What the stars have taught me

Published on February 14th, 2015

by Matthew Fortune Reid
How does one define a life of adventure, challenge, pleasure and pain? Especially that of a sailor? As JFK so appropriately said, “All of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea – whether it is to sail or to watch it – we are going back from whence we came.”

No truer words have been spoken, especially for those of us who cannot let go of the ocean. Mistress, lover, soul-mate and guidance councilor, etc., the ocean is to many of us the beginning and the end.

For myself, it represents freedom. Freedom from the mundane. The annoying. The box so many people live in. As we all know though, freedom can come with a heavy price. There are certain comforts and securities that are sacrificed. I have never been married. I have no children and have my possessions scattered from Hawaii to Newport RI, literally.

My life aboard the last two years as Captain of Passion 4 C (Bill Tripp 56) has been that typical of any Captain live aboard…2 waterproof duffle bags of sea-worthy clothes, scads of sunscreen and hats. And I still think I am overpacked…

Now let me give you all some background on this whole story. I am a child of northern California, Napa Valley to be exact. I lived the quintessential upper-middle-class childhood. Snow skiing in Tahoe, water skiing on the local lake and swim team from the age of five. My father was a commercial airline pilot, my mom an almost full-time volunteer with the school board, grand jury, etc. Having a dad who worked in the airlines, we got to travel…a lot. Hawaii was our go-to place and as a young boy, I imagined myself living there. I began surfing at about age seven on our holidays and before I knew it, I had moved there at the age of 24.

I ended up at the University of Hawaii, Manoa and graduated with a degree in Finance at the age of 30. The interim years were spent surfing, diving and camping with my friends in ‘da islands’. My assimilation into the Hawaiian Island Culture was over a period of more than five years. I was fortunate enough to have a friend, Eric Phillips, help me along this path. ‘Bad-style’, was slowly weaned from my psyche and replaced with the spirit of Aloha.

I finally achieved kama’aina status and was no longer a haole. Probably the biggest achievement of my life. The Aloha Spirit is an all-encompassing lifestyle based upon the various good things from all the asian-pacific cultures. Politeness, courtesy and a ready smile. Treating all individuals as equals. Paying it forward as a rule, not an exception. Helping those who crossed my path with no expectation. Sharing food, family and music—kanikapila, the old Hawaiian way.

I worked in banks after Uni and then became a modest developer on my own. Having some success, I had free time. Sailing came into my life. Specifically, racing. Oddly enough, I was doing a project in Chicago of all places (another story all-together) and was missing the water. I saw boats on the lake with spinnakers and said to myself, “I am out there.”

In 2002, I found myself on a Sydney 41 as rail meat. I immediately knew I was destine to be a bowman and over the next two years pursued my skill set with a laser-focused passion. Luck and personal dedication brought me over 100 days on the water every year since. I have raced in 23 offshore races (including Transpac, Sydney to Hobart, etc), countless regattas all over the world and just spent the last year crossing the Pacific Ocean from Newport Rhode Island to Sydney Australia. I love one-design racing and have been bowman on four different Farr 40s, a Swan 42, sailed Melges 32s, Etchells, Solings, Shields and the like.

So now, we get to my story of What the Stars Have Taught Me.

I have approximately 1,600 sea-days now and over 60,000 offshore miles. Not a whole lot, but not a little either. As well, I have garnered my miles in a very consistent fashion, having started the process late in life. My favorite time to sail is at night. I don’t like cooking my body in the sun and I love the solitude of night watches. Just me, the stars, and my thoughts. My thoughts. How many hours over the years have I had to sort out life? More than most, that is for sure.

My conclusions are not earth-shattering epiphanies. Nay, they are only the affirmations of those things that we all know to be most important. Family, friends, heath and happiness are all that count. Status, possessions, opinions, etc., are all superfluous to what really matters. At night, during my musings, ego is lost and only the pure soul exists. I know sometimes, alone, out there a thousand miles from nowhere, that I am only the stuff of stars. The atoms of my body are stardust. The blood in my veins is like the water in the ocean. To live or die at that moment, that one instant of self-realization, is of no consequence.

That moment, that clarity and purity of thought is what I have lived for, night after night, mile after mile. I cannot get enough of it. Any offshore sailor will tell you that it is almost impossible to articulate the ‘why’ we do it. ‘Why’ we love it. The discomfort. The exhaustion. The storms. The issues of breakdowns and the ever-constant problems of keeping a boat moving and functional. The nagging worry of hitting a container or whale or reef, etc.

I have now sailed in some amazing venues. From Chicago to Fairhaven, transiting 4 great lakes, the St. Lawrence Seaway, up around Newfoundland and down across the Gulf of Maine, through the Cape Cod Canal to Fairhaven. The adventures include Porto Cervo, Sardegna. Antibes. Season after season in the Caribbean. Manhattan and the Long Island Sound. Maine. Nova Scotia. Key West. Panama Canal. Galapagos. Marquesas. Tuamotus. Society Islands. Tonga. Fiji. Vanuatu. New Caledonia. New Zealand. Australia. Tasmania. Hawaii. Mexico. And more. All in 12 years.

I have seen the aurora borealis, sailed with the big dipper over my right shoulder and the southern cross over my left shoulder and seen the moonrise so bright that it is almost discomfiting. My nighttime companions and beacons of hope. I have made friends and companions on this whole journey of sailing from the first race on that first day in Chicago. Sailors, as a group, are a ready-made set of friends worldwide. I now have friends all over Europe, the south pacific, both coasts of the U.S., Mexico, Caribbean, Canada and beyond.

Whether racing inshore or offshore or passage-making, I am surrounded by the people of like-mindedness. Always ready with a smile and a helping hand, sailors are good people. And sailing is the ultimate equalizer. Billionaires sharing good times with college students and tradesmen. And everything in-between. The boat and the ocean is the one place we can all be ourselves and peel away the veneer of that life which many of us must live on a day to day basis.

Ultimately, this is a diatribe of gratitude. For I am most grateful for the stars, who have taught me that, to be yourself, to live your life as a true spirit with the only expectation of life is not that expectation of what you may think others have of you, but only the expectation of self-fulfillment and to live a life filled everyday with your best effort and best intentions. To greet each new sunrise with a deep breath of appreciation and the desire to live that day to its fullest. Whether in the office or on the ocean, to enjoy the moment and the people around you. To share the gift of life by the giving and sharing of your personal Aloha.

I thank you, the stars, for this incredible insight into life you have taught me. In return, for I have learned that gratitude unexpressed is merely ingratitude, I am learning celestial navigation and continuing my Captain’s education as far as I can go.

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