Wednesday, March 18

Adventures in the Grenadines

You may not have missed me as much as my dog Elvis did, but I am just back from a wild and challenging adventure in the Grenadines, where I earned my American Sailing Association ("ASA") certification as a charter sailboat captain.  I undertook a task that was outside of my comfort zone and made myself push through my uncertainty and fear to pursue a goal that I could envision enhancing my life.  And I did it!  I earned my ASA 101, 103, and 104 certifications, while learning many other practical sailing lessons along the way.  
As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, taking a trip outside of your comfort zone can often be just the inspiration you need to return home to tackle personal and work challenges with renewed energy and focus.  I kept notes of my thoughts and observations, what I learned, and some reflections on the practical applications of my experience, some of which is shared below. I hope this inspires you to pursue your own personal goals or shine fresh light on the patterns in your life:
Grenadian Snapshots
  • Aptly named the "Spice Islands" for generations, the Grenadines are a gorgeous strand of unspoiled islands north of Venezuela inhabited by an eclectic mix of people who refer to themselves as “Belong-Ums.” 
  • Gaining independence from Great Britain in 1974, Grenada was invaded by the United States in 1983.  The decomposing hulls of Cuban gun boats can still be seen washed along beaches that are being enveloped by mangroves.  After Grenada's cricket stadium was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan, the Chinese rebuilt the National Cricket Stadium, which hosted the 2007 Cricket World Cup.
  • Every Sunday afternoon, there is a casual beach concert that is powered entirely by a line run from a Swiss keyboardist’s boat.  He generously promotes and coaches local talent not only for their benefit, but for the many who paddle, swim, sail, and walk over for an afternoon and evening of “limin’” (meaning, “hanging out”). Drinking, dancing,  grilling, laughing, and story-telling are all encouraged. Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” is a crowd favorite, sung by several artists, confirming that the lyrics embody a message that truly resonates with the crowd.

Grenadian Experiences

  • My sailing instructor, Mark, was kind enough to give me the opportunity to shop with him in the local food stalls and markets, where I purchased and later sampled many unfamiliar native fruits and vegetables.  In the evenings, we visited rum shops (makeshift bars) as well as savored yummy local dishes purchased from his favorite street vendors and consumed on the spot.  These and other forays onto land allowed me to interact with many locals, transplants, and sailors whom I otherwise never would have met.  My impression of those I met was that they were interesting, intelligent, happy, and living in the present—a combination one rarely experiences in the metro DC area. 
  • Using the local buses was a hair-raising experience. The formal bus routes run nonstop from the St. George’s terminal to a terminal at the end of the island, then loop back again. The entrepreneurial driver and his conductor, however, have found a way to serve more people and squeeze a little change into their pockets by also loading and unloading passengers along the way. There are two crazy aspects to this scheme: first, one must jump into and out of the side door of the van while it is moving at a clip to keep on its schedule; second, they are never “full”--at one point, I counted 22 people in a four seat van—two very large individuals were directly on top of me. When passengers wanted to alert the conductor that they wanted to be let out, they rapped on any hard surface 3 times, which was somehow always miraculously heard, as the local music blared on every bus I took. Yet, everyone was orderly and friendly, I felt completely safe, and I was in awe of the complexity of the math being done at break-neck speed to assure that the funds the bus company expected were in their till while the “extra” was split between our driver and conductor. 

Sailing Lessons

  • As part of my sailing course and tests, I gained invaluable practical experience like how to provision and cook on a cruise, how to diagnose and repair serious mechanical issues (for example, steering failure and losing the prop—TWICE—the second time in high winds entering a busy marina packed with multi-zillion dollar yachts!), and how to come to the assistance of other sailors with problems.
  • The sailing course also reinforced for me the value of a great instructor. Mark made sure we covered the curriculum, but then added so much more, such that each student came away having met his/her personal goals and having explored his/her unique interests. He provided the structure needed for us to advance our skills and experiences required to qualify for each level, yet remained balanced and flexible as unexpected events occurred. 
  • Mark also demonstrated the range of talents and breadth of experience needed to be a relaxed, successful sailing instructor. His personality so suited what he was doing that it served as a great reminder of how important it is to pursue vocations and avocations that suit our temperaments.
  • I was reminded of the difference between navigating narrow channels (or between reefs) and navigating open seas, especially when one’s destination is not in sight. The water’s “fetch” is different, the time frame has to be adjusted, and the means of navigating may have to be adjusted accordingly. And, of course, as one navigates and travels along the course one has set, unexpected things happen with the weather, the boat, fellow shipmates, other vessels, and so many other variables—any of which may require a quick reassessment and course adjustment—a perfect reminder that this is how life unfolds!
  • I have always been intrigued both personally and professionally by the balance between self-sufficiency and inter-dependence. Sailing is the perfect medium for examining where the tipping point is between too much self-reliance and too great an emphasis on consensus (which is why it must always be clear who the captain is!). Roles and responsibilities need to be shared and agreed upon before embarking on any journey together, as it is too late to do so when the need arises. 
  • Lack of clarity regarding the plan for a group often results in misunderstandings or worse, as it did for us a few times. For instance, I assumed that when we arrived the first morning, we were expected to take our initial written test, and, assuming we passed it, we would head directly out on the boat to start the course. The charter company had not shared a curriculum or calendar with us, so this was just an untested assumption on my part. Instead, I became frustrated when we seemed to be “dilly-dallying” around with seemingly minor tasks. The company heard my feedback and mentioned that they will begin briefing students on what to expect. Again, I validated as a participant the need for the same methodologies I teach and coach organizations —clear, shared expectations with agreed-upon roles and responsibilities.
Personal Musings

  • Leaving in a sleeting snow, my plane sat on the runway for 2 hours being de-iced, causing me to miss my connection in Miami to Grenada.  There were many others on my flight who were trying to catch the same flight.  As the gate closed in front of us, an airline representative told us that they no longer held flights so passengers could make connections, as they were rated on their “on-time departures.” I see this kind of positive-goal-gone-sour in so many industries in my professional life.  Adherence to rules and blind obedience to numbers takes precedence over common sense.  There was not an available seat on the single daily flight from Miami to Grenada for at least a week.  Some of my fellow “victims” shouted, cursed, or cried.  Several went to the bar to wait out whatever number of days they faced in the airport.  A few made arrangements to return home.  Because I was traveling alone and had only carry-on luggage, I was able to engage an airline representative to find a creative solution: I flew that night to Trinidad, and then early the following morning, flew from Trinidad to Grenada.  I not only got to my destination, I did so with an unexpected stamp in my passport.
  • I have always loved pearls.  I tend to leave other jewelry unworn and return over and over to my favorite pearl pieces.  It occurred to me on this trip that perhaps one reason I feel so drawn to pearls is that they formed as a result of the oyster being disturbed, and yet rather than die or be crippled as a result, the oyster grows a pearl around it, creating beauty out of negativity.
  • I often find that when I step out of my day-to-day life, I regain my global perspective and feel reconnected to our planet and all life on it.  One of the concrete results of this realignment on my trip was a reaffirmation of my commitment to live as Earth-friendly a lifestyle as possible.
  • Thanks to my fellow sailing student Taylor for helping me explore the possibility that the problem with “global warming” or “climate change” might be a branding issue.  He suggested that it would be hard to deny if it were called, “rising sea level."  It made me think about all the other seemingly controversial issues that I see with my clients and how a simple reframing of the issue could present solutions that had been overlooked.

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