Friday, October 5, 2012


When's the last time you were afraid for your life? It's not that common in our everyday life, is it? We don't really have to fear that a pterodactyl could swoop down on us at any second. Frankly, when I lived on land, I never thought about fear.

Then I started cruising.

Okay, and still frankly, I don't live in constant fear on the water either, but cruising does come with a certain element of fear. As sailors, we choose to leave the mantle of land, venturing beyond the safety net of 9-1-1. When you're on a tiny boat in a big ocean, the specter of nature can be frightening, the idea of it even more so.

Fear is a many-headed beast, and I have named them: what-if, oh-shit, never-again and Uber-Fear.

What-if fear rears up and yells at me when I read about sailing disasters and then fixate on them. I find these horror stories irresistible but at the same time, instructive. When we were in the Exumas, I read in my guidebook, "Beware of cuts when there is wind against tide," but that made me yawn. However, when I read the grueling details of fellow cruisers making a bad decision, losing their boat and one of their crew, you can bet I replayed it in my head -- over and over. No wind against current for me.

Oh-shit fear looms up, as the name would imply, in unexpected moments. Like when the boom almost hit Chip in the head in the dead of night. It's when the oh-shits pile up that things can get gnarly. Like the time the jib sheet (rope) got all twangled in a 30-knot wind, causing the sail to flap around like a wounded pterodactyl. Then all that flapping caused the sail to rip. Oh-shit fear has taught me to hunker down and figure it out as I go, one thing at a time.

Never-again fear is retrospective, those whoo-boy moments that I realize later were pretty perilous and that I have NO interest in repeating. Like when I was at the helm going out of the Fort Pierce inlet. A series of signs had warned me: the conditions not matching the prediction, a rainbow at sunrise (shepherd's warning), a long line of boats heading past the inlet, not through it. In fact, only one other boat turned toward the inlet, just ahead of me. I saw it up ahead of me being tossed like a Caesar salad. I should have turned back. I didn't. What ensued was the worst 15 minutes of our cruising career. Never again will I ignore the signs.

Those first three fears, what-if, oh-shit and never again, are arguably my friends, good advisors that I should heed and learn from. But the last and ugliest is my enemy, my Uber Fear aka Self Doubt. Surely I knew this beast when I lived on land, but it had little impact when the dangers were intangible. On land Uber Fear could not tell me that my incompetence was capable of killing me, or worse, of killing Chip. Certainly the argument is based on half truths, but compelling ones. I am not fully competent, and, every once in a while, we really do get in situations with an element of danger.

I scoff at those who call me brave, but if there is any bravery here, it's when I ignore that snarly monster shouting about my incompetence -- and then motor out into the ocean anyway. I win minor skirmishes against the enemy, baby successes, like not hitting a piling today, or mammoth accomplishments like crossing the Tropic of Cancer and returning alive.

But my war against self doubt is a long, slow battle. Every season, I claim a little more territory in my conquest of fear. I take another island, setting my flag on one more sandy shore and swimming in its turquoise waters.

RAFT-UP is many voices on one topic. Please read the thoughts of others on the Raft-Up Fear page.

who are these people? me | chip | cara mia | our very long timeline


  1. Smart and funny as always, Tammy!

  2. Love the 'code words' I have similar phrases when I take someone new on a road trip, "Son-ov-a-b..." when I know I've just been pegged by a cops radar for speeding and I'm getting a ticket. "Oh-shit" when I've lost control and we are about to wreck (I don't do this much since racing go-karts) and "FUUUUUUUCCCCC*******" when and if we start to go into a death roll. I just like for people to be informed. Which brings us to why I read sailing blogs. My daughter has worked on and off the water for 10 years now.... she doesn't always tell me everything that could go wrong, so I get my "what ifs" from people like you. Thanks!

    1. Oh dear, I hope I haven't blown her cover. ;-) Actually sailing is 99% boredom punctuated with flashes of terror. The excitement is, you never know when that 1% is coming!