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Fighting Fears

Keeping in the Now

by Kathy Parsons

Back to Fears

Even though I love cruising, I still have always had a tendency to worry:

I have always had a tendency to worry.
  • Maybe our anchor won't hold,
  • Maybe something important will break on the boat underway,
  • Maybe, maybe, maybe...

My mind can spin out endless dire scenarios.

It hasn't kept me from cruising, but it can stress me out before leaving, or lead me to dawdle and think of reasons not to leave a port that has become comfortable.

And sometimes, too, my fear has turned to irrational panic - and panic, I know, is never my friend.

Panic will paralyze me so that I can't make a decision, and lead me to make mistakes: If my mind is stuck watching the disaster movie playing in my head, it is not paying attention to what is happening right now aboard the boat!

But I love cruising so what do I do?

Here are some of the many little things I have discovered along the way that help me keep my fear from mushrooming:

Practical things

I gather the data.



I plot out the course, gather the weather, look up the tides and currents, read about the harbour entrance, make preparations. I plan so that our passage will be successful. I review my pre-passage checklist and check off the items.

I prevent seasickness.

I have a tendency to get seasick, which of course is miserable. Seasickness makes me feel out of control because I don't feel up to doing anything that might be required of me.

So if I think I might be susceptible to seasickness on a voyage, I get a good night's sleep and watch what I eat and drink the previous night.

I may even take my seasickness meds the night before to get them in my system. I follow all the little tricks I have learned to avoid getting seasick.

I make notes.

If I am afraid of remembering how to do something, I write down the steps on a note card or attach a label to a switch or halyard chase.

I meet other boaters
who are making the passage.

If I know that there are others getting ready to make the same passage, I might go over and say hello. Then we can talk underway on the radio, share information and discuss what the big ships are doing.

It is nice just to have a friendly voice on the radio and someone to celebrate with in port.

Self-talk and Attitude adjustment

I remember that my track record is DISMAL when it comes to predicting disasters.


I tend to imagine all sorts of disasters but none of them have happened. Sure, we have had problems along the way (that we have dealt with) but the dire scenarios I envision never come true. It doesn't make much sense for me to listen to my fear-mongering voice because it is almost always wrong.

My mate (who thinks things will go okay) is much better at predicting the future than I am.

I know that I am bound to love the new place we sail to.

I remember that I don't really want to get stuck in port forever.

My friends are sailing on - I want to be able to share the new country, the new anchorage with them. I know that I am bound to love the new place we sail to.

Anxiety is a seasickness trigger
for me.

Chill, Kathy, do you want to get seasick?

There is sometimes a thin line between anxiety and excitement. 

We are about to begin a new adventure. Why not call it excitement instead of anxiety? (Gwen Hamlin wrote about this in her Admiral's Angle column "Doubt and the Thrill Zone".)

My friend Pam Wall said "Always remember that we are the lucky ones".

I appreciate that I am so lucky.

That one simple statement has helped me more than anything! I stop and remember where I am - on a boat, in the middle of an incredibly beautiful natural world, sailing into a port with the ability to enjoy it in ways that normal vacationers can't. I appreciate that I am so lucky and blessed to be able to follow my dream and to experience this amazing life with my partner.

I remember other times when I worried during a difficult passage, and we rose to the occasion and succeeded.

How proud we are of those times, how much we learned! I remind myself that the sense of pride is just around the corner, just hours or a day away. I know that I will soon be a little more experienced from having this passage under my belt. Each successful passage makes the next one easier.

It will make a good story!

When nature sends me a sign that everything will be alright, I take it to heart.


It might be dolphins rushing to the bow to dance in our bow wake, it might be a falling star or a rainbow. I say thank you, accept the gift and let it soothe me.

I draw on the courage of my friends.

I think of Debbie Leisure learning to singlehand after John died, Yvonne Katchor learning to walk again after an aneurism, Kathleen Watt confronting her fear of the water. I have met so many super people out cruising.

They don't know it but I draw on their strength and inspiration!

I remember something that I have been noticing lately: that our own courage has an impact on others.

In subtle ways, others see when we live life courageously, and it gives them the courage to live their lives with enthusiasm as well. I want my loved ones to be able to live their dreams, so I support them by facing my own challenges.

I know that problems that I thought I could never deal with can be handled.

I know, from experience, that we can handle bad weather, engine breakdowns, dragging anchor, officials that insist you leave now, even a fire and recover from it. I know friends who have lost their boat - and bought another. Because, after 20 years of cruising, I know so many people, I know people who have dealt with everything aboard and made it through.

I tell myself we went cruising for our health!

I know that life ashore is no sure bet either and that cruising is probably safer than shore life.

I do know that we cruisers tend to be healthier. And that the risk of an auto accident ashore is probably much greater than any risk we will face out here on the ocean.

I know that there is nothing better for the health of my mate than him waking up with enthusiasm each day for a life that he has chosen. Our physical cruising lives are so much better for us than sedentary lives ashore. I tell myself we went cruising for our health!


OF COURSE, after twenty-plus years cruising, my fear HAS diminished greatly.

It's okay to worry …some!

I know so much more now about weather, about the sea, about our boat. Sometimes I don't realize how comfortable I have become until I see newcomers worry about things that I know we should be able to handle just fine.

It's okay to worry …some! But if you find it starting to derail your cruising when you have only been out a short time, find YOUR own personal ways to make peace with it.

You CAN get through your fear and enjoy what you went out cruising to enjoy. You were right all those years as you prepared for cruising – your dreams can and will come true! And you will have this successful experience to draw upon for the rest of your life.


About Kathy Parsons

Kathy Parsons started sailing summers in Maine aboard a series of small sailboats before taking off cruising with her husband in 1989.

Over 20 years later, Kathy is still living aboard and sailing the Bahamas, Caribbean and US aboard Hale Kai, a Downeast 38 cutter with her partner Bill.

While sailing the Caribbean, Kathy wrote two language guides which are widely used by blue-water cruisers Spanish for Cruisers and French for Cruisers. She also conducts Spanish for Cruisers classes at tiki huts, beachside picnic tables and now on the internet through Seven Seas U.

Kathy lined up good friends Pam Wall and Gwen Hamlin to join her in giving “Women and Cruising” seminars at boat shows to answer questions women have about cruising. The 7-page handout that they give out to women at the seminars has grown into thisWomen and Cruising website.

These days Kathy balances cruising with language teaching, managing the Women and Cruising website, giving seminars, traveling any and everywhere she can, and spending time with family and friends. Life is good.


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