I believe in sailing.
My first boat and guide in this practice was a used 24’ Cape Dory sloop. Sailing theology teaches humility. Once I fell into the drink just climbing into the dingy. I sailed with too much wind and too much sail, catching the boom on the aft stay, almost broaching. I scared myself. But sailing has the grace to grant second chances.
“Nice sailing off your mooring,” said the note on the windshield of my car when I returned from a weekend voyage. Wow, someone noticed. It was my neighbor, the boat builder, Ellis Rowe.
Ellis and I became sailing partners. Ellis had been a navy diver. He’d lived on a schooner in the Caribbean and survived two days in the water to tell the tale of its capsize. Sailing showed Ellis without façade. I became his sweetheart and he became my haven.
I believe that sailing uses wind, fog, and tide to teach patience and flexibility. If we were becalmed close to noon, we’d break out lunch—which was frequently interrupted by a fresh wind, putting us under sail, sometimes suddenly heeling, flinging crabmeat sandwiches from starboard to port and vice versa. Tacking against wind and tide provides little headway, but the tide eventually turns. Sometimes Ellis and I went back to where we’d been. With seals and fish hawks as neighbors, we watched the sunset melt into the ocean, beyond the reach of news and the ways of the worldly.
Provisions are important in sailing, but when inadequate, improvisation is essential. Ellis laughed the day I’d forgotten my slicker and was clad in garbage bags as we drifted into Castine Harbor. But another time he’d omitted his swim trunks and had to wear my purple bikini to dive below and free us from a lobster pot tangled in our propeller. As El was about to jump, a swanky yacht pulled up beside us.
From the water, appearances are misleading. One island looks like another and what seems to be a safe passage may hide underwater boulders. Consulting charts and checking bearings are mandatory. You are seldom where you think you are.
Ellis and I talked of a bigger boat, maybe living aboard, but—you are seldom where you think you are. El’s cancer was diagnosed in June and he died in September.
Loss is inevitable in sailing. Hats, sunglasses, life jackets, boat hooks, binoculars, food—as well as direction, confidence, and control are liable to go overboard, but you learn to cope.
I have a three-year-old grandson, Pascal, with whom I pretend to raise the sails, pull in the sheets, push the tiller hard to lee. We talk about dolphins and sailing to Costa Rica and being rocked in our cradle berths by the rolling waves.
Even as sailing exposes our vulnerabilities and insignificance, there’s a solace in floating along and contemplating the divine wonder of nature. I want Pascal to experience that. It won’t be the same, but I believe in sailing.
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