Smile and Nod

Smile and Nod: Sailing to My Doom

Russ Pitts | 8 Sep 2008 17:00
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Looking back, I wished I had those problems. My little, rented sailboat couldn't muster even half the horsepower of that power boat, and as I struggled with its sail, coaxing the wind to fill it, jamming the rudder to starboard in the hopes it might answer and carry me out of the path of the rapidly approaching buoy, I realized I may have finally met my match. That here, in this ocean, on this boat, I may have finally found the limits of my ability to fly by the seat of my pants and make it look easy. To survive even, if there really were sharks in these waters.

What is it about the sea, that we men must continually break ourselves against it? Odysseus was a fool to tempt the fury of Poseidon, proclaiming himself the equal of the ocean god, the match for all mortal men. We know this. His is one of the pictures you see beside the definition of hubris. For his audacity he was cursed to spend 10 years sailing for home, being battered by the sea until he finally learns his place. He was a fool, this we know, but having once captured the wind and evaded the tide, it becomes clear how easy it can be to feel oneself the master of nature. And then, with the approaching storm, you realize the bottom of the very ocean upon which you gloat is littered with the bodies of men just like you who failed to learn that same lesson.

I will say this though, if hubris born of an addiction to videogames is what drove me into those waters, to test myself against the mettle of the sea, then it was diligence born of the same pursuit that drove me to find a way home.

This may sound simplistic, but one of the cardinal rules of videogaming also works in real life. In a videogame, the solution to the problem always exists. Whatever the problem may be, it's there for you to solve, therefore the solution must exist. In life, this does not always apply, but I've found it does more often than not. Whatever the problem, there is usually a solution, you just have to be diligent.

On that tiny sailboat, it was even simpler than that: I controlled the sail and the rudder, everything else was wind and tide. There had to be some sweet spot where wind, tide, sail and rudder would work in concert to carry me home, I just needed to find it.

As the sail filled with wind, the rudder finally answered and the boat carried me in a swift turn away from a rusty, shark-riddled doom, I realized I'd found it. A good thirty minutes of tacking later, and I was safely ashore.

One more thing videogames have taught me: there's no substitute for having real adventures.

Russ Pitts would rather be sailing. Seriously. His blog can be found at

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