Sailing for a Purpose

The wind would be coming from the southeast all weekend. Good sailing wind: more than 10mph, but less than 20mph. The tides were mostly ebbing during the day, trying to suck a boat south, conflicting with a downwind run heading north. Julie and I had four days to have a sailing adventure.

We set out at 8AM on Friday morning, attempting to ride as much slack water as possible before the ebb tide would rob our progress. I intended to sail northwest from Anacortes to Obstruction Pass, motor south to Lopez Pass, then sail northeast, back to Anacortes. This plan would let me maximize the amount of downwind sailing and give us many options for protected anchorages along the way.

As we left the dock the wind was light, but building with gusts. This time of year I leave port with the first reef set in my mainsail, and choose which jib sheet to use based on the typically gusty weather. The calm halcyon days of winter are growing shorter every year, and the confused, gusty winds of early spring are ahead of us now.

Controlled Jibe

Jibe, Ho!

I put up my working jib first, but was over-canvased with the quickly building wind. The first few miles were rough until we passed Saddlebag Island. I dropped the jib and sailed under reefed main alone while we ate breakfast. Then I raised the 50% storm jib and struck a good balance between speed and comfort.

Lately I’ve been contemplating the meaning of purpose. I have more leisure time now than I’ve ever had as an adult. What is the best way for me to spend my time? And why?

Existentialism showed me that it’s up to the individual to choose their purpose; that we have both the freedom and responsibility to create our own lives. At times my secular understanding conflicts with the sense of synchronisity I experience in my travels. The sense of destiny and a spirit that moves through all things.

I’ve got no shortage of paid work. I’ve also been dedicating a lot of free time to an open source project. When I’m spending a lot of time at the dock, concerning myself with modern problems, I begin to convince myself that I should spend more time writing and programming at the expense of sailing.

When I’m out on the boat or hiking some remote island I feel such peace, such violent serenity, that thoughts of pursuing money or even social good seems laughably unimportant. At those times I am there, in the now. I am one with the land, the water, and the creatures. The islands are my home and their cost is time, not money.

Spencer Spit Mooring

Solace tied to a mooring ball at Spencer Spit State Park

I’m carefully straddling two worlds. At times it feels like a fault line, threatening to rip me in half. At others, a line in the sand; arbitrarily drawn and easily moved.

I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t know what my ‘purpose’ is. But I’m giving myself this year to contemplate it. I’m actively seeking to refrain from obligations and to let life unfold, to let the universe point me in the right direction, or at least to take the time to let my subconscious mind reveal my true desires.

Comfortably canvased, we continued to sail to a private island I know of. The owners are never there in the winter and the dock is well protected from the weather. Hey, what good is being a sailor if you can’t act like a pirate every now and then? We had a lovely, comfortable evening tied to the disused dock.

Packing the Jim

Dropping and packing up the storm jib.

The next morning was the big weather day. The forecast indicated that winds would steadily build throughout the day to peak at an average of 20mph. The NOAA forecast was even more dire, with gusts past 40mph. We sailed south and into the mouth of Obstruction Pass. I had the same sail configuration as the day before and by the time we got to the Pass, I had both sheets wide open and luffing on a beam reach, catching as little wind as possible. Solace was skipping across the water from the violent blasts of air.

The wind naturally died down as we went through the Pass, but it was there to greet us again on the other side. Inside the protection of the San Juan Islands, the fetch was significantly reduced, but we still rode a strong wind all the way up East Sound to Rosario Resort marina on Orcas Island. We tied up to the dock and checked in. As we soaked in the hot tubs, the storm outside beat itself impotently against the windows. Even at the dock, behind the protection of a breakwater, my boat tugged on its mooring lines and bounced from the angry surf rolling in. We were incredibly satisfied with our decision to pay for moorage that night and not be stuck out in the surprise squall.

As we lounged, I caught up on a little reading and ran across this article by Tom Allen. The entire article is enlightening, but this quote really resonated with my psyche:

“The best definition of success I’ve found in all my travels is getting to a place of peace, contentment and acceptance of the way things are, rather than frantically striving for something different and better. That’s not to say the world doesn’t need changing, because it surely does, but it’s easier to change what’s outside when you’re not being guilt-tripped to improve what’s inside.”

He then went on to describe how he schedules his five hour work day. How he starts at 5AM, busts it out, and then gets on with living.

Boat Snooze

Julie catching a snooze at Rosario Resort.

“This is it!”, I thought. This is almost exactly the formula that I’m looking for. I’m an early bird like him. I’ve always believed that a four to five hour work day is the most optimal. I love the way he strikes an even balance between productivity and everything else in life; keeping his focus on contentment and spontaneity.

We woke the next day to a fog and a steady drizzle. By 10am though, a stiff 15-20 mph wind was blowing up East Sound from the south. We raised the sail and killed the engine as soon as we left Rosario Resort marina. For the next four hours we beat into the wind, zig-zagging our way south to Spencer Spit State Park. Here it is, mid-February, and my State Park Moorage Pass has already paid for itself!

The wind was steady and gusty, creating an uncomfortable chop in the sound between Orcas and Lopez. Solace would barely chug along at 2mph near shore but would zing across the water at 7mph, on the verge of being over canvased in the middle with unobstructed wind. I used the same sail configuration as the last two days: one reef in the main and the 50% storm jib flying. Back and forth, back and forth, we beat into the wind. No rain. We were the only sailboat flying our sheets and braving the mid-February weather.

Rosario Resort Dock

Solace docked up at Rosario Resort marina.

