The Columbus syndrome: are you a happy sufferer?

Never heard of it? I am not surprised, I just made it up.

I use the term to explain my urge to explore and discover, like Columbus on his first voyage, rather than go somewhere I have been before, like Columbus on his second voyage.

Most cruising sailors are adventure seekers to some degree. The very idea of sailing off on a yacht is all about adventure. New places to explore and new sights to see. Venturing off into the unknown, in most cases, is what it‘s all about.

The heightened excitement of going somewhere for the first time can never be repeated. Just like when Columbus set off on his first voyage not knowing where he was going.

Some people thought the earth was flat and he had simply sailed off the edge. The excitement, stress and even terror, of that voyage is hard to imagine in this day of charts and GPS. One thing is for sure though, the second voyage could never be as exciting as that first one.

They knew where they were going, what direction it was, how far away it was and that land would actually be there. No worries about sailing off the edge of the earth.

It must have been positively boring in comparison to the first voyage.

Maybe that is all I am doing when I give free rein to my Columbus Syndrome: staving off boredom. Though I believe that boredom is merely a failure to master the art of relaxation.

Sometimes, when my mastery of relaxation lapses and I get bored, I will pull out some charts and just look for places.

Seeing ‘Incomplete Survey‘ on a chart doesn‘t put me off. In fact it just gets me more excited about it. The more of an unknown it is the more it seems to call me. It is like a challenge to my explorer spirit and of my courage sometimes. The idea that I may actually be the first yacht to ever go somewhere has a great appeal to me. To be my own Columbus.

The first time anywhere is a buzz, no matter how well charted or marked it may be. Even with all the best preparation it is still a challenge and when the anchor goes down anywhere new it‘s immensely satisfying. I tend to spend the first few hours just sucking it all in. All senses heightened acclimatising to new surroundings.

You may be in awe of the beauty of a joint but your brain is also in familiarisation mode. What will happen if the wind changes or the swell picks up? What effect will the tides have? How easy will it be to exit the place should things get nasty?

Once the brain has it all sorted you can sit back, relax and really take it all in. Would you like beer, rum or wine with your new view?

This process is basically the same whenever you are somewhere unfamiliar, but is a lot more critical if you‘re somewhere with no marked channels or leads. Exit strategies become more complicated when there is unmarked coral lumps in the way.

With an uncharted bay the way you came in may not be the best way out. With no previous experience of a place, no cruising guide, no mud map and no soundings, it‘s all very much up to you.

Now isn’t that exciting?

Maybe a bit too exciting for a lot of people but I certainly get a real kick out of it. Not that it has always gone well.

That‘s the thing with the Columbus Syndrome, there is certainly a degree of risk involved. It could all go horribly wrong. An unknown bay is exactly that: unknown.

It may be much better than you thought it would be. It could be exactly like you thought it would be. Or it could be a hell hole you wish you had never attempted.

Unfortunately you will not know for sure until you get there. But that is the thing that makes it so exciting.

To be the explorer. To put it all on the line just to see what is there. To feel just a little bit like Columbus, or Dampier, or any of the great sea explorers from long ago.

Nothing like them really but, in this day and age, as close as I can get. To be at a place that is exactly as it was hundreds of years ago when some great explorer was there shivers my timbers.

A perfect case in point is Turtle Bay at the north end of Dirk Hartog Island. Dirk was there in 1616. Quite some time ago now, but you can still see it pretty much exactly as he saw it.

On the west side of the bay is Cape Inscription, where he left his famous pewter plate.

Sitting in the bay it can be quite mind boggling to contemplate on the fact that the first Europeans known to set foot on Terra Australis did so right here. Of course it is actually an island, but they did not know that.

The West Australian coast is littered with sites like this. Places just as they were, if you ignore the odd lighthouse, when Dampier, or some Frenchman, Dutchman or Portuguese sailed by hundreds of years ago.

It is littered with wrecks too. Not everyone that goes exploring makes it home. Well, you only live once, depending on what religion you are.

I certainly try to reduce the risks with research. I am sure Columbus was not sailing
off completely blind.

He would have been onto every old chart and scrap of information, every old sailors story.

We have the benefits of technology that the old explorers would have given their eye teeth for. The great voyage of Columbus would hardly have been an adventure at all if he had only had Google Earth.

I must confess a quirk in my personality. When talking to people about my adventures I love to use the words ‘first‘ and ‘only‘. I am proud to be the ‘first‘ to go somewhere, or to be the ‘only‘ person that goes to a certain place and I like to tell people.

This could be the explorers urge to tell of his discoveries or I could just be up myself. I am not really sure, but I have a sneaking suspicion it is the latter.

Familiarity breeds contempt, or at least, a feeling of comfort, and there is nothing wrong with being comfortable and relaxed most of the time.

But we will keep leaving our comfort zone to head off on voyages of discovery. To explore the unknown. To cruise to new frontiers. To have
an adventure.

The next unfamiliar anchorage keeps calling us like the Sirens song. We have to answer the call.

To some degree, all of us suffer from the Columbus Syndrome. I would call mine a moderately severe case.

M.O.S.S Australia
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