Michael Plant and the Importance of Ballast

As you know by now, I love sailing!  And this sailing story caught my attention.  In the autumn of 1992, Michael Plant, a popular American sailor, set out on a solo crossing of the North Atlantic Ocean from the United States to France.  He was an expert who had circumnavigated the globe alone more than once.  And his midsized sailboat, the Coyote, was state of the art constructed and equipped, from hull to mast to sails to navigational and electronic equipment.  As far as colleagues and friends and family were concerned, Michael Plant had everything necessary to achieve success on his voyage. Eleven days into the trip, all contact with him was lost.  A massive search was launched.  Days went by – no sightings, no radio contact, nothing, even from his top of the line emergency position-indicating radio beacon.  And then the news that no one had ever expected:  the Coyote was found, floating upside down, 450 miles northwest of the Azores Islands.  No sign of Plant, relayed the crew of a freighter who had made the discovery.

The sailing community was surprised that the sailboat was discovered upside down in the water.  Sailboats don’t normally capsize.  They’re built to take the most vigorous pounding a sea can offer, and even when knocked over on its side or even upside down, they naturally right themselves.  Why this anomaly?

Sailboats are designed for maximum stability in strong winds by having more weight below the waterline.  That’s one of the purposes of the keel.  Alter that ratio and strong wind poses a serious threat.  So when the Coyote was built, an eight thousand pound weight was bolted to the keel in order to provide far more weight than even normal below the waterline.  That amount of ballast should assure stability.

But when the Coyote was discovered on that fateful day, the four-ton weight on the keel was missing.  Obviously then the boat’s stability had been seriously compromised.  So the first wave or wind of any magnitude became the probable deathblow.  And a very capable, experienced and much admired yachtsman lost at sea.

Not enough weight below the waterline.  A storm blows.  Life lost.

In a culture that puts so much emphasis on what people can see rather than on what can’t been seen, is it any wonder that so much personal instability results?  We worry more about what we wear, what we drive, what we live in, what we possess (money, wealth, power, position), than about what’s on the inside (character, spirit, heart issues).  So when the storms of life blow (and they always do at some point), we don’t have the necessary ballast to ride it out safely.  We become compromised.  We fold.  We capsize, and sometimes don’t recover.  At best, we simply live life trying to survive and function at minimum capacity, as opposed to really living and flourishing and being fulfilled at every level.  Sailboats need heavy ballast to perform well.  And so do we humans.

I'm looking forward to continuing this blog's conversation about what developing soul ballast looks like on practical levels and in tangible ways.  What are you finding that works effectively for you?