In the Southeastern part of the Pacific Ocean is an area of approximately 800 square miles known as the empty quarter. In this area there are few fish, spare clouds and almost zero constant wind. It was through this area in 1819, that the survivors of the Whaling Ship Essex drifted through before they washed up on the shores of Peru, nearly starved to death and in a crazed state of mind. The Essex was the true story that Moby Dick was taken from and is the only recorded account of a sperm whale ramming and sinking a ship. Three row boats full of 20 men were all that survived when their ship of 238 tons sank in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. In the three boats, they drifted and made whatever makeshift sails they could, choosing to navigate for the shores of Peru instead of heading west where they could have found land in a week’s sail. They chose to travel the nearly 3,000 miles because of wrong information about the islands to the West, that of being infested by cannibals. Three months later with only eight survivors, the crew of the Essex had survived and endured every imaginable horror including murder and cannibalism of their own crew mates.
Sailboats have always fascinated me since I was a child. As an adult, I am still fascinated as I have come to know their complexity and the experience and skill required to sail one. As I have learned to become a sailor, I have learned how much our lives are like a boat on an vast, open ocean. A favorable wind is the sincere desire of every sailor and nothing is more dreaded than a deathly calm. During the golden age of sailing, a ship would sometimes encounter a space of ocean than contained no wind. Depending on the length, a calm could be anything but calm on board a ship containing 100 to 300 hands. Every sailor had his duty and a set time of the ships routine to do it. During a calm, there was little to do for most hands. There was never a truer statement that the devil makes work of idle hands, especially on a sailing ship between the 17th and 19th centuries. If the calm lasted more than a day or two, the grievances on board usually began small and then quickly escalated to, brutality, bestiality, mutiny and murder.
One night while soaking alone in the hot tub, looking up at the stars, I took a deep sigh and lamented the sorrows and travails of being a parent. At the time, my children ranged between the ages of 21 and 6 years old. My 6 year old at the time lived with her mother in another city and still loved me as her hero. To my oldest, I was a villain. All the other children fell in line somewhere in between. Being a natural worrier, I commiserate with myself often and frequently about the choices my children are taking (or not taking) and where their paths are taking them. As I closed my eyes and sank into my favorite corner of the tub, I saw in my mind several little ships on a vast ocean, each turning about every which way they willed. There was no wind that filled their sails and so likewise, there was little movement. As a parent, our views of our children’s lives are so much grander than their own. We can see their choices from the perspective of a cloud above them, and we can see dangers they cannot. I realized at that moment, that as a parent, we must continually fill our children’s sails with wind. When there is no wind, the devil quickly finds works for their idle hands. As parents, we blow wind (and sometimes hot air) into our children’s sails by counseling, prodding and pleading with them to do that which is right. We also fill their sails by continually working on ourselves and keeping ourselves flying before the wind. When we do not provide wind, our children are left to the currents of the world, which most always take them to an empty quarter where the horrors of every conceivable sort are realized much like the crew of the Essex. However, and sadly, while we are filling their sails, they have their agency of course to set their rudders taking them wherever they choose, but if we are blowing in the direction of peace and safety, how much greater are the chances that their route will change to reflect our desired course.
A sailboat sails fastest when the wind is blowing several points off the bow, or almost from the side of the ship, much faster than a direct gust behind it. Interestingly, a wind blowing right in the face of a ship will stop it and even move it backwards. How many times do we blow from behind, thinking to push our children along? Or worse, how often do we blow right on their bow, in their face, where all we do is frustrate and perhaps even drive them backwards? If we blow in the right direction, constant and true, our children will learn how to navigate. They will learn that they move fastest when their sails are set correctly to catch the true wind you provide. When sails are perfectly set against a perfect wind, the whole boat hums and all parts perform in unison, which is where speed is also maximized. Sailors refer to this place as the sweet spot. For experienced sailors, that sweet spot is something that is felt rather than calculated or measured, but when it is found, every sailor knows and never forgets. If we are not filling our children’s sails, they will never find that sweet spot and may never find the peace and happiness we want for them.
It’s important to remember that while we are filling our children’s sails, there is always the chance of disaster, even something as odd as a sperm whale, sinking a 238 ton ship like in the story of the Essex. But if we have been providing a constant wind of true principles, our little sailors will know which way they must row for safety. They will know to row one week west to fertile islands, rather than act on erroneous information given them by the world and drift though thousands of miles of empty ocean, tossed about by every falsehood and ill-current of the world.
Sadly, we as parents can provide too much wind than their little sails can handle. There is only one thing a sailor dreads more than no wind and that is a hurricane, where the circular winds often lead to damage and despair. The best wind we can provide is a constant breeze that continually and unfailingly blows toward peace. But, make sure you make it a stiff and strong wind that requires all hands to be alert and attentive to their duty always. And though we may tire in our duty to provide that wind, we must never forget that without our wind, they will be left to the currents of the world, to carry them into forbidden and empty quarters of life’s ocean, sterile of safety, happiness and peace.