Riding at Anchor

I am pondering the ironic fact that I felt less free over a decade ago while sailing over the Temecula Valley in a commercial hot air balloon than I did recently when I rose straight up over Orange County, California, in this tethered Great Park balloon.

I am reminded of another time I sailed through the air: when I careened off of a 30 ft. telephone pole as part of a team-building exercise. The atypical expletive I screamed as I jumped off the wavering wooden beast and toward the trapeze bar didn’t stop my epiphany: fear can be random and irrational. Yet fear was the last thing I had expected to feel. After all, no harm was in sight; I was harnessed and tethered. Yet “abject fear” barely defines what flooded my mind in the few moments that elapsed between climbing, standing, jumping, and gratefully connecting with that three-foot swinging bar.

Pondering fears–rational and irrational–inadvertently led me to the debate that exists between sailors who believe tethered harnesses should be the standard when sailing on the open seas, and those who don’t. Mobility and racing effectiveness are allegedly compromised when a sailor’s safety harness is tethered to  jacklines secured to the stern and bow. San Francisco and San Diego are both reeling from the recent deaths (rare occurrences in the sport) of several sailors, which has fired up ongoing concerns about sailing safety in general. Bryan Chong, a survivor of the San Francisco accident spoke up on the matter, standing clearly on the side of safety precautions that could have saved his crew mates and eliminated his horrific experience; one that he says was like being in a “washing machine with boulders.” Regarding not being tethered, Chong had this to say, “It’s simply a bad habit that formed due to a false sense of security in the ocean. It’s obvious to me now that I should have been clipped into the boat at every possible opportunity.”

Freedom creates a tantalizing fantasy that rarely considers viable dangers. Sometimes we act with wild abandon and we survive, thrive even. Other times we are left to clean up the aftermath of something we regret. There is a balance that involves weighing the risks – a “pros and cons” list we often make in our heads based on knowledge, experiences, beliefs, affinities, tolerance levels and more. It is complex and personal. This is a healthy process because we know ourselves best. But when we allow our fears to be tethered to our doubts, we are unlikely to sail toward our best dreams–the ones that bring us the most joy. Going adrift of total caution can be just what we need to spark an incredible journey.

So why did I feel more free in the tethered balloon? I have a fear of heights and a proclivity toward claustrophobia. Neither are a problem; they are mild in nature. But that day, the beauty of the Temecula Valley was obscured by my eagerness to land. The Great Park balloon on the other hand, is finite. It has a secure basket with a screen that prohibits falling out. There are openings that allow for photography, and behind the lens I was pursuing a passion that blotted out anything else. My fears were non-existent.  I was safe, and I was free.

My heart goes out to the families who lost loved ones to the sea; weak solace in the fact that they died doing something they loved. Hindsight has everyone involved wishing these souls had been safely tethered. Though they would not have escaped fear, they surely would have cheated death.

Note: An anchor that is aweigh is one that has just begun to put weight onto the rope or chain by which it is being hauled up. And while this pulling up allows a ship to sail, the anchor sits ready for when it is needed again.

To “ride at anchor” is to be anchored.

photographs and thoughts are the creation and property of the author/photographer, Britton Minor

26 thoughts on “Riding at Anchor

  1. It’s the easiest thing in the world to photograph a round orange ball on a blue, blue sky. It’s the hardest thing in the world to make it interesting, but you’ve done it! Such a good eye, Britton. : )

    1. Thank you. It was fun lying on the ground, having people step over me (or on me). I think I almost got my (good) eye poked out.

  2. Oh, Britton, this is a wonderful article and so apropos for this particular time! You have such insight and creativity! I also love the photos!

    1. Thank you Lin. This piece seemed to want to be written. I wrestled with it a while, then let it have its say!

  3. Every time I pass the balloon on my way to Santa Margarita to get my hair done, I think of taking a trip in the balloon, but then rethink it. Frankly, it doesn’t seem that interesting. Is there a feeling of exhilaration at all? I’m tickled by the thought of you lying on the ground getting the shot.

    1. The exhilaration comes more from the scenery, but I also liked the sensation from the balloon itself. I enjoyed being above it all, looking down at interesting shadows and an expanse of The OC that I rarely see. The park is expanding, and they offer gardening classes, a farmer’s market (every Sunday), antiques fair (once monthly), composting workshops, and more. Take a notepad and people-watch.

  4. Britton, your line: “An adult with fears but mild in nature” reminds me of a poem by James Russell Lowell (line 3)
    “Hers is a spirit deep and crystal-clear;
    Calmly beneath her earnest face it lies,
    Free without boldness, meek without a fear,
    I look into the fathomless blue skies”.

  5. I prefer my feet planted right here on good ol’ Mother Earth. Not crazy about heights either. We have gliders rides over our beautiful valley that I’ve often thought I’d like to go up on but maybe I’ll just send you to photograph it for me. Beautiful photos and they go perfectly with the story. “… a false sense of security.” I’ve seen a lot of people get hurt on and around horses because of that. Or think they’re too good to wear a helmet. It always takes a tragedy to enlighten people unfortunately.

    1. Yes, Jayne–being a laid-back person most of the time, I always have to remind myself that life is prickly, and that there ARE some precautions that need to be taken in order to continue to enjoy life to its fullest. Just a few days ago I was thinking about how easy it is to take horses for granted since they are so beautiful and peaceful. Like the ocean…easy to forget its power.

  6. Ah freedom does have a price, but look at the rewards, my brave friend! love the photos and your blog is very personal to me. Need to take a look around and see where I may take a leap.

  7. Nice use of blue to show height.

    A skydiver I know was asked if he feared death. His answer was, “Of course, but even more, I fear not having lived.”

  8. I fear heights. I fear flying. No, wait … actually I fear falling (Not really flying. I’d love to fly without the fear of falling one day.) Anyone engaged in sports with more risks ought to take better care of themselves by taking precautions. It’s the least we can do for us and those with whom we’re travelling.

    A lovely burst of orange in that cloudless sky, Britton. 🙂

  9. Wow Britton, great post! It’s interesting that I am just about exactly as you are with heights, and under which circumstances I feel safe and secure, and exposed and fearful. Good to know someone shares similar experiences. I’m sure others do as well…

  10. My own grappling with fear/anxiety has me seeing that fear (sometimes coupled with sadness) is often rooted in past experience while anxiety is rooted the future (I.e. anticipation, projection, etc.). Only when I’m fully in the present moment does the fear rooted in the past or anxiety about what’s coming let go of me. Couldn’t help but think of that when you compared your two different balloon experiences. You said it yourself — when all you thought of was landing, you couldn’t enjoy the experience. On the other hand, when you felt secure in the basket, your letting go of thoughts and fears placed you right in the moment.

    1. Yes, the more I live, the more I realize that figuring things out doesn’t always follow a logical path or reach a logical conclusion. I love that, actually…

  11. Britton, also suffering from claustrophobia, I can relate to this post. I’m with Deborah–when we stay rooted in the here and the now, we can overcome our fears. I find that whenever I think of past events that have caused me grief or stress, the feelings come rushing back. Hence, it’s best to stay in the present and enjoy what the new experience has to offer. These shots are fantastic, by the way! 🙂

    1. Thank you, Bella. I agree that looking back at negative experiences, except for the lessons we reflect upon, can be a depressing and backwards experience. So much ahead to do, see, conquer and be!

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