In the past, if we wanted to go to a distant point we had to have information that told us about the route. If we took the direct route, would we find our path obstructed by a swamp, wild animals or some other possible problem that wouldn’t allow us to pass that way? If so, would we have to take the time to go around the obstacle? We had to factor those difficulties into our lives and live with what they were.
Now, if we want to go to that same distant point we expect the path to be cleared. All too often we seem to feel that someone else should have made sure the route was cleared of any obstacle that might slow our progress. If there is no direct route, someone should make one. They, whoever they are, should bulldoze and blowup mountains and if anyone else gets in our way or doesn’t believe the way we do, they should be eliminated.
At one point in my life I had a very important lesson, which took me a while to understand. I was living in Hawaii, sailing a lot and was quite successful in my sailboat racing endeavors. The yacht club I belonged to was kind of a ragtag organization with mostly independent minded people who only gathered in one place for one reason, to race their sailboats. One of the other sailors in the club, Jim, and I had finished either first or second to the other all season. The last race was a two day event. We sailed half way around the island of Kauai the first day, stayed overnight and then sailed back the way we had come on the second.
The first day was mostly a spinnaker run, where you fly the big, multicolored sail off the front of the boat. Spinnaker sailing can be thrilling, fast and cause white knuckles if anything goes wrong. The tradewinds were blowing as usual and it was a following sea. I had a good crew and we beat Jim by about one boat length in the thirty mile race. Both of us were a mile or more ahead of the others. The evening was spent on shore, over small fires that burned in small pits dug in the sand next to the water’s edge. The subject was sailboat racing, at least for the crews of two boats. Late in the evening, we all retired to our boats or slept in the warm sand on the beach.
The next morning the trades were up from their usual 15-25 and the sea, which was building early, would be from the direction we would be going. We all talked it over and decided that a race start earlier than the scheduled 9:00 am was in order. We were tacking back and forth waiting for the starters signal by 7:30.
Going to windward can be wet and wild and that day it was both. Before too long, Jim and I had pulled out a considerable lead over the others. For the next six or so hours it was tack, try to cover the other (put them in your wind shadow), trim sails, pinch into the wind to clear the points of land that jut out from the island, yell at the crew and have them yell back at you. One of my crew that day was inexperienced but a friend of a longtime and competent crew member. Finally, we all decided the best thing the new crewman could do was sit in the cockpit and stay out of the way, unless we needed someone to add weight on the windward side.
By noon, the point that was a half mile from the harbor entrance was in sight. We’d been close reaching most of the way up the west side of the island. Once we got to the point, it would be a beat to the harbor entrance and then a fast broad reach from there to the finish line. Broad reaching is the fastest and safest point of sail for a sailboat. Running down wind and under a spinnaker would seem to be faster but you can’t take advantage of the venturi effect between the sails. Close reaching is where the wind is between the beam (center of the boat length) and beating is exactly that, you’re beating your way upwind.
When we got to the point, Jim kept going straight ahead. I made the decision to take the shortest and straightest route. Because of my decision to take what appeared to be the easy way, we got caught in heavy wave action that was coming directly on the bow and refraction waves that were bouncing off the cliffs and pushing us from the side. I’ve never been in a washing machine during the wash cycle, but I imagine it’s about the same.
Jim had gone at least two miles past where we’d tacked, but once he made his tack (turn) offshore, he was on a broad reach straight into the harbor mouth. We were creeping along, getting stopped by the waves coming straight at us and buffeted by those from the side.
When we entered the harbor we were both sailing at the same speed. The problem was, Jim was in front. We were close, so close that our bow sprit was hanging over his windward rail at the stern of his boat. That’s how we finished the race. It was the most exciting, and closest, sailboat race of my life and it taught me a valuable lesson. The shortest route isn’t always the easiest or best. It’s the same with life.