Monday, April 12, 2010

How it all got started . . .

I don’t recall giving learning to sail a single thought before my Mom asked me if I wanted to take sailing lessons. I was probably around nine years old; the Manchester Sailing Association was offering lessons; I was apparently old enough, so when Mom asked if I wanted to sign up, I said “sure.”

When the lessons started, Mom would drop me off in the morning at Tuck’s Point, where I’d tote my life jacket down to meet the instructors and other students.

I recall gathering in the shade by one of the buildings and learning the names for basic boat parts. I remember that the seats, which we didn’t actually sit on, were “thwarts,” the line to tie the boat to the dock was the “painter,” and the “tiller” was what we’d use to steer. I also remember learning how to tie knots: The square knot was right over left then left over right. The bowline had a rabbit coming out of a hole, rounding a tree, and then scooting back down the hole.

Before we could lose interest, we were assigned sailing partners, and suddenly, we were in little Dyer Dhow dinghies figuring out how to pull in or let out the main sheet that controlled the one small sail of the boat. It was great fun, and I still recall the cool feeling of sitting in the bottom of the boat, which was itself floating in cold north Atlantic water, and feeling the boat begin to move on the breeze.

In Manchester’s protected harbor in summertime, the winds were typically light—just perfect for letting kids learn the joys of “messing about in boats,” and it didn’t take us long before we had mastered the basics and could tack and jibe our way around the harbor. There were more talks about boat parts, additional knots to learn, and more diagrams, but most of the time, we were actually learning by having our hand on the tiller, communicating with our sailing buddies, and taking in the sensations associated with sailing a small boat.

I continued taking sailing lessons for a while, and our class eventually worked our way through squall drills and capsize practice—a particularly feared event, which wasn’t nearly as traumatic as we imagined. Later, we graduated to sailing Flying Terns, and sometimes the instructors would take us out on the larger Rhodes 19s.

At some point, despite the seduction of looking up to the attractive and very tan older kids who were instructors and were even allowed to drive the launch and facilitate the Wednesday races, I stopped taking sailing lessons. I had become somewhat intimidated by the racing aspect of sailing—and I think even a bit intimidated by the notion of following the logical path toward actually becoming one of those cool, bronzed instructors. Somehow, I couldn’t yet see myself as one of them.

Later in life, through ski racing and becoming a ski coach, I overcame those initial intimidations that kept me from sticking with sailing on the first go around. And, had I not eventually come back to sailing, this might have become a major regret. However, thanks to those wonderful early days spent goofing about in Manchester Harbor learning to sail, I never lost that sense of wonder that occurs when a sail fills, and a boat begins to be gently pulled along the water.

So, when I was in my teens and my parents decided to make a foray into sailing by buying a large cruising boat, I was keen to bring a few of my teen friends aboard and get back out on the water. And, when in my twenties I had the opportunity to work on traditional passenger schooners in Maine, I jumped at the chance—utterly enchanted by their graceful lines, history, and grand scale. And, eventually, when I came to Seattle, a city surrounded by water, I couldn’t rest until I had finally managed to acquire my own little pocket cruiser to keep the adventure going.

For those of you who have checked out my website at or read other entries in my blog, you may know that my biggest sailing adventure is yet to come and is currently still in the planning stages. This next grand plan includes my partner, Brian, and me and involves acquiring an ocean-going cruising sailboat and learning to sail farther than ever before.

Brian and I have a lot to learn about long-distance sailing, and it is a long way from drifting along gently in dinghies to leaving protected waters altogether and making long ocean passages; however, I am sincerely thankful that I was given the still rare opportunity of being able to learn to sail at such a young age. It is a passion that has grown for me throughout my life and has brought me joy, independence, and adventure. And as I sit here preparing to make sailing an even bigger part of my life, I treasure the fact that my dream to take on long-distance cruising is one that started so purely.

1 comment:

  1. You're becoming the loving effect of a mother or parent, a rose in bloom.

    Jean App expresses well my memories of sailing as a teenager. "Soon silence will have passed into legend. Man has turned his back on silence. Day after day he invents machines and devices that increase noise and distract humanity from the essence of life, contemplation, meditation."


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