Rational thought can be over-rated

May 2004

By Dodge Morgan

There is a surreal color to thoughts of sailing in the void of social contact. “Don’t say it, just do it.”

The sails feed each other on a close reach, fight each other on a hard beat and rob each other on a run. It is impossible to spend too much time in this space because time loses its boring cadence. Trimming is a visceral activity with about as much impact on results as doodles on a Chagall painting, or finger taps to Bruebeck music. I am pained to see sails not well set and blame the wind, then am inspired by the simple idea of a different set. The elements overwhelm. The boat magnificently blunders. The sails are only catalytic. All that is within reach is barely footnote, sort of like life itself, makes one break a laugh for those who know they are in control.

Space at sea is drawn in two clean dimensions, the nearly measurable advance of waves and the never measurable limits of a horizon that may end somewhere but really ends right back here. Waves are either chaotic or rhythmic, depending on one’s attitude at the time. I can watch waves endlessly. They create an improvised symphony of emotions, joy and frustration and wonder. It takes no effort or time, only a loosely hung mindset, to overlook the practical evidence of motion and flow into the spiritual state to marvel at the depth of human ignorance. Waves happily humble me. They remind me how few real answers I have to anything while demanding answers from me right now.

There is no sky like that seen at sea from a small boat. The sky is unencumbered, never the same if seen as the first time and always just like it once was if seen in memory. It is very close by and forever distant. Daylight can profile the nearby and darkness can shock one into the concept of endlessness. But the sky is a remote participant in the sailing act, quite unlike the intimacy of the waves.

Even the mundane chores aboard become tributaries to this weird and wide river of thought. Building a peanut butter, cheese and raisin sandwich is a mysterious event. Eating it is a religious one. Cleaning myself with a wet cloth has me noting how fascinating my body parts are. The feel of steel under my hand startles me. The sounds of wind and water deafen me. My imbalance on a heaving deck can be reasoned but only in defiance of Newton’s Law. I sense that there must be fixed and universal laws of nature I do not understand. What a relief.

I must sleep to escape the confusion. At sea sleep is always a shallow place, a soft song. I am deeply focused on motion and sound to evidence that all is well with the sails and for confidence they will warn me of change or danger. Two hours or less per session. And maybe I will awake with a more rational mind. What a sad fate.

Dodge Morgan broke all sorts of records when he single-handed American Promise around the world without stopping in 1985 and ’86. He lives on Snow Island in Harpswell, Maine.