Absolute Freedom While Confined to 33 ft

With a view like this, it is hard not to feel free.

Keep it together, Britt, just fucking breathe, I thought to myself  as I inhaled and exhaled with fervor. I was desperately trying to prevent the inevitable dry heaving that was to come with every rock of this 33ft floating hellhole. Hitting the three foot waves head on, added with the whipping wind, splash of sea water and frigid cold was enough to send me below to deal with this agony. As I continued taking one deep breath in and one extended exhale out, I kept replaying the picturesque sailing life I had always imagined. This certainly wasn’t what I had anticipated, curled up in the fetal position below deck in the quarter berth breathing in the methane and exhaust fumes and trying to prevent an upchuck reflex.

A photo from my family vacation, 8 years ago.

I can remember when I first entertained the thought of learning to sail. I was a teenager, glancing over some yacht and sailing magazines while on the deck of a cousin’s refurbished boat. All of the glitz and glamour of these excessively tricked out boats interested me. Reading stories about families who just picked up their lives and sailed with the tides, teaching their children through life experiences rather than a text book really appealed to my adventurous nature. My fascination continued when I was 20 years old,  on a summer road trip with my mom going up the New England coast to visit family friends in Maine. We took a detour to Cape Cod, and Martha’s Vineyard. While eating brunch by the water in Cape Cod, I could see the sailboats bob in the water with the ebbs and flows of the waves. I watched the water glisten off the hull of the boats as the mainsails and colorful spinnakers opened to their fullest capacities in the wind. That morning, I imagined what life would be like on a boat, sailing open, turquoise waters, the sun soaking my body in its warmth and discovering exotic destinations along the way. Right then and there, I knew I wanted to learn to sail, and dreamed eventually I would have my own boat.

Yet, here I was, the furthest thing from my dreams, in the cabin of the boat trying to prevent seasickness. How did I get in this predicament? I was asked to crew on my friend Craig’s boat, to bring it back up to Philadelphia from Solomons Island in the Chesapeake Bay. I jumped at the chance as I couldn’t wait to practice my newfound sailing skills. But, if I couldn’t hack it in the first hour of being on the boat, how the hell would I be able to fulfill my pipe dream of eventually retiring on a sailboat. My sailing dreams were deflated, my ego dejected and I was so exhausted from deep breathing and waking up at the ass-crack of dawn that I fell asleep.

“….the sun peaking through the wall of clouds.”

An hour past. I woke up mentally preparing for the continued anguish to come. But to my surprise, when I stepped out of the cabin, the sun was shining, and the wind and waves had died down. I looked back from where we had come from and I could see the sun peaking through the wall of clouds. Relieved, I started to take in the salty air and settled down on the deck.

For the remainder of the day, I did soak in the sun, slept a bit more, took over navigation and continued to take in the sights and sounds of the bay. As much time as there was to sit back and do nothing, I was never bored. I had more time to daydream about early sailors who would navigate these waters without GPS, or even electricity. Craig, the owner of the boat, and I had long conversations about coastal navigation and the nearly abandoned light houses, relics of the past, that were strategically scattered along the shoreline.

 

 

Opening up the mainsail.

Being out on the water allowed me to be fully present and aware of my surroundings. At one point in the near distance we could see a school of fish synchronized swimming, skirting their fins across the surface of the water. This sight continued until a seagull took notice and disrupted their rhythm in desperate search of lunch. When we finally came to Annapolis, the bay was full of enormous boats with inflated, vibrant spinnakers floating across the water. Craig and I sat with a heavy stare watching boats vie for best position, quickly dropping their spinnakers in hopes to be first in a race around a buoy. As we sailed toward the Delaware Memorial Bridge, the sun began its descent below the horizon. The orange glow on the geometric lines of the bridge captivated my attention long before and after we had passed under it. We ate dinner at twilight, still under power in an effort to make it to the intended anchoring point at Cabin John Creek. As the sky became dark, an eerie melancholy air came over the canal. Lights flickered in the distance on the shore line and danced across the water as we moved towards them. At that moment I felt the urge to move to the bow and take in the void. I had never before felt so free, so peaceful and yet so alone. I was so focused on taking in the emptiness that I almost didn’t see a barge, its giant, stalking silhouette silently creeping up on us. As we settled into the mouth of Cabin John Creek and lowered the anchor I couldn’t help but feel content with the day.

The next morning we pulled up the anchor and continued along, chasing the rising sun through the narrow C&D Canal. As the sun rose, the light entangled with the fog to create a fiery mist that engulfed any boat in its path. When we turned into the Delaware River, the fog cleared and Craig and I were able to take turns napping in the afternoon sun.  While I navigated the Delaware, Landmarks like PPL park, the Navy Yard and the abandoned warehouses along South Columbus Blvd were obvious signs that we had entered the city limits. Although I have seen these landmarks numerous times before, typically en route to the airport, a sports game or aimless wanderings, I was able to see them through a different lens, a different perspective.

I began to reflect on the adventure and not only did I have a different visual perspective, but I had a different philosophical perspective, more specifically on sailing and the concept of freedom. Before this trip, I felt my freedom was limited to my physical surroundings. Yet, during this trip, as I was being physically confined to a small space, I was able to feel a sense of freedom that I had only dreamed about. I realized that my surroundings didn’t dictate my independence, or lack thereof, and that my personal autonomy is only reliant upon my mental attitude. Granted, it’s hard to feel free when stuck in a meaningless job, in a dead-end relationship or constrained to the expectations of family, friends or society as a whole. That is why I find myself physically, and now mentally breaking free from it all, to reconnect with myself. All the waves, wind, rocking, sickness, dry-heaving, and shivering cold this life throws at me can’t disrupt my personal quest for sovereignty, because I know that precious feeling of freedom is worth the chaos, even if experienced on a 33ft floating hellhole.

*Special thanks to my friend Craig, who allowed my to “crew” on his sailboat, and provided great company/conversation along the way. Hopefully, his experience was as rewarding as mine. I’m sincerely grateful for the opportunity!

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