9/06/2003One of the things I became aware of years ago, as I learned to sail, was that I could not enjoy what sailing had to offer until I got rid of a lot of the fear that often controlled my actions. I used to spend inordinate amounts of time, money and energy working on the boat, installing oversize rigging, studying sailing techniques and worrying over each voyage. It was not so much afraid of getting hurt or dying or anything so dramatic. Oh no, what drove me was the fear of somehow failing and there in being humiliated. I spent many hours at sea working hard at looking good. And while doing so I missed most of what the voyage had to offer.
On one windy afternoon I decided to take my 26’ Columbia out in spite of the small craft waning flags that were flying. The wind was 25 to 30 kts and seas were getting big. But I had just rigged the boat with reefing gear and felt it was time to try it out. All went well on the first two tacks after we left the harbor and I was feeling more confident but edgy as we ran before the wind and seas on our way back to the harbor. It happened in an instant. A large rogue wave came up on our stern, crested, broke and knocked the boat completely down. She wallowed for a moment, shuttered, the stood up, wind caught the sails and off she went as if nothing had happened. Of course I knew different. The cockpit was full of water but draining well. We were all soaked. And, the outboard was trailing behind the boat like some big lure attached only by the safety chain rigged to the outboard mount.
For me it became a small epiphany. The worst had happened. I had been knocked down and for a while I was out of control and at the mercy of the breaking wave. But, the boat took care of herself. She was well built, well rigged and did what she was designed to do. And we, the crew did what we needed to do. We hung on. For me there was no sense of failure or humiliation. I had survived and was feeling exhilarated. We continue on in to the harbor, rescued the dangling motor and secured the boat in her berth. Dried out and warm again I felt a sense that I had gone through something that had the potential to be disastrous and that had not only bonded me to the boat but had change me. From then on every boat I owned became a trusted partner in this thing I call sailing and I came to trust that partners ability to do what she was made to do. I was free to enjoy the sail, to feel the boat move with the sea, to listen to the song she would sing as the wind moved through the rigging, to sense when she was trimmed proper and running free.
I have been able to apply the lesson learned that afternoon to many aspects of my life. And, I have come to grow more and more confident in my ability to handle the breaking waves that come up on my stern. I am now I starting out again after another one of life’s’ knockdowns. My marriage of almost 29 years came to an end and I moved into a small apartment overlooking Bellingham Bay. There is no need for me to write of the details of the divorce. That is too personal for this site and has no relevance to what I am trying to say. What I am feeling is that it is time to slacken the sheets a little, fall off and let the boat run with the weather for a while, she can handle it.