It’s actually called eustress. Have you heard that term? I first saw it in Timothy Ferris’s Four Hour Work Week. Definitely an exciting, kick-in-the-keister read if you’re looking for a book to make you rethink and reform your work habits. But, I remember seeing the word for the first time and having one of those Aha! moments. Ferris opens the book with a scene where he is preparing to perform in an international tango contest. He is nervous, anxious, scared, excited—many of the same emotions we feel when we are stressed—but he is feeling them for a good reason. Because he is doing something exciting and challenging. I remember stopping mid-sentence on the word, snapping my head up and laying the book in my lap. Eustress. What a great concept. It is a form of stress, in that it is exciting, it makes you a little frightened, a little anxious or worried, but it’s good for you. It’s invigorating and healthy. That is what I am just now learning cruising can be. Good stress.
Actually a recent article in Cruising World (Good ole’ Fatty, does it again) inspired me to write this post when one particular line stuck me like a harpoon. Cap’n Fatty was quoting a female sailor who had, like his daughter, grown up on boats, but who was just now starting to learn how to actually handle, maintain and sail her own boat and she said: “I felt like there were a thousand decisions to make.”
That is exactly how it sometimes feels when you’re living aboard cruising. Deciding which weather window to seize, which route to take, which port to go to, when to reef, when to fuel up, where to provision, when to make repairs and how best to make them, where to moor, when to leave. Then it starts all over again: which weather window to seize, which route to take, which port to go to … On and on. It can sometimes feel overwhelming making all of the decisions necessary to keep a boat and crew in good running shape and actually cruising her around different parts of the world.
A big part of mine and Phillip’s decision for me to go for my Captain’s License this summer was the goal that I not only become a better sailor and boat owner, but also a much more helpful mate and partner for Phillip.
Since we bought our boat in 2013, I will be the first to admit, I have been lazy. I have. I have relied on Phillip to handle the helm 100% of the time, to make all of the decisions about when we would leave, where we would go, which ports we would stop in. All of the navigation and weather decisions I left to Phillip. He would occasionally run things by me, probably more as a matter of courtesy than anything, because I didn’t have the knowledge to actually help him make the right decision. (Although we all know there is no “right” one, only that an un-made one is the wrong one.) But, this last trip in April/May, when we brought our boat back up from the Keys, I was infinitely more involved and I felt just like that gal said. Like there were a thousand decisions to make.
Phillip and I watched the wind graphs and radar the days before leaving and decided when was the best time (both which day and what time of day to ensure arrival at the next port in daylight) to leave. I pulled the boat off the dock. You all remember that harrowing, heart-pounding moment. *gulp*
Together, we planned the route together from Stock Island across the Gulf Stream, into San Carlos Bay to Ft. Myers Beach. I was at the helm when we snagged a mooring ball there. While at Ft. Myers, we assessed again the movement in our rudder post as we had noticed still some slight movement starboard to port in the rudder during our passage up and Phillip and I talked at length about the best temporary fix as well as the possible permanent fixes once we got home to Pensacola.
After Ft. Myers, we decided our next stop would be Cayo Costa, a national state park north of Captiva and a place we had never been to before. We had been told by fellow cruising friends that it was a beautiful, secluded spot but a little “tight” coming in. Meaning, we would have to navigate carefully around the shoals to find enough depth, a decision which also required us to watch the tides and try our best to time our entry during high tide. Decisions, decisions.
I was at the helm when we pulled into Pelican Pass and I recall how stressful it was, watching the depth gage and trying to steer my way toward depth without knowing whether the shoal was on my port or starboard, or dead ahead, much less which way to turn to find deeper water. I think we got down to 6.5 at one point and I found that’s not a number I like to see on the B&G. And, the big lesson learned there: If you pick your way into an anchorage, lay down a freaking track on the B&G so you can pick your way back. We ended up getting into Cayo Costa just fine but it was a mutual half-educated, half-guessing game and it was stressful. But the good kind.
And well worth it.
And, the most important part was, Phillip and I were actually now doing it together. I suddenly saw all of the work and thought and research and worry he put into all of the passages and trips we had taken before while I did not. Sure, I’m a hard worker and will help with any sort of manual labor aspect of cruising, but it instantly dawned on me how little mental effort I had been putting in while Phillip had taken on the lion’s share. For the first time I appreciated all that he had been doing. And, Phillip, for the first time, appreciated having a true, equal partner. Someone to help carry the mental load, to talk through all of the variables and possible outcomes and help make those thousand decisions.
We need challenges in our life. Things that frustrate us, cause adversity that we must overcome and make us feel alive. Captain Yannick, in fact, chose to bear down the very difficult path of buying, maintaining and sailing a boat across the Atlantic Ocean so he and his family could move aboard and go cruising as a means of keeping himself occupied and stimulated after retiring as a Navy fighter pilot. While I’m not sure cruising can ever be quite as stressful as re-fueling a fighter jet mid-air, I do believe there were moments during our Atlantic crossing that pushed Yannick to his mental limits.
But it is much more rewarding to worry and stress about something you are passionate about and love to do, rather than something you don’t like or even dread doing. I remember worrying myself sick over motion deadlines, asking the wrong questions in deposition, disappointing my partners. I was an absolute stress bomb. Twenty pounds heavier, out of shape and shoved into pantyhose every day to go sit and work and worry in front of a computer all day. Bad stress will kill you!
Cruising stress, good stress, I can assure you, will not but you should fully expect to feel worried, scared, anxious and nervous at times. I guarantee you will feel very much alive.
And while I do still worry sometimes about disappointing my partner, now Phillip. It seems as long as I keep trying, I never do. We now make all of our cruising decisions and mistakes, together.