The Zen of Arrival: Sailing for Mindfulness

Anchored out

One important concept in the practice of Zen (a school of Buddhism) is “mindfulness”.  This state of being can be described as an increased awareness of the activity at hand and the world around oneself.  So often in life we bustle through an activity without really thinking about what, exactly, it is we are accomplishing. That’s not always a bad thing; in his short book called Godliness Through Discipline, Jay E. Adams describes the ability of all humans to develop habits.  He uses an example of a man going through his morning routine to drive this point home. If you had to think through each and every action to accomplish your daily tasks, you’d hardly finish getting out the door before night fell. “First, I pick up the toothpaste tube. Then I reach up to grasp the cap. Now I turn it counter-clockwise…”

On the other hand, sometimes we rush through activities without giving them any thought. While I’m glad I don’t brush my teeth as just described, I am grateful I have teeth, that they are straight, that my parents ponied up no small amount of their income to get them that way, and that I can enjoy corn on the cob with them.

Certain boating skills can become this way, and one of my personal favorites is anchoring.  You will hopefully practice anchoring enough that many of the actions will be habit.  You will also train your mind to be constantly assessing any given anchoring situation, looking for danger, aware of your surroundings.  But hopefully you’ll be able to incorporate a sense of mindfulness in this activity.  It builds connection between yourself, the boat, the harbor, the ocean, and the world.  And that’s no small thing!

“I’ve spotted the entrance channel I intend to come in through. Track looks good, depth looks good.  Depth sounder is on and we’re safe.  How is that wind?  Ah… gentle breeze on the beam.  Feel the wind brush my cheek, rustle the sail, ripple the water.  Deep breath in, hold, slow exhale.  I grab the railing and get up from the cockpit, walking up the port side to the bow.  Feel the motion of the boat as we move together.  Feel her strength in my hands as I make my way forward.  Loving, diligent hands made her many years ago. Did they expect her to be sailing at this time?  Into this harbor?  I reach the foredeck and kneel down.  The anchor is lashed down with good strong rope.  I untie it, getting it ready to plunge into the darkness beneath us.  From some unknown mine, maybe in Asia, maybe here in the United States, we delved deep for the ore that birthed this instrument.  Who were they? What price did they pay to deliver the material to create this thing?  I look out at the surrounding water, seeing the small wavelets, listening to the sounds.  The image of the chart is in my mind, and I look around me to verify, yes, I’m still on course.  Some engineers created the magic that keeps my boat slowly moving forward, guided by a small electric motor, slowly left, slowly right.  I remember the number on the chart.  I need ten fathoms of line.  I reach down and pull out the anchor line stopper, unhooking the bitter end from the plug.  I stretch my arms out; one fathom, two fathoms… I feel the twisted strands brush across my hands as I pull more and more out.  This line has served me well.  How many anchorages has it kept me safely in? How many times has Zephyr or Boreas tried to blow us out to sea, or onto shore, and this line kept us safe? I check the markers on the line; yes, that will do.  I shackle the anchor and chain and line together.  I test each connection to make sure my mind and hands worked together, that each shackle is moused, that each connection is true.  I fake out the line on deck.  I see each length in my mind as it will slip over the bow and into the water, no bights, no kinks.  I look up again, see that I’m getting close.  I walk back to the cockpit.  I check my chart, and bump the throttle just a touch to get us in faster.  The electric motor hums a little louder, but still silent.  The ripples as Ruby cuts through the waves grow a touch louder.  We are close now, and I cut the throttle back altogether.  Now it is just the sound of the water around me, close, natural, real.  I realize this will be my home for tonight.  I will break my bread, rest my body, relieve my mind, here in this place.  One harbor among hundreds, among thousands, nay, tens of thousands.  Who has been here before me? I step lightly up onto the deck and make my way forward again.  I slow count in my head, one…two…three… and release that last pin holding the steel hook in its cradle. Splash goes the water, and the line is paying out. We drift past it all, and I watch the line slowly descend into the blackness.  At last the coils grow smaller, and I tie off the rest to the great cleat on the bow.  With a groan of protest, the line goes taunt, gripping the horns, transferring power to the ocean floor.  I am here.  For the moment.  For the night.  Forever.”

(photo credit: Richard Hurd)