into its “now,” you connect less to its attractions. Because life aboard no longer demands privations, because sailing no longer equates with limiting yourself, it perhaps doesn’t require the same dedication—this profound
decision to go, to set off, to leave behind—that can’t but come with a tone of renunciation.