As we sailed, during the calm moments, I thought more about this conundrum of productivity and leisure time:

Like most Americans, I was born into a culture of more. Make more money. Get a better car. Looking for purpose? Get a degree. Join Peace Corp. Join the military. Start a family. Start a business. Take risks. Strive for that promotion. Climb that ladder. Do more. Be more. Strive for more.

These aren’t ideals that were taught to me explicitly. I learned them by watching my parents and extended family, my friends, and the mass media. That’s what makes it a culture. I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with this culture. It’s largely responsible for climate change, but evolutionarily it’s served us well up to this point in history. It’s all I’ve ever known in my adult life, and I’ve embraced that culture to achieve all that I have today.

Sand Carving

Julie carves a message into the sandy cliff side near Spencer Spit.

But I’ve reached a new stage in my life. I’ve gone from more to enough. I easily live below my meager income of $1400 per month. I even mange to pay for repairs to the boat and throw a couple hundred dollars into savings each month. I accomplish this all by working part time. I have enough. I have more than enough.

But what do I do with enough? This is so much different than the world view I was raised with. This, dear reader, is the very definition of an existential crisis. And again, taking a nod from Existentialism, I have to choose my purpose. There is no good or bad, there is only choice.

When out sailing, it’s my habit to check the weather three times a day. The forecast for our final day predicted 15mph winds from the southeast. NOAA forecasted heavy winds from the west, and a small craft advisory after 10AM. When the weather forecasts are so opposed so close to the predicted weather window, you can be sure the wind is going to be crazy. They’re probably both right and the wind is going to come from every direction in gusty, confused bursts. This is a hard won lesson I’ve learned over the years.

IMG_7805We woke up early to the same calm, steady, heavy morning drizzle of the last two days. I wasted no time in preparing the boat. We motored home and got back to the dock before 10AM. By 11AM all hell was breaking loose and I patted myself on the back for motoring back early in the calm rain.

All in all, an excellent weekend. I read the weather and tides correctly. I planned our anchorages accordingly. We sailed almost the entire way, running the motor for little more than an hour before that final day. And most importantly, we had fun.

And so with that, I conclude that perhaps Tom Allen has the right idea: I will bust out my work day for four to five hours each early morning and then get on with the business of life. I like getting ahead financially. I also enjoy my free time and look to minimize the time spent ‘earning a living’. There is no good or bad. I simply have to choose every day how to live and support my life.

Perhaps the world view of enough is to combine the struggles of maintaining life with sustaining an attitude of contentment; to straddle those two worlds with as much poise and grace as one can muster.

Related posts:

Food, Voluntary Simplicity, and Happiness
Degreasing an Engine Compartment
Drift Fishing For Salmon, Lingcod, and Kelp Greenling
12 Responses to “Sailing for a Purpose”
  1. jt says:

    I like the way you are thinking. It’s a great challenge, what do you do when you feel you have enough? Where do you find your purpose then? Many, maybe most, people never get to that point and can’t let go of a scarcity mindset. As you said, it’s baked into our culture to never feel satisfied. If you are satisfied and content you must be a slacker, right?

    For me, the answer has been a focus on family, experiences and learning. Trying to become more compassionate and wise. It’s an evolution and I think it’s a different journey for everyone.

    • Chris says:

      You definitely grasped the point of the article. I totally agree with you. And I also agree that it’s an evolution that many people are going through, and will go through in the future. The economics of scarcity is breaking down, and at all levels of our society, we have to deal with the culture shock.

  2. kyle p says:

    Yeah dude! Been following your writing from the snow covered Rockies! Can’t wait to get back and do some buddy boating with ya! Keep the costs low and the living pure and simple!

  3. Kevin says:

    Very cool, I’m enjoying your journey, mental, financial, and spiritual. We will be spending our summer in the San Juan’s and our time will not be complete without finding you.
    Until then, safe journeys!

    • Chris says:

      Quite right! I’m looking forward to rendezvousing with you two too. I’ve likewise been enjoying your blog and journey. Be sure to drop me a line when you’re heading up into the area.

  4. Tom says:

    Having thiught some about you from meeting you, I did think that with either summer northerlies or winter southerlies, a quick trip from anacortes to the islands has wind in the beam both ways. That is sweet for sure and Islands at Lopes Pass sure are enchanting. I find it is often hard to sail a cross the south end of Orcas, especially just east of the Landing.

    Fair winds!

    • Chris says:

      That’s very true. The wind does funny things when sailing to the Ferry Landing on Orcas, weather you’re approaching from east or west. The land masses and wind are typically at right angles to one another and the wind gets confused. Rosario Straight can be a nasty piece of water, but the wind and currents typically run in a north/south direction which makes for a great beam reach going east/west.

  5. Gary says:

    Chris, Wise words indeed. You are really moving toward a modern day Thoreau philosophy and it looks good on ya’. Please keep writing. And drop me a line if you get up to Bellingham, I’ll treat you to a local brewskie. Gary

    BTW, my boat is featured in your ” Readers Boats “. Solstice. Yes, a power boat. But I did build her myself as an expression of my own self reliance. She’s a Sam Devlin design, built by me and kept at Squalicum Harbor. Love for you to have a look.

  6. Mike says:

    You’re not living in two worlds, you’re living on the boundary. In the boundary zone there are a greater number of degrees of freedom. I’m too far from the water to have such a degree of freedom as to go sailing for a few days.

  7. Good on ya, Chris! It looks like you’re finding that sweet spot for yourself. It’s been fun following along your journey. 🙂

    Katie and Mark

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