A good few years ago, during my time in the UK navy, I recall speaking to a pilot friend of mine who flew Sea King helicopters. He was describing a planned flight he was about to make and described how he intended to ‘strap on a Sea King’. I was quite taken by the expression as it seemed to describe perfectly how he and aircraft were fused together as one being. Shortly afterwards, during my time commanding my own ship, I was thinking how the expression also applied to my own relationship with the ship.
When handling the ship, particularly in bad weather, I found that although I was given a stream of factual, logical, data such as depth of water, wind speed and direction and tidal conditions, I also felt the ship’s movement caused by the wind and waves. There was one incident I particularly remember. We were taken part in an exercise off Denmark and had spent 10 days working hard as the lead ship of six mine sweepers. Everyone was tired and the weather deteriorated such that we planned to enter a very small fishing port with a particularly narrow entrance. It was touch and go as to whether it was safe to do so in the conditions. Again, factual data was given to me and constantly updated but I found myself feeling what the ship was doing, immersing myself in how she was moving. . As I gave an engine or wheel order, so the ship moved; as it moved so I instinctively react. There is energy and a dynamic; we are in tune and harmony.
“ Wind 270 speed 40 knots” was the report. I knew what that meant but I still went out onto the deck, turned my face to wind and raised my hands up, palms outwards. I could feel the wind on my face and hands and feel her movement through my legs. It was like I had stepped into her and was wearing the ship around me. I went back to the bridge and prepared to drive the ship though this very narrow entrance. I still had not made the go/no go decision and there was still time to turn away, to spend an uncomfortable night at sea being tossed around as the storm blew. But I could feel the people behind me on the bridge, willing me to take them in; I could feel the tension coming up from the decks below.
“ Steer 090, set both engines half ahead” I ordered “ we will be going in.” An immediate lightening of mood, people busy, responding to orders, relaying information as we swept though the harbour entrance, twisted and turned past the fishing vessels and berthed safely in the port.
At sea, there is always noise and vibration and being totally at one with the ship it is possible to detect when something is different. I have often woken at night, woken by a subtle change in motion, or vibration, transmitted through the bed or pillow, being alert and in tune, listening to my deep self, and either falling back to sleep or waiting for a report as to the cause. It is also possible to sense the mood of the sailors. Just as you sense whether a new house is the right one, so it is possible to sense the mood onboard.
I find the same can apply to ourselves. We can have factual, head data about our blood pressure, pulse and temperature but how do we feel? How do our physical or emotional reactions affect our behaviour? How does our behaviour affect out physical and emotional state? By being deeply associated with ourselves, we can create harmony between our physical, emotional and spiritual selves. We can feel the physical vibrations, through aches and pains, in our bodies. We can feel the waves of emotion and we can feel the spiritual tensions in ourselves and in others.
Try the day on
Knowing who we are and knowing the voyage we are on, we discover the strengths and resources to weather the storms and to enjoy the calm. So perhaps the next time there is uncertainty or fear, try wearing the situation. It might suit you.