They Call the Wind “Anxiety”

The super insulation on the cottage not only holds out the 10 degree bite of the winter day but muffles the sounds of the battering wind until all I hear is swells of whooshing with low irregular reverberations of timpani.

I stand at a wall of windows that lets me participate in the year-round life of my small New Hampshire lake. My focus is drawn back again and again to my Laser tied up against a railing. It rests comfortably on its side with the top half covered in a brown tarp. In past years falling pine branches have been shucked off by the durable radius of fiberglass. And in this blizzard my Laser looks neither cold nor threatened by the swirling mists of blown snow and whipping pines. I have high confidence it will survive the winter storm unscathed.

Boats are amazingly durable and when we lean into their particular method for enduring—their shapes and materials, their designs and control—we can ride out on-the-water experiences that threaten our hearts and minds more than our physical survival.

I’ve been alone at sea in modest-sized sailboats, tossed around by gale force winds and 20 foot seas. I’ve ridden breaking waves across deep sandbars to find shelter behind lonely little pieces of Maine islands. I once held station off of Boston Logan Airport with a storm trysail while winds gusts hit 50 knots. My 29 foot boat responded to the microbursts by laying its vulnerable mast and tiny flagging sail over enough to get out of harm’s way.

My Laser is no less resilient, although certainly consistently wetter. When the wind gusts topped 30 at a New England Masters Regatta a few years back, my little fiberglass shell rode the swells up into the blasting winds and then surfed down into death-roll-inducing lulls. I was slowly becoming exhausted when I began to consider the gales and gusts that I had come through before in great shape.

No doubt my Laser would make it just fine. Maybe upright if I stayed alert, maybe with its mast beneath the swells, protected from the gusts. The question was would I stumble in exhaustion from fighting an unbeatable foe or quietly keep working to help my Laser and myself slip between the blasts and the waves, using the “foe’s” energy to escape it? The physical work was real, but the exhaustion was mostly driven by a draining siege of anxiety.

Learning to coexist with the sounds and sensations of high winds, to not exhaust yourself with anxiety- produced adrenaline, is a capability acquired through experience. And like many aspects of sailing, you can gather this experience in weather too cold to sail. I decided to deposit a bit more comfort into my high-wind account on that blustery wind day.

I layered up, got the dog and walked out onto the frozen lake. I stood on the snow covered ice and tried to soak up the sensations of the wind. I began to work myself into a comfortable synchronicity with the physical body slams, the wailing chorus of moans and shrieks, the blinding swirls of crystal snow. I listened for sounds of the world cracking or breaking – there were none. I looked for hints that the world wasn’t ready for the push and lift of the wind – everything swayed but remained.

The pressure built. Huge pines danced and shook off the wind like wet dogs shaking off water. I braced against the river of wind that threatened to pull me off my feet. I checked and there, tied to the railing, my little Laser stood unperturbed; allowing the entire maelstrom to slip around it.
Next spring I hope the echo of that day dampens, just a bit the commotion the wind might stir in me. And I’ll be a bit more able to quiet my anxiety and focus on making a smooth controlled gybe at the leeward mark; a bit more capable of leaning into my Laser, flying through the ruckus and grinning like a fool.

Jay Livingston