Thursday, December 3, 2009

First Sail Of The Season

My Friend Gerry Steers The Good Ship Mariner

Last week I went for a sail down the harbour with my friend Gerry. It was a day not without its drama - for the first part of the day there was no wind whatsoever and we had to motor. Then when the wind filled in I heard a terrible screeching sound from the motor and on inspection found that a drive belt had shredded itself as it came off the flywheel. I have learnt from some hard marine experiences to think before I act (and I usually do so) So, at the point where my hand was on the kill switch I realized that if I turned the motor off I wouldn't be able to start it again because the drive belt was attached to the starter motor. Getting the boat back onto the mooring under sail only, is possible except for an extremely narrow and difficult section of river where we would have both the wind and the tide against us. So I decided as the wind began to pick up to put the engine out of gear and sail with it idling. It isn't the way I like to sail having the chug chug of a diesel engine in the background and it would have irritated me greatly if it hadn't been for the very good company of my genial friend.

There are some people you just get along with. There is a sort of chemistry. When I met Gerry over twenty years ago we began by talking, laughing and joking and have pretty much been doing that ever since. There are no taboo subjects,the talk comes
easily and it's intelligent and interesting. Often it is extremely irreverent, gloriously hilarious and swings like a pendulum between the hysterical and the sublime - the whole carboodle goes swaying up and down all over the place like a little yacht of dubious pedegree in a big wind and a choppy sea. Gerry knows almost nothing about sailing, but he is one of the best of crews.

Later I reflected on how despite the fact that the trouble with the engine had meant that we had had to cancel some of our plans for the day (A quiet lunch at anchor and a walk ashore) we had both had such a great time. It reminded me of a crucial factor in how to choose a crew by one of New Zealands most famous and successful sailors - Sir Peter Blake. It was Blake who won the around the world Whitbread race in the 1980s and was the manager of 'Team New Zealand's successful winning of the Americas Cup in San Deigo in 1995.

When choosing his Whitbread around the world crews Peter Blake would take the candidates on a weeks adventure camping, which included some sailing. Of course those that had applied were very experienced sailors. But it wasn't experience alone that Blake was looking for, it was something else. The people that were chosen were by and large not the most hot shot sailors, nor those with the greatest technical expertise. He chose those who could get along with others; those that didn't take themselves too seriously; those without huge egos; those slow to anger and quick to make amends; those prepared to put aside their own individual egos for a time in the quest for the common good, the collective goal; those whose attitudes promoted camaraderie and fun, because he knew this was the key to binding a group together in pursuit of a common goal. He chose those who were willing to immerse themselves in a cooperative venture and strive for the glory of the little sailing community that would be formed on board the huge Whitbread Yacht.

Of course it would be a statement of great hubris to suggest that Gerry and I would have been at the top of Blakes list. We would have in fact been complete pests - I for a start would have wanted to water ski behind the yacht when she was doing 20 knots in the Roaring Forties and fly big coloured kites off the stern every day. Gerry would have had the crew divided into debating, joke and story telling teams and they would have all been too distracted to ever put up a spinnaker. In fact debating philosophically issues such as - the morality of winning, the definition of winning [Is not the last yacht home also a winner of sorts? especially if they have more fun than the first boat home??] etc etc - would have been philosophical issues promoted by both of us - not because we care about the questions or their answers, but rather because we care about talking, arguing and laughing.

--- BUT I like to think that the sort of camaraderie that we had during last weeks sail also had its place and value on Blakes winning yacht.


Dan Gurney said...

Great post! As we Californians head into the darkest part of the year, I'm hoping to enjoy many vicarious outings with you on Mariner and your P class dinghy.

We would all be well advised to consider Blake's wisdom when we're selecting crew members for our lives' journeys.

Knowing how to sail a boat is the easiest part of sailing. What's much more difficult to learn is: knowing how to get along, how to hold one's views lightly, how to curb one's anger, how to share credit for one's accomplishments, and how to do whatever is necessary to get the job done.

Katherine said...

...slow to anger, and quick to make amends...

As always, your post makes me think. Thank you Pal.

Alden Smith said...

Yes Dan, human beings do all the technical and technique stuff pretty well, its the human relationships bit that echoes down the centuries in great sorrowful tatters.
Maybe we are placed here, from somewhere else into this life which is a sort of bootcamp to try and sort all this stuff out - that would mean that life is maybe less about theological ideas about ulimate meaning and more about immediate ideas of getting along with each other.

Alden Smith said...

Thankyou for your comment Katherine, and anger seems to be on the increase - look at the hideous road rage that was once unheard of - and I don't think its got to do with a greater amount of traffic on the road or the sheer pace of our lives - its more to do with the loss somewhere along the road of our conciousness of certain values - a certain spiritual poverty of our times.