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.