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Fighting Fears

No time for Fear's Paralysis

by Donna Lange

Back to Fears

Weren't you afraid?

There are so many aspects to cruising, preparation, going into foreign countries and such, but my experience is more related to sea - time. I believe that when I am approached by most women having solo sailed the world by the Capes, the first question I am asked is ‘weren't you afraid?'

I have so many stories related to dealing with potential fear that it is hard to begin. I have to admit that fear is a tremendously powerful emotion and that there were times doing my circumnavigation when I struggled to contain my apprehension.

But I was never afraid, as to me, fear is a paralyzing emotion that causes people to change their decisions about what they are going to do or doing, become paralyzed or overwhelmed.

I did not become afraid, in fact, I came to a great peace. This has been one of the gifts to me from my journey.

My experience sailing solo began in 2001 . I had spent 2 years rebuilding my own boat with my own hands. I knew my boat, how to fix it, interact with it…I had gained experience knowing my boat. I had knowledge.

Then I sailed from the Caribbean to Newport RI. In that first solo trip I came to trust that my boat would not sink unless an act of God intervened in my life, a truth for all of us anywhere we are in life and time.

Of course, I was in total control of my ship. I didn't have to trust any other human being. Just me. To me, this is a great source of peace. I knew myself.

I have to say that I faced a terrible gale on that first trip.

I was checking in on my SSB radio with David Jones on the Caribbean net. There was a huge storm coming off of Cape Hattaras and he was advising all the boats to get off the sea. When he hailed my boat, I keyed the mic and gave him my position, the size of my boat and average speed. I anticipated some kind of instruction as he had given others, but instead he simply said, “Donna, you are just going to have to ride out the storm. You can't get out of the way'. I keyed the mic to answer and I heard a hissing sound and ‘silence'. It had shorted out. I was on my own.

Yet, it wasn't fear that overtook me, it was the adrenalin that knew that something huge and unknown was about to happen. Apprehension. Fear comes when this anticipation of an unknown approaching moment is able to overcome emotions and decisions. Caution is what occurs when the mind starts to ‘do' what it must to best encounter the upcoming event.

We have two choices when we feel apprehension. We can do all we can to prepare ourselves to meet the event or we can become overwhelmed. Being present in the situation and thinking is the key to moving forward to manage what is to come.

There are many things in life I have feared. I had no choice but to encounter them and have either become overwhelmed or engaged in dealing with it, making choices.

But for me, the key to dealing with fear is truth and knowledge.

The truth is that if we are capable of fearing still, we are capable of doing something still…I can be afraid to sink, be starting to sink, but I am not sunk.

On that first solo trip, the last night before approaching Newport, a historical lightning storm encircled me. I thought I ‘had to get hit'. I was the only ‘stick for a hundred miles'. I cried considering the end, but somehow though strikes hit ahead and behind, I sailed safely into Newport the next day. I realized that my life is in the hand of a destiny.

An amazing moment came for me when my self-steering mechanism broke during the last leg of my circumnavigation and my boat rolled. Completely submerged, tethered and holding on to my dodger frame, fully underwater, about to drown, the most incredible peace came over me.

I believe that when the real moment we all fear potentially comes, there is a reconciling of our existence that occurs. I had found my peace. The key to life is to live it in a way that brings us inward peace and realizes the great gifts within us.

During my solo of the North Atlantic, I had to make an unexpected landing in the Cape Verdes, a third world.

Surrounded by hundreds of men on fishing boats in a fishing port where I couldn't speak the language, I was challenged to be afraid, but instead I pulled out my guitar and I sang to them.

I had a chat with myself and decided to give them a gift of myself instead of fearing them. What do I have to offer?

If someone is struggling with apprehension regarding cruising I would suggest that there is

  • either a valid recognition that it is not for them,
  • a lack of knowledge about boats and the sea (what makes them tick),
  • the reality that someone is in control that they do not trust,
  • or they are not ready for an amazing potential that may still be revealed.

The ocean is an incredible mentor but not willing to tolerate ignorance or stagnation. The sea will challenge all that one has learned in life and reveal all that still can be.

My advice

  • Know all you can know so you are able to be a capable sailor
  • Stay in the present
  • Be sure that your sailing partners are trustworthy
  • And understand the incredible gifts the sea is waiting to impart to your spirit when you open yourself to her and the gifts you have to share with others.


About Donna Lange

In 2007, I became the fastest American woman to solo sail the world via the capes, stopping only 2 times to cross my outbound track. Beginning in Rhode Island, I landed first in New Zealand, then Cape Horn, crossing my outbound track and landing in the Caribbean. I completed the world in Rhode Island, May 16 th , 2007.

I am a mother of 4, grandmother of 7 with 3 more on the way over the holidays, a professional musician, have published 2 children's books, with a USCG 100 ton Masters Captains license with a towing endorsement, a BS in nursing, pursuing my masters in Healthcare Administration/Education and the Executive Director of OceansWatch North America.

I began sailing in 1999 on a tall ship in Baltimore MD, falling in love with the traditional sailing community, taking a course in celestial navigation, and followed my heart to the Caribbean to work in the charter industry.

In Nov 2000, the vision to solo sail the world came into view as a vagabond musician when I bought Inspired Insanity, a Southern Cross 28. Over the next 2 years, I had to do 3 major refits and a 4 th before setting off to sail the world as the boat had a delaminated hull and was not a real blue water boat. She is now.

I have become a full fledge mechanic, electrician, sailmaker, woodworker, fiberglass expert along the way, not to mention a bit of a sailor.