Gil, amigo mio, I don't think I can get it into a paragraph, but I'll certainly share the best lesson I learned.
This piece of advice came from one of my first roommates and mentors, a fellow named Dennis.
Dennis is a few years older than me, and whenever I seek wise counsel he's one of surest sources of guidance I have.
Early in our relationship Dennis gave me a piece of advice that has never steered me wrong.
"Nik, follow your heart." It's advice I've ignored at my peril. I have foolishly tested that ignorance more times than a wise or even reasonable man should, always returning to the conclusion that there is no better single guiding piece of wisdom I've yet found.
You ask, "Why did you sail?" Perhaps by answering how I learned the truth of following my heart I can better respond to the question.
In the early winter of 2000 I was fresh out of the Navy. 23 years old, sure that everything I cast my eyes upon was mine merely for the price of beckoning, that I was master and commander of vast fields of knowledge whether or not they were known to me, vexed only that more of the world couldn't read my mind and do what was so obvious (to me).
At the time my heart belonged to wild places, to the unknown, to those points on a map marked "Here Be Dragons." With almost no money of my own, just promises and the support of good friends and family, I bought a small boat (a J/22), convinced a friend to teach me to sail along the way, and we two set off from San Diego on a southerly course to joust with dragons.
Of course, in 2000 there were very few places left where dragons were a possibility. I did the next best thing and leapt into the unknown. No guide books, no introductions or paperwork, no satellite weather reports, just a GPS to keep us pointed in the right direction, enough groceries for 3 days, a small fishing kit, surfboards, and a small quiver of sails.
We kept the land to our left until we hit the Panama Canal. After transiting the Canal and heading north, far enough offshore to not catch sight of land, I switched to steering mostly by the sun and the stars.
The trip took just under 6 months, and in that journey I saw all things to satisfy a soul.
Wind in the sails, spy-hops of curious fish, a midnight visit with a warm-breathed whale; all became part of my life. We fished off the stern, pissed to leeward, and when dolphins came to join us we threw in a line and dragged behind the boat, flowing in their wake.
It was a journey with my heart as the pole star.
You ask, "What did you learn?"
Gil, unfortunately, the things I learned are not lessons that can be shared in words. They are things we each weave into our character as default actions only through direct experience.
I learned to trust strangers, to sail a steady course in heavy seas, to single handedly jibe on the midnight watch, to always follow my heart.
It is that last piece of wisdom, passed on to me in a casual moment of advice, that I learned the best and the most of. Follow your heart.
Too much reading...
How about dessert?