Saturday, June 14, 2008


Photograph - Alden Smith ©

This is a recent photograph of the good ship Mariner. She is a 30 foot sloop. 24 feet on the waterline, 9 feet 8 inches beam and draws about 5 feet in cruising trim. She is constructed of two skins of heart kauri over one inch square stringers with a laminated backbone and many laminated frames. She can sleep four people but for any extended cruise 2 to 3 people is enough. I built her over a period of four years and launched her in 1979. I have been all around the coast of Northland in her and she has proved to be a fast and weatherly type.

Sailing is at the heart of what I love to do. It's not just the sailing itself which as an activity and sensation is to me poetry in motion, it is the associated peripheral things, which when gathered together make for a pleasing and enchanting whole.

To steer her up the coast hard on the wind, at the tiller hour after hour thinking only of the relationship of the angle of the genoa jib to the eye of the wind and to exult in the way the boat cleaves herself through the waves; or to run downwind like smoke feeling her make use of each wave, is to be immersed in and aware of every interaction of the boat with its environment.To do this is to enter into a meditation of sorts, it is a way for me to be entirely in the present moment and I rejoice in that.

For me, experiencing the many moods of the sea is a blessing. Each time it is as if I am experiencing it for the very first time. The wind, the waves, the sky all have an elemental cadence to them. Watching a mirror like calm change to the spindrift blown spray of forty knots or more of wind and wave, and to sail through all this after reefing her well down and watching the destination grow slowly larger on a bright or hazy horizon, for me is being immersed in contentment itself.

Then the safe harbour, the snug anchorage, rowing ashore, pulling the trusty dinghy up on the beach. The walks along the beach and climbing a hill to look down at the boat now a toy anchored contentedly in the bay below.

At night the meal shared, to lights reflected in varnished mahongony and the warm glow of conversation and camaraderie - and the stars. Not just any old stars - sailing stars, high, high, high stars clear and bright, bright, bright, away from the pollution of the city. The whole sweep of the milky way and the cosmos - and as the chill of the night comes, seeking the cosy haven below in a little cabin made for reflection, reading, meditation and contentment.

But you must remember this, the nuances of sailing are a lifes work, it is always a work in progress and it doesn't suit a plastic caravan mentality, for you see wooden yachts are living things and if you are very quiet and listen carefully they will reveal to you their secrets.


Anonymous said...

Reading your entry was a beautiful sojourn for me - thankyou.
But a small leap of revelation also-
The movement,being present,awareness of life and the moods of life you describe are found also in the dance!
I think that movement/awareness of movement is integral with being brought into the moment, with the stillness of the soul you speak of. Stillness is so very much a part of dance- it is the prayer out of the dance and in its ending.

Alden Smith said...

Ah - I think you must be a dancer?
I do not have much experience beyond the ordinary with dance, but when I see people who know what they are doing there are two things that I notice. The first is the joy and skill that they bring to what they do. You would have to love dancing to perservere with the work that it takes to present something above the ordinary.
The second thing that I notice is the high degree of concentration and immersion in the activity which makes it a vehicle for a meditation of sorts, as you say "...movement/awareness of movement is integral with being brought into the moment...."
Nicely put. I have a theory (probably someone elses and I'm just repeating it) that anything we truely love doing can be made into a meditation if we bring to it the correct attitude and intention, sailing a boat, dancing, taking photographs .. whatever.
I like what you say about "stillness is so very much a part of dance" there is a paradox there - within the huge amount of activity in sailing or dancing when we concentrate within each moment as it unfolds we are bought to the stillness.
I would be interested to hear your thoughts on something like Tai Chi. The attraction from what I can gather is that it is a slow moving dance of sorts with the benefits coming from its meditative aspects.

Alden Smith said...

In fact, and more to the point, it is not just the things that we love that can be a focus for meditation. In practising Buddhist mindfulness, the aim is that every waking moment is something that one is focussed on and mindful of. This takes a lot of practise. But I have found that when doing the things I love, mindfulness - being in the present moment, is something that happens by default. The trick is to try and bring this mindfulness to the whole of our life. Easier said than done and a lifes work.

Anonymous said...

Alden- the way you write makes me think.
I'm an oldie, but a dancer at heart.

Yes- what you speak of is really the degree of discipline and love that you bring to whatever you do - perhaps if you give body mind and spirit to anything- if you really give your all- are wholly present- sailing or dancing- it can be where god meets you.
I haven't tried tai chi for 20 years... and i only did it for half an hour on a hilltop with someone who didn't really know what they were doing ...It was not free enough for me- I am beginning to think I'm a hippie at heart too!
But it is an idea. Maybe I'll do it again one day.Thank you.
It occurs to me that more than loving what we do -or do well -the important thing is understanding. We love what we understand.
Now, imagine if we were able to apply that - If we understood being.
Imagine if we had a true love of being and we were aware of it all the time.
You have given me more to think about...but there are things i must be doing!

Alden Smith said...

Yes I think that you are right about understanding. It is said that to understand all, is to forgive all, and to forgive all is to love all.

Dan Gurney, Mr. Kindergarten said...

Such a beautiful meditation on sailing!

Like you, I am terminally smitten by the sailing bug. I'm still a kid (born in 1951, too) and haven't outgrown my Laser. There's something about the physicality and immediacy of Laser sailing that completely enchants me. But your description of sailing Mariner makes it sound equally enchanting. If I lived in a cruising ground like yours, I think I'd opt for a wooden cruising boat like yours.

Thank you for writing this! I really enjoyed it.