Day 52: Zen and the Art of Ocean Rowing

Today I have been listening to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I’ve read it before, in March 2004 – it was one of the many books on philosophy and religion that I gorged on during a self-imposed one-month retreat in a cottage on the windswept west coast of Ireland – and which lay the groundwork for my decision in August that year to row the Atlantic.

It’s been good to read it again, and to be reminded of certain lessons. One of those lessons was about “stuckness” – something I’ve certainly been able to relate to recently. According to the book, a certain amount of stuckness is to be expected in any challenging undertaking (be it mending a motorcycle or rowing an ocean) but if you persevere through the stuckness you can always resolve the problem. Eventually.

I got pretty stuck under the Golden Gate Bridge when I first set out from San Francisco. I thought the tide would never let me through. I battled it for about half an hour – then, just as the camera crew was packing up to go home, the tide changed and/or I moved over closer to the north pylon and passed out into the open ocean.

Then I got stuck again at 124 degrees West. For a very long time.

And I may well get stuck again. Weather will do that to you.

But I’ve accepted that progress is rarely linear. In all kinds of contexts, on dry land as well as on the water, I’ve often slogged away at something and wondered if I will ever break through. And, 9 times out of 10, I have – although often the breakthrough has come about in a surprising way. Like I’ll have been working away on one potential sponsor for ages – and then a generous donation comes from an entirely different quarter.

Or when I was looking for a life purpose – I knew what my values were and knew that they would guide me towards it, but I couldn’t find the actual Thing that would meet those criteria – until one day, when I wasn’t even thinking about it, the answer hit me like a thunderbolt from the blue.

I sometimes feel like the universe is testing me. I have to put in the donkey work, and eventually I get my reward – just not always from the direction I expected. Einstein once said that problems are rarely solved on the level at which they were created. He also reckoned that he wasn’t any smarter than the next person (hmm, debatable), he just stuck at problems for longer.

All of which leads me to the conclusion that often the difference between failure and success is perseverance.

Other stuff:

Position at 2145 15th July Pacific Time, 0445 16th July UTC: 25 47.506’N, 131 14.001’W.

Been going great guns today. The wind has been coming out of the NE, and has been strong enough to create a swell also from that direction, both of which have helped me along. Strange weather though – lots of sunshine but also the occasional big black raincloud. I’ve had my buckets out a couple of times today, but the actual rainfall has been minimal. So no hair-washing just yet!

Any rumours (MarineTrack) that I have been doing 5 knots are probably much exaggerated. 3 knots possibly, but 5 would be the stuff of dreams!

Thanks to all the regulars for the lovely messages.

Click here to see Day 52 of the Atlantic Crossing 21st January 2005, Blue Skies and Cable Ties – more problems with broken oars.

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