Saturday, December 06, 2014

A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor..

I have a confession to make - I'm a bit of a naval history geek.

Sailing out to the high seas..
By this I mean that I've read at least two proper books about it (check out the authoritative N.A.M.Rodger), the entire Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian (on which the film Master and Commander was based), and I once did well on a "famous ships" round at a pub quiz.

I'm  a fan but probably not an expert - although I did pen a jolly banjo-driven sea shanty during my immersion songwriting day earlier this year.

Going back a few generations, both sides of my family have a strong naval heritage and family heirlooms include naval telescopes and other curios. My great-grandfather Commander Gregory Stapleton spent his life at sea and ended up in charge of all the lighthouses in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon), other relative were Captains trading in the Baltic and one was involved in early naval trials of Quinine in the Bight of Benin in the 1830s.
"..rough seas are a well used metaphor for the general slog that life becomes at times"
Growing up an older relative (complete with parrot) dubbed my siblings and I "wet bobs" as we had collectively caught the water gene - we were all keen rowers and spent lots of time in boats on the River Thames at Walton.

As if to prove the point, one of my brothers has since become a very highly qualified sea kayak instructor, leading trips all round the world. (Check his company out here). One summer I joined him on a kayak expedition around the western isles of Scotland, which was amazing. On days the sea was as calm as a Millpond, but I recall that paddling back to the Isle of Mull from Staffa (famous for its spectacular basalt columns and Fingal's cave) there was a significant swell which made the paddle more "interesting". As a family I think it's fair to say we're still "wet bobs" (my other brother is still an active rower - sadly I now live about as far inland as it's possible to be on our island!).

We don't always face smooth seas
I've not done all that much sailing on the sea, but I did spent a lot of time paddling and rowing on the River Thames between the ages of 8 and 18, witnessing and engaging with the river in all its seasons and conditions.

During the autumn and winter the river was often pretty fast flowing, and it was in these conditions that your boat handling skills were tested. I learnt to read the river, watch the eddies, stick closer to the bank where the flow was slower.

The smooth conditions were great when they occurred (I particularly remember a glorious summer day and a refreshing rain shower flattening the river out whilst I was single-sculling down Desborough Cut), but it was in the faster spate conditions that the real skill was learned.

Sometimes the skill was knowing when it wasn't safe to row or paddle.. on which days we'd often be sent for a long run up the towpath to Hampton Court and back (around 8 miles.. the challenge was to do this in under an hour).

Storms and rough seas are a well used metaphor for the troubles, difficulties and general slog that life becomes at times. Illness, accident, loss, failure - these are all things that can create waves in our lives. The ripple effect can last years. We can be knocked back, our plans and dreams can feel sunk, we may even feel like we have to throw things overboard just to stay afloat.
"It's ok to be blown off course, the main thing is to do something about it"
So how do we navigate these storms with skill? I posted some thoughts on dealing with storms the other week, but more focused on being flooded on land than being lost in a stormy sea. Today's focus is more nautical.

When we're facing rough seas it's important to know where you're headed and try to maintain that direction. Your heading might be something directed by your faith, it could a health goal, a work objective or something else. You may have been knocked off-course, so be honest with where you are right now, then take action to make progress from there. It may not be where you want to be, or once were. You may feel like you've slipped back in behaviour, mindset or action. It's ok to be blown off course, the main thing is to do something about it.

Secondly, it's important to maintain balance. Ships carry ballast low down in their hull to keep them stable in rough seas. Many ships also have a keel which extends down into the water and provides resistance. Our lives are like icebergs, there's always much more below the surface than meets the eye.

What are the things in your life that provide ballast or a deep keel? Ballast could be activities that energise you, perhaps sport or hobbies. Maybe it's spending time with people, or for the more introverted maybe it's making enough time to be on your own! Your keel might be your core beliefs about yourself, your faith, your close friends and family. However you need to provide stability and balance, this is important to weather the rough seas life throws at us.

Admiral Nelson - a skilled sailor!
Finally, take confidence that rough seas eventually smooth out, and you'll be a more skilled sailor as a
result. I don't mean this to sound trite, and you may be facing long term and tough conditions which I in no way mean to belittle. Within my own Christian faith, a hope to hold on to is an eternal place where there are no more tears and no more suffering (interestingly there is a fairly obscure Bible verse which states that there will be no more sea, however my understanding is that this is a figurative reference to death rather than no actual sea, since elsewhere a new earth is also promised).
"Our lives are like icebergs, there's always much more below the surface"
In rough conditions it's wise to consult skilled sailors for advice, as they may have experienced similar conditions in the past. When you're through the other side you may even be in a position to provide advice and support for others - in fact you are uniquely positioned to do this, having been through the same rough seas yourself.

I write more about fear and disappointment in my book Life Space which is available to download on Amazon. Please check it out, there is plenty in there to encourage and inspire you.

Wherever you're sailing to at the moment, whatever conditions you're facing, take courage - stay focused on your destination and stay balanced, smoother seas will come along. If you've been through rough seas before, is there a way you can use your experience to help others?

Safe sailing everyone!


Thanks for taking the time to read A Smooth Sea. If you've enjoyed it please share it with your friends on social media! Why not subscribe to The Potting Shed Podcast on iTunes or Stitcher for expanded musings and much more (direct RSS feed is here). 

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My Random Musings


Random Musings said...

I totally agree with your title - you will never learn to overcome difficulties if you never have to face any. Sea kayaking sounds fun!
Thanks for linking up to #AnythingGoes

Amanda said...

I like that analogy, 'a better sailor I will become'. Thank you.
Amanda. #AnythingGoes.

Luke Strickland said...

The sea kayaking was great! Thanks for your comment :)

Luke Strickland said...

Glad you liked the analogy Amanda, happy sailing!