You can do it

Sailing slowly around the world, one tends to meet a lot of people. And I believe I’ve begun to discern a certain pattern to much of the interaction that ensues. I’ve also realized something about what really stops some people from going voyaging themselves.

The interaction always begins with a question. “Did you really sail here from Boston?” is generally a safe one with which to break the ice. After all it says “Boston” right there on the transom. Emboldened with success, people tend to the more intimate, “What’s it really like out there?” Or “What do you do all day?” Or my all-time personal favorite, “What do you do at night?”

By the third question, people are confident and comfortable enough in the new relationship that, with widening eyes and a throaty voice, they ask the question they’ve been dying to all along, “Did you have any bad storms?”

If we don’t play that one up enough, there will be questions about kids, seasickness or finances until finally comes the declaration, “Oh, I could never do that!” After a few years of hearing such statements I’ve finally learned. Instead of reassuring, explaining or simply placating, I now respond simply with, “No, you probably couldn’t.”

Now wait. You’ve already paid for this magazine, so before you put it down in disgust, give me a chance here. My point is that the primary thing stopping most people from doing something like what we’ve done is their own mental certainty that they can’t. And I’m not just talking about something as drastic as a circumnavigation, either.

The barriers people perceive are usually the ones they’ve erected themselves.

A lot of people say, “I’ve got kids.” Good for you! I think of all the voyaging families we’ve met with kids from infants to teens. I think of the incredible world experience that those kids gain meeting other kids from so many different cultures; or the self-confidence that comes from learning to steer a boat across oceans; or the value of the daily interaction of parent and child that must, by definition, come from living in a 40-foot space together; or and of growing up without television, DVDs and Xboxes.

Or people will say, “But I get seasick.” Yeah? Me too! I’ve tried all the drugs, potions and bands I could find. Sometimes some of them will even work for awhile. But when it comes to sailing upwind in foul conditions for hours on end, I puke. And if it’s daylight and I’m on watch, I do it over the side, splash some fresh water on my face and go back to sailing the boat. It’s not the end of the world. Whatever weather is causing this misery will pass sooner or later, and I’ll be well again. At least that’s how it’s happened every time so far.

Or sometimes they play the money card. “How can you afford that?” Hey, I sail what I can afford. If I could afford a 70-foot Swan, I might be sailing one. And if all I could afford was a ferrocement homebuilt, I might be sailing that. We Americans (OK, I’m generalizing) are much more hung up on fancy and new than is necessary to accomplish the task of sailing an ocean. If the adventure of cruising appeals, match the boat and gear to the budget instead of vice versa.

Age? We have friends from 20 to 70 out there doing it.

Injury or handicap? Let me tell you about the wheelchair-bound Australian we met in South Africa.
The list goes on. For every excuse offered, I’ll bet there are a dozen voyagers out there who embrace the challenge.

The only validly insurmountable reason for not doing something that you want is because you believe you can’t. And, if you truly believe you can’t, then I’ll agree with you. You can’t.

But if you believe you can, you will find a way. You will find the right boat, the right job, the right time, even the right partner, to accomplish it if that’s what you want.

And if you believe you can, then I’ll agree with you, too. You can. And I’ll see you out there.  n

Jeff Williams and his wife Raine completed a six-year circumnavigation aboard their J/40 Gryphon ( They are currently living aboard Gryphon in Antigua as they ready to set off voyaging once again.

By Ocean Navigator