Jul 10

Getting Over the Hump

Tag: preparationjonny5waldman @ 2:29 am

[ reposted from my Outside blog ]

A month ago, on a flight to DC, I started up a conversation with my neighbor because he was flipping through a catalog of farm equipment — $150,000 tractors and combines and such. I asked what he was up to. He said he was a South Dakotan, and had picked up the catalog for fun, since his dad used to be involved in farming. We talked for a bit about machinery and engines, maintenance and reliability, lifespans and longevity. Such was our common ground. Was he still involved in farming? No, he worked for the South Dakota Department of Education, and was en route to DC for meetings with South Dakota’s elected representatives. In particular, he was eager to talk to Senator Thune about getting funding for a program to deter bullying. I asked what he meant by deter, since it seemed bullying would always be around. He said I was right, and that the program would help teachers to better deal with bullying. This reminded me of John Guzzwell’s definition of sailing: “prepare and deal.”

I’ve been thinking of Guzzwell’s definition of sailing a lot lately. At first, it suggests a 50-50 cut: half preparing, and half dealing. That’s not the split on Syzygy these days. Lately, it seems like 99% preparing, and 1% dealing. It’s frustrating, because the adventure is in the dealing, and here the preparing part is languishing interminably. We tear stuff out. We fix stuff. We make a mess. We clean it up. We buy things. We install them. We imagine that we are improving our boat — that we are making it more suitable for long passages and burly weather and rugged conditions — and we are. It just all seems so theoretical, so abstract. We want some hard evidence, damn it.

Our current preparations —  a new (way more efficient) fridge, a new (better located) propane locker, and a new (far stronger and more adaptable) radar/solar/wind-generator arch — are, of course, bigger and badder than those behind us, and for some ridiculous reason we’ve chosen to tackle them simultaneously. Matt and I have convinced ourselves that, as such, they comprise “the hump.” Getting over the hump is what we dream about. Getting over it will mean we’re about 75% through our refit agenda, an achievement so staggering I’m somewhat scared to mention it. We imagine that the pressure, the frustration, and the difficulty will wane once we get over the hump. But John Guzzwell didn’t mention anything about a hump. He just said prepare and deal. Believe me, we are preparing. If anything, we’re preparing so much that we have to deal with it.

Mid-hump, there’s only one consolation, and it’s not pretty. Schadenfreude bolsters our spirits, gives us perspective. Things don’t seem so bad when I think about Robert, whose boom snapped in two while sailing on a not-particularly-windy day. Things seem OK on Syzygy when I think about Jim’s mainsail ripping clear across. The pace at which we’re proceeding seems more tolerable when I think of Marcus, who spent almost $4,000, and six months, building a new fridge.

And then there’s Stuart, who returned two weeks ago, with a new engine and $17,000 less in his bank account. Not knowing quite how to ask if he was satisfied with the result, I asked him, “Does it sound good?” “It sounds like an opera,” he said. “Wanna see?” I was glad he asked. It was beautiful, bright red and shiny as a fire truck.

A few days later, Stuart invited me over for a beer. We sat in the cockpit, listening to seagulls squawk over fish guts on a nearby trawler.  The sun was low, the wind calm. Without prefacing it, he said, “Wanna hear it?” I said yeah. Stuart turned a switch, the oil-pressure alarm rang briefly, and then the engine started up. It purred, smooth and confident. Stuart said he might not even install sound-proof insulation in his engine compartment, given how quiet it ran. I was impressed.

The schadenfreude faded to envy. I can’t wait to feel that way about my boat.

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