Monday, February 18, 2008

Sailing sideways

I was sailing off St. Simon's Island last week on a beautiful Friday afternoon. The wind was light and there were still about three hours before the tide turned as I headed the boat toward the marina.

When I looked at the back of the boat, the water rushing from beneath the hull left quite a wake. The sails were trimmed so that they were maximizing the power from the wind. I could feel the breeze across my face as I looked over toward the lighthouse. After some minutes, I realized that I had not moved in relationship to the lighthouse. The water still raced by. The wind was still blowing. Through the water, it seemed as if I was making 3 knots. But, in relationship to the island, I was not moving.

It did not take me long to realize that the force from the wind propelling me forward was in almost perfect balance with the force of the tide pushing me backward. In fact, my GPS device calculated that my net progress was .5 knots... sideways. That is a little bit less than a foot per second.

It became something of a game: read the wind, trim the sail, shift the tiller and maintain almost perfect balance. In fact, I played the game for about 20 minutes. And found myself about a quarter mile closer to shore than when I started. Had I played long enough, it is possible that I would have run aground. So, I gave in, fired up the Nissan and motored across the current toward home.

Compromise can be like that. You can think you have the forces of two opposing values in balance, when in reality, you're sailing sideways. If you do not have a full range of references, you will not be able to accurately assess your location. And if you do that long enough, you'll be aground.

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