Sail into my heart

We went out last night despite 35 knot gusts and 4 foot waves, and we got soaked. Sailing in the Old Sigh races on Wednesdays from Pocasset and into Buzzard’s Bay is my team sport. Four of us squeeze into a small racing boat, relying on one another’s skills for sail handling, strategy, and map reading to get ahead of the other four or five boats in our class.

We’d gasp at the cold slap  when waves came over the side then laugh uncomfortably as the water drained through the cockpit. Sustained wind over 20 knots took a little getting used to before we decided to use all of the sails but we settled into the angle of the boat, steadying ourselves against the opposite side of the cockpit with outstretched legs.

Later we high-fived when on a dead run with the stiff wind and our little Alerion surfed down the waves sometimes hitting 9 knots. And high-fived again when we crossed the finish line first in our class. We took on the elements and prevailed. (Photos were from a previous week with little wind and flat conditions!)

Sailing doesn’t look too exciting to most people. But when you get out there and the wind fills the canvas just right, when your bow cuts through the waves and begins a rhythmic rocking, there’s something magical about it. There are no lanes, no yellow lines painted that you have to stay within; you can point your bow across the bay or across the planet and just go anywhere there’s a little wind.

MemDay Wknd 2005 018

the family Winnebago (Catalina), too big for the kids to handle

We did that sort of exploring a lot when we had a big boat that was the family Winnebago on the water, but the kids had little opportunity to participate in sailing it so I dropped about $250 on a used sailboat they could handle. We lived in a town without a lake and the boat wasn’t an easy one to lift onto the roof of the van, so it sat in the back yard a lot. Still, they got out on it several times and learned a little about using the wind to get where they wanted to go. Now it’s in my backyard lake and they use it whenever they come down, bringing friends who have never sailed. Heck, even Mike, the Master of Maritime Disasters, has learned to sail in it and taught his son, too. Best yet is seeing my 14-year-old niece, a child of the big city, step confidently into the old Snark and take off across the lake.

These days sailing is probably relaxing for my daughters. They don’t know how important it was to me that they learned how to handle a boat.

I wanted them to take a little risk going out themselves, to decide autonomously how to use the wind and the canvas, to learn this mode of travel that reaches back into history, mostly unchanged. Knowing how to sail is like knowing how to drive a stick shift, or how to ride a horse: they may not use the knowledge a lot but it’s a feather in their quiver, a notch of confidence that they carry everywhere. You may stall a few times before you get the hang of it, but that’s okay. Now they can look into a harbor and know every boat is essentially the same, that they have the skills to step aboard and take any route they want to the other side of the world.

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2 Responses to “Sail into my heart”

  1. knotayachtblog Says:

    A wonderful read, allowing our kids to explore and allowing them to see us explore is so rare these days. Perhaps that’s the main motivation we have for getting into the sailing world. Time and proximity in exploration. Keep writing!

  2. dvsjr Says:

    It’s amazing to me how sailing creates these powerful memories. At 12 my friends and I rode our bicycles from the base housing all the way to John’s pond in Mashpee. For $5 we could rent a sunfish and sail all day. Years later visiting Washington DC I snuck away by myself and made it into the national Gallery. I stood in front of Winslow Homer’s “breezing up” and had such an amazing experience with Art and memory and sailing. When I looked at the painting I could hear that whooshing bubbly noise the rudder makes, clear as day.

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