Over the years I have got quite accustomed to people casting aspersions on my sanity. When new acquaintances say, on hearing about my ocean rowing exploits, “Are you crazy?” my stock answer has been, “I feel a lot less crazy now than I did in the days when I used to get up early, put on a suit, get on a crowded commuter train and go do a job I didn’t like to buy stuff I didn’t need.”
Along the same lines, I am a little mystified when people say to me, “Welcome back to reality” as I return from an ocean voyage. To me, the ocean is about as real as it gets. I am made keenly aware of where my food and water come from, and am brought face to face on a daily basis with my all-too-human frailty in comparison with the power of nature. Living in houses and getting our food from well-stocked supermarkets may give us the impression of being protected from the vagaries of nature, but it takes no more than a tornado or a tsunami to shatter that illusion. So which of these realities is the more real?
Quite possibly being convinced of one’s own sanity is actually a symptom of one’s insanity, but enough smart people seem to agree with me to make me believe that my worldview has some merit. What is sane about a civilisation that daily trashes the planet on which it depends for its very existence? What is real about a food supply that depends on genetically modified organisms patented by a handful of powerful corporations?
I don’t mean to sound critical or self-righteous here. But spending months alone at sea does lend a unique perspective. Like the gorilla in Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael (one of the most -life-changing books I have ever read) I feel at the same time part of, yet one step removed from, the human race. Looking in from the outside, it seems to me that our present path towards self-destruction is the insanity, broken here and there by refreshing – and increasing – outcrops of sanity.