Deep Dive

 In Character, Community, Faith, Fred's Blog, Millennials, People, Relationships, Trust, Vocation

Listen to “Deep Dive” by Fred Smith

 

Until the recent Telemachus gathering, I had not seen Gordon and Gail MacDonald for many years.  Being there together with the young couples reminded me of a story Gordon tells in his book (and maybe my favorite of his), “The Life God Blesses.”

In 1992, Michael Plant, an experienced sailor, set off on a solo crossing of the Atlantic in his custom sailboat, the “Coyote.” Sparing no expense, he had outfitted the boat with all the latest equipment and features. It was prepared for anything. There was nothing not taken into account when he embarked.

“When Plant had prepared to sail, his friends and family had collected at the dock for an enthusiastic farewell. None had reason for anxiety. They were waving good-bye to an expert, one who had circumnavigated the globe alone more than once. The sailing community universally acknowledged Michael Plant as a yachtsman whose seafaring skills were without equal.”

Eleven days into the voyage his friends lost contact with him but they waited a few days to issue an alert because they were so certain he was in control. He wasn’t. Days later, the crew of a passing freighter spotted his boat capsized and floating upside down. Inside was a partially inflated lifeboat.

It’s a hard and fast rule that sailboats must have more weight below the waterline than there is above. For that reason, the keel of the “Coyote” had 8,000 extra pounds of ballast bolted to the keel when it was built. However, when the boat was found the weight was completely gone. Michael Plant had disappeared as well. As Gordon puts it, “The loss of the weight ended his life.”

First The Keel

As we served as mentors with those attending I realized once again the importance of this image.  There was a time when I assumed the role of a mentor was helping pore over the navigational charts for planning a direction and course for their life. Where were they headed? What was the best way to get there? Today, there are so many tools for doing just that. In fact, some of the most popular courses at the best schools are packed with students wanting to know how to find purpose and a plan for their lives. As well, whereas my generation was seeking a direction for life that was likely limited to a particular path or career, this generation has multiple options. The destination can change several times in life. There is not as much need for someone coming alongside to nudge them when they appear to be off course.  Later, I thought it was to “empower” them by helping them learn to use the size of the sail they had been given. Now, I realize how much more sail they have than generations before. Not only intelligence but connections and networks, wealth, and credentials. Finally, I believed the role of a mentor was helping develop the skills for avoiding the reefs and sandbars that are so often hidden just below the surface and not obvious until it is too late. Where were the storms likely to be and what were the conditions most likely to produce them?

The Deep Dive

But now, I am thinking more about the significance of the keel. In building a boat, everything is built around the keel. First the keel and then the boat. I am focusing more and more on the keel around which they are building their lives. To do that, I am looking less and less at charts, rudders and sails, and more at their weights beneath the waterline. What is the depth and weight of their keel and are they satisfied with what they are building on?

They have so many fine options to use for the 8,000-pound weight. Ethics – both personal and professional – are helpful. As well, there are expectations – both family and social – that are important. There are faith and religious commitments that add weight and balance to life. We could all make a list of the things that might be bolted firmly on the keel. But are they the best weights and held fast enough to keep us from capsizing in a storm? Will they, like those used by Michael Plant, loosen and drop away when needed the most?

I suppose that is why my current image for a mentor is one of deep-sea diver. I am not as much a coach and guide as an engaged listener and examiner by putting on the suit, helmet, and hoses for lowering myself into their life to inspect the weights on the keel. It is not psychology or therapy. It is not counsel or exhortation. It is simply checking to find what they have bolted to the keel and then see if it is secure enough to weather the storms that will come.

You can buy my book “Where The Light Divides” here.

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Showing 13 comments
  • Avatar
    John Wierick
    Reply

    Reading your book on a train to Paris with Roger and Sherry Nunnally. This is a perfect morning!

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Sounds like a Hemingway moment! Thank you, John. I am, of course, too mature to be envious!

  • Avatar
    David Spence
    Reply

    I have often been uncomfortable with the word “mentor,” particularly when anyone ascribed that role to himself or herself. As a noun, I find it slightly offputting…as a verb with “I” as the subject, bordering on pretentious. Finally you have come up with a descriptor I find more comfortable. Lord, help us to be careful, thorough, and wise keel inspectors. Loving boats is qualification number one.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, David. Yes, the word carries so much baggage. I suspect you know much more firsthand about actual keels than I will ever know!

  • Avatar
    Jim Bell
    Reply

    Fred, a note from my submarine experience in the Navy. When transitioning from surface trim to underwater trim, center of gravity shifts from below the center of buoyancy to a condition where the center of buoyancy is above the center of gravity. The submarine remains stable in both conditions, but at the moment of this shifting there is an instance where there is zero righting force and total instability. We do need a center of gravity in our lives! Best wishes for your new center of gravity

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      I love this, Jim. I served at the sub training school in Key West but never was able to actually board a sub (or any ship) in four years of duty! This is a great piece of information!

  • Avatar
    Fonda Latham
    Reply

    I love this, and I love the shifting of your understanding! This is a dynamic that I can relate to in many places professionally and personally. Your wisdom and insight are both challenging and comforting. Thanks!

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Fonda! This is so encouraging to me.

  • Avatar
    David Galloway
    Reply

    I vowed, with three fraternity brothers, to make a transatlantic sail before we were forty. Life got in the way. One is a heart surgeon, one is a litigation lawyer, one a dentist, and I, a no-count. I got the vision from Stuart Woods who wrote of making the solo journey from Galway Bay to the US. I planned on us making port in Hilton Head, my best experience of low country at the time. I have loved sailing all my life, and the analogies are sweet for a teacher, preacher, and writer. The very act of tacking into the wind is a magic that has never left me, an image that formed the name of my first counseling center.
    Your note on mentoring evoked an image of Brooklin, Maine, home of my favorite place to visit, Wooden Boat. Talking to the summer collection of builders is an education unto itself. The talk turns on lines of design to increase the way, the sail design for thrust, and on the ballast to hold steady and upright. The three-dimensional balance is what I came away with and try to use in my coaching work.
    Thanks for your image of mentorship. I have yet to feel called to that as it connotes a level of superiority that does not come easy, thankfully. A great story. Where is it written in Gordon’s work?
    Thank you for you offering/

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, David. “The canvas can do miracles.” The story is in Gordon’s book – “The Life God Blesses” – and
      is one of my favorites of his books.

  • Avatar
    Steve Leach
    Reply

    Wow Fred,
    You’re headed to a new level of wisdom, insight, and “deep” clarity. I love listening to your voice as it brings me into the living room of your presence. I like that very much. Press on dear brother!!

    Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise. Proverbs 19:20

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Steve! I may have to put this on the cover of the next book.

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