You need wind in your sail and the boat will move forward.
When was the last time you took up an unfamiliar sport or hobby?
As adults, we tend to stick with what we are good at.
It’s fun to learn something new as long as we don’t have to make a fool of ourselves.
Or risk failure.
I can’t draw a straight line. I have two left feet. I flunked gym. I’m bad with technology. I’m afraid of heights. I can’t carry a tune. I’m not creative.
My quest to say “Yes” in 2022 includes trying things outside my comfort level and experience.
I’ve had years of ballet training, so trying new forms of dance, while at first challenging, is still fun and familiar. Chance of failure pretty low. Fear factor-zero.
I knew I needed to stretch myself if I was to conquer fears.
It was time to raise the bar.
This summer I signed up for sailing lessons.
Before you say, Oh, how fun!, please know it was not on my top list of activities. In fact, applying to be a civilian passenger on a spacecraft ranked higher. (I did apply but that is another story.)
Prior to signing up, the only sailboat I’d been on was a 70 ft. catamaran in Key West. Now that was fun.
I got to relax, enjoy a margarita and good company, while a master skipper took to the giant sails. With a calm sea, perfect weather, and a spectacular sunset…What’s not to like?
My summer sailing lessons were offered through a yacht club on our town lake. The legendary sailing coach, Bob G. has been sailing, racing, and teaching for 50 years!
At age 80, Bob still possesses incredible strength and stamina. I watched in awe as he jumped in and out of the boats, helping the students rig their sails.
These sail boats are not huge. You sit low and close to the water. There’s no motor. You can’t quickly change direction or speed. There’s a feeling of vulnerability, at least for me, being out in one.
And I had no idea there was so much involved in the sport.
Putting on the rudder. Bailing the water. Lowering the boom. Rigging the main sail and the gib sail. Securing the ropes.
And that’s all before you leave the dock!
Upon returning to the dock or mooring, you have to do everything again in reverse.
Then there is the sailing vocabulary to learn: tacking, gibing, luffing, beam reach, in irons, centerline, starboard, port, leeward, fairlead, and clew.
My sense of direction has never been great, so learning the essential Points of Sail proved challenging, as well.
I can still do a double pirouette but cannot tie a proper knot for the life of me. Can you, dear reader, tie a quick Bowline knot?
At home I practiced tying with the help of YouTube tutorials. By the next sailing class, though, I’d forgotten the procedure.
This sense of defeat made me sympathetic to what my adult ballet students must have felt when I demonstrated the sequence of a seemingly simple dance combination. Why couldn’t they get it? I’d thought at the time.
It didn’t take Captain Bob long to pick up on my anxiety.
Instead of letting me sail with my requested partner our first time out, Bob assigned me to his boat, along with Mary, another sailing novice.
Bob was patient but firm, giving clear directions and expecting us to follow suit.
Never mind the information overload. At least I felt safe in Bob’s boat. He could read the wind and water like I analyze a poem.
Next lesson, though, we were on our own. Bob would monitor us, and the other class members, from his motor boat.
There were moments of panic in the middle of the lake when I was doing everything wrong, my partner’s commands coming too fast for me to process.
At times, I feared the boat would capsize. (Did I mention I don’t like swimming in lakes?)
Upon seeing the distress signal, Bob did not heed my request to return to the dock.
Instead, he sent his teenage assistant over in a rowboat.
The agile boy climbed in our sailboat. “What’s troubling you?” he said, sounding more like a therapist-in-training.
The boy assured me that we wouldn’t capsize. Or crash into the oncoming boats.
Though he admitted it could feel that way.
“Just do this to balance the boat,” he demonstrated, sitting atop the side and leaning far backwards.
Ah, sure. Thanks.
Next class, just before sunset, the lake remained still. I began to relax and enjoy the scenery from a new vantage point.
I felt as if I’d stepped into a Monet painting.
Bob rowed over to my boat, his arm sweeping across the gorgeous sky.“See? This is what it’s all about!”
After each sail practice, Bob did a debriefing back on land, offering tips on wind currents, sailing maneuvers, and safety measures.
Once, after spending a half hour just rigging the boat, pushing away from the dock and setting sail, he called us back in because of a lightning threat.
After we gathered on shore, Bob reminded us of the old adage:
“You can’t control the weather, only the direction of your sails.“
That metaphor fit my life perfectly. What a great lesson for us all.
* * *
On the last day of class, Bob pronounced us graduated. “Summa cum laude!”
I think he was being generous with me. I’m no way ready to skipper a sailboat. For now, I’ve advanced from passive passenger to cautious crew.
Learning a new skill is good for our brain. Doing something we fear is good for our spirit.
This summer, I accomplished both.
I’m still working on that Bowline knot.
“Call me Evelyn.“