Updated: Sep 30, 2022
As part of the process of "getting out there" this year, I realised the importance of sailing to my approach as a smokefiring potter. I came to sailing relatively late (twenty years' ago) and ended up on a round the world yacht race as a watchleader. As watchleader, you make a lot of decisions - about whether to change sails up or down (larger and smaller sails) - or take reefs in or out. You have a general weather forecast so you kind of know what is going to happen - but not exactly. Your responsibility is to keep the yacht moving as fast as possible - but also to conserve the boat and crew at the same time. If you change down too fast you will lose speed, but you might make things easier on the crew and the boat. If you change too late, you might end up with damage or a dangerous situation. I suppose what I am saying is that there is no orange light that goes on when something needs to happen - its a matter of judgment - of weighing everything up. I remember so clearly the responsibility of making the right call, and how I would look at the data - wind speed and so on - but how I would also "feel" what was the right thing to do - intuition played as big a part as anything else. For the same reason, every time I came on watch I took the wheel first so I could "feel" how the boat was set up in the conditions. Basically, I learned how important it was to listen to my intuition - which is something that we don't have to do very often in our structured, urban lives. From a young age we are measured on what we know in exams - but not our intuition. I think that many of us have lost the confidence to listen to our instinct - we use it so little. I have done a couple of workshops this year and I realised that I have been smoke firing like a sailor on watch. Everyone else seems to pile all their pots in a bin or pit, set fire to it and walk away (its a generalisation, but you get the idea). I only smoke fire up to four things at a time, and sometimes only one or two - in a single layer. I know what happens in each part of the fire and I know what is happening because of how it sounds. My fire should sound like distant thunder - not roaring surf. If I am standing alongside the fire and talking to someone, I notice that I react immediately when the tone of the fire changes. In deconstructing what I do, I have realised that we have instincts and built in sensitivities that allow us to understand much more than we can read from a book - and I am fortunate to have learned how to use that.