Having a destination or goal and holding a course to reach it is an essential part of sailing as well as an essential part of navigating our own lives.
Sailing teaches us many important things about life – respect, persistence, and the ability to adapt to changing situations just to name a few. But one of the most important is learning about choosing a destination and understanding the steps necessary to get there. The Roman philosopher Seneca is reported to have said:
If man does not know what port he is steering for, no wind is favorable to him.
This quote obviously speaks of the benefits of having goals in life, but part of the significance and power of this eloquence is that it is based on an aspect of sailing reality. If sailors haphazardly change the direction of their craft, the wind always appears to be coming from different angles, and therefore the sails are always in the wrong state of trim. This requires maddening sail trim adjustments and can make it appear to the poor helmsman that the wind is always working against them.
The idea of having a destination and choosing a course to get there is a simple one, but to many novices at the helm, a myriad of distractions make it easy to lose focus of the intended direction of travel. Wind gusts, currents, boat traffic, among others can often be happening simultaneously and require extra focus.
Not only is it important to have a destination goal but one often needs several sub-destination goals to get there. Sailing to a windward destination may require several close reaches on different tacks to reach the desired destination. Each of these tacks requires a different course to be held. An ideal destination or goal should be something fixed, like a house on shore, or an anchored buoy. It’s easier to steer and trim sails while one is traveling towards a non-moving target. Destination goals should also be realistic and within reach, no pun intended.
As in life, courses often need to be adjusted on-the-fly – winds shift, tides change, storms occur, etc. Skilled sailors are able to make smart rapid course adjustment decisions easily. For example, they will instantly recognize a wind shift and use it to their advantage to bring them to a windward destination by either changing tacks or by using the shift to allow them to point closer to their destination. Adapting to change is part of the fun dynamic nature of sailing.
Destinations and courses are important keys to sailing and to living life, but to people who truly enjoy both, the real joy comes not from the reaching of the destination, but from the process of traveling to it. So, keeping that in mind, let’s all get out there, set a course and have some fun!