Yesterday i slipped out of work early and headed to the harbour. The sun was out, a gentle breeze on the water, hours of sunshine left in the long summer evening and, let’s be honest, who was ever going to know?
I met up with Rich, one of my friends with an equally flexible working pattern, and we took to the water. I had a goal.
Rich didn’t have a goal, or rather, at this stage, he didn’t know my goal, which was probably for the best, or he may have talked me out of it. You see, Poole harbour is one of the largest natural harbours in the world, filled with Islands of all shapes and sizes, one of the biggest of which is Brownsea Island (famous as the home of the Scouting movement and the last haven of red squirrels in the UK, neither of which fact is relevant to this tale, but seemed too interesting to pass by).
This is a story about adventure and adventures, by their nature, take you to odd places. Which is why we must stop by at Swallows and Amazons. This series of books, by those of you deprived of them in childhood, by Arthur Ransom, charted the mishaps and escapades of a group of waterborne children, sailing round the waterways of their childhood holidays in a collection of ramshackle craft. Enter myself and Richard.
I had an active childhood, but it never contained the types of adventures that the children of Swallows and Amazons had. Our homegrown stories had less water and ended up with us home by teatime. It’s been left until adulthood for me to discover the joy of expeditions and the sense of accomplishment and achievement that can be delivered by shared victories and missions accomplished.
You see, there were many ways that i could have spent yesterday evening. I could have gone to the cinema or watched the television. But i didn’t. I spent it in the best of company striving to achieve a goal. I felt the sense of trepidation, the sense of building excitement, the familiar feelings that accompany physical challenges, albeit in microcosm (it’s not that big an island to circle…). When push comes to shove, i felt the sense of a large task being broken down into smaller, more achievable sections: just as far as the blue boat, just to the pier, just around the headland, just to the buoy, 40% there, 75% there, the final approach, landing, the triumphant photo.
I experienced the excitement when Rich said, part way in ‘Are we going around”? Hell yeah!
It’s not an adventure of epic proportions. Ray Mears or Ranulph Fiennes may not have balked at it’s scale, nobody is going to commission a book from me, and we didn’t have to eat any huskies to see us through, but that’s not the point. It was a challenge we set ourselves (or rather, i set myself, and co-opted Rich into supporting) and that, in itself, made it mine. I set my own hurdle and cleared it.
Why is this more fulfilling than clearing a barrier that someone else had set for me? Maybe because of my ownership? Maybe because it was physical rather than the more usual intellectual challenges that we find within work? Maybe because there’s simply something inherently exciting about journeys and feeling the distance ebb away.
In any event, there may be things to take away from it. Instead of setting goals, maybe we should give freedom to set our own? Maybe we should create more space to play at being pirates? Maybe we should embrace the fear of failure? Or maybe we should all slope off early once in a while because it’s good for the soul.
Who knows, but what i can tell you is that as we ground onto the sand at the end, hauled the kayaks from the water and shared a knowing look, it felt good.