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Fighting Fears

Blindsided by Reality

by Cheryl Baker

Back to Fears

Fear can be defined as a feeling of anxiety, apprehension or distress caused by the presence or anticipation of danger. It may be rational or irrational but it is always very real to the person experiencing it.

I've found that acknowledging and dealing with my own fears has helped me overcome them and more fully enjoy cruising.

When we first started sailing
I was too excited about our new life to be afraid.

When my husband and I first started sailing I was too excited about our new life to be afraid. We'd just escaped from our small-town life in Arkansas and were headed off to see the world under sail, dreaming of a life of discovery and adventure.

Reality set in when we made our first overnight passage in less than ideal conditions.

A small low-pressure system suddenly intensified, overtaking us during the night. I was terrified every time one of us had to go to the foredeck for a sail change in the darkness as the wind, rain and seas raged, and lightning streaked all around.

What had been a slight anxiety about night passages turned into full-blown fear after that storm.

Underway as nightfall approaches
Sailing down the coast of Panama, 2007

Nineteen years have passed and we have put many sea miles behind us. Fear can't be conquered overnight and it took some time before I felt comfortable with approaching nightfall at sea.

Having a seaworthy boat, a liferaft and an abandon-ship plan added to my confidence, and I came up with a few simple ideas that helped ease my anxiety.

  • An MP-3 player loaded with my favorite music helps speed the time spent on watch and lightens my spirits.

  • I often maintain a radio schedule with other yachts to help alleviate the sense of being all alone on a vast dark ocean.

  • We plan departures in settled weather and take advantage of a full moon whenever we can.

  • We've replaced our hank-on sails with roller furling, and now make most sail adjustments from the cockpit instead of on deck.

  • I make special meals and snacks before departure to be savored while underway.

  • We sometimes watch movies in the early evenings when traffic is light, and a good book is always a welcome watch companion.

  • I started studying the stars and constellations, learning to recognize them from books and computer programs.

All these things created distractions and soothing routines, but the real key to overcoming my fear of night sailing was, much the same as with any phobia, just doing it.

We gradually increased the time spent on passages, culminating in our Pacific crossing. With experience my fears slowly began to ease until one night I suddenly realized I didn't feel afraid anymore.

Now I actually look forward to long crossings.

About Cheryl Baker

Cheryl Baker and her husband Randy quit their jobs, sold their house and embarked on the great cruising adventure in 1992 when Cheryl was 36.  They spent a decade and a half sailing Caribee, their Nicholson 32, all over the Caribbean basin before transiting the Panama canal in 2008 and crossing the Pacific to as far as Fiji, where the boat is currently lying to a mooring while the crew is in the United States taking care of family matters. 

During the past two decades she and Randy have weathered seven tropical storms, hurricanes or cyclones as well as the 2009 Samoan tsunami on Caribee, and she has never failed to safely see them through all tribulations.