Is Fear Keeping You Away From Your Cruising Future?

Is Fear Keeping You Away From Your Cruising Future?

If you are letting fear keep you from your dreams of cruising, you’re missing out on an opportunity to leverage it for better performance.

I spend a lot of time around boats and their humans. There seems to be a recurring theme that I’ve noticed in the aspiring cruiser set that I’d like to try and address: FEAR.

If you’re thinking of buying a boat and sailing off this rock, you may be feeling a sense of unease about making a mistake – be it buying the wrong boat, messing up a repair, or even running aground or damaging your boat during docking. So many things people are afraid of!

The reality is, we are conditioned for fear. It’s programmed into our DNA by our little lizard brains to keep us alive.

But, this fear of failure keeps so many of us on the sidelines of our lives. As someone that has essentially balled up my life and thrown it away to live on a boat and ultimately go cruising, I’d like to share how I overcome my fears and some of the lessons I continue to benefit from in the process.

The sympathetic nervous system is your friend!

The sympathetic nervous system commonly referred to as the “fight-or-flight” response is especially interesting and I leverage it every time I take my boat out.

Did you know, for example, that during a stress response, your sympathetic nervous system will:

  • Deliver a shot of adrenaline to your body
  • Heighten your senses
  • Raise your blood pressure so you get extra oxygen to all your muscles?

Cool, right?

Because I know this intellectually, I do my best to welcome the stress response instead of letting it freak me out and make me throw the helm at my husband. I know that because I am nervous, my body’s systems are colluding to make me extra sharp, focused, and strong.

The fear response is not my enemy, and I don’t let the physical discomfort of it scare me off the captain’s chair. I breathe through it and talk through the game plan, so I know what I’m doing before I do it. Then…I do the thing.

I’ve failed (well, I consider it “failed” because I came into contact with other things, but very little in the way of damage) twice. Both times were because I didn’t understand how my boat worked, and both times I got a little more educated about how my boat responds, what it takes to move her heavy hull, and how her systems work. I don’t give up driving the boat because I made a mistake or two.

FEAR, the acronym

There’s a couple of little memes that I see floating around that set my teeth on edge. FEAR: “Face Everything And Rise!” Or “False Evidence Appearing Real!”. These acronyms have a sort of “ta-da!” quality to them; skipping over the hard part, bypassing the racing heartbeat, the insecurity, and the inexperienced bits, and somehow nailing the landing. These ideas are too simplistic for my taste and don’t integrate the reality of courage or of the multiple attempts at success most of us make to get there. (Wherever there is.)

I like this better: Fail. Evaluate. Adjust. Reengage. This definition-by-acronym integrates failure and makes failure the first step in a realistic system to overcome fear through experience. It gives you the latitude to screw up, learn, change your methods, and start over. This is how we become competent sailors – by leveraging our mistakes, not dodging them. It gives us the room we need to take our first steps into the unknown. Not through a simple acceptance that failures will happen, but welcoming them as an integral part of the process. Certainly not experiences to be avoided at all costs.

Now, of course, be sensible. I’m not advocating for a devil-may-care attitude. But, I am advocating for a more mentoring type of relationship to new experiences. Remember that experts did not roll out of the crib that way. They learned by making lots of mistakes and correcting course.

FEAR, the Acronym Part 2

F-it. Employ. A. Resource.

If you know you are out of your depth, get a tutor. Ask a more experienced friend to talk you through it. Hire a pro. When we recently moved our boat and were going to have to dock stern-to, I was intimidated by the task, so I asked my friend, Andy Lee, captain and circumnavigator, to advise. Though he claims he didn’t even need to be there, his calm presence made me feel confident at the helm, and the extra set of hands and eyes made the whole exercise anti-climactic. Which is exactly what you want in a docking experience. (For the record, not one of the times I banged into something!)

Phone a friend. Ask the audience. Poll your cruising and boating Facebook groups. Buy a book on provisioning. Get a cruising coach. *Gasp* read the manual!

You live in the future, where every thought humanity ever had about anything is accessible with a few keystrokes. I, for one, am tired of learning everything the hard way. I’d say that’s a good marker for reaching maturity. I’ve quit letting my ego get me into trouble by acting like a know-it-all that in fact knows nothing. It’s really okay to learn from other people’s experiences and get their help.

Fear can be our ally if we embrace it – if we remember that it is here to assist us. If we can change our perception around fear, we can become better sailors and safer boaters.

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