Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Madness, War, Sailing, Sanity

"I never felt lonely. It’s all so beautiful. You never get depressed, certainly-- at least I didn’t. You are sort of alone with God. You aren’t chasing some girl or trying to make money or get power or do anything else. There’s no opportunity to sin. Time meant nothing. You just lived, for the moment. You’re just happy. Happy. Well, you’re not happy when you’re upside down, but otherwise you’re happy."

-- Commander William Donald Aelian King, quoted in the film Deep Water, on his experience in the 1968 Golden Globe race-- the first non-stop, singlehanded, round-the-world sailing competition.

Cmdr. King was was a much-decorated British Navy submarine commander in WWII. At age 58, he was the oldest participant in the Golden Globe. When interviewed for Deep Water in 2006, he was 97 (but didn't look a day over 70.) In the film, he relates that the war had left him "a nervous wreck", and he undertook the solo round-the-world race to regain psychological health. If a year-long solo sail through the worst oceans on earth is the man's idea of relaxing and unwinding, you can get some sense of how stressful submarine warfare must have been. In an interview last year with the London Times, he explained a bit more about a brush with psychiatry following the war:

"I got the head shrink in England to certify me as 0.125 per cent mad, which meant I could leave the Navy, but didn’t have to go into a nuthouse. It turned out to be the best thing I ever did. My wife and I had 20 years of the best foxhunting in the world."

Ironically, another participant in the race, Donald Crowhurst, apparently went insane while alone on his boat and died, most likely from suicide.

From limited personal experience, I can attest that ocean sailing can be at once a balm for the psyche and a mental torture. I suppose which way it swings depends partly on the weather, partly on luck, partly on your personality, and partly on your frame of mind when you roll over the horizon. During most of my North Atlantic voyage last year, I felt considerably more than 0.125% insane.


Blogger Johanna said...

You can be proportionally insane, measurable at levels as low as .00125? Will you write me a note? I'm pretty sure I can get away with as much as 10% insane. If you could specify that my most insane hours are after 5 p.m. and I should thus never, under any circumstances, work late, that would be bonus. Thx!

1/2/08, 8:25 PM  
Blogger Ladyk73 said...

A great friend of mine (actually an ex-boyfriend) was going to cross the pacific with some friends of ours. The idea of it made me 20% insane. Thank god for satellite phone email.

I sail on lake erie and have a mini panic attack anytime I first jump in to snorkle (to chase bass).

1/3/08, 6:34 PM  

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