Blogger Greg, of Love and Coconuts, posted a while back about a sail in his new dinghy. He's just learning to sail it and, at the same time, trying to convince his young daughters that sailing is a survivable experience. It seems they are having some doubts.
It dawned on me that it's just that issue of trust that's bedeviled me throughout my whole sailing career. And, I suspect, Greg and I aren't the only ones.
From the beginning, I've wanted to share this whole sailing thing with my wife. She loves being by the water - you know, beaches, sunsets, a glass of merlot - but anything technical is just not her thing.
I remember how jazzed I was the first time we sailed a small dinghy - the acceleration as the sail was sheeted in. For me, this was some kind of impossible magic. But all my wife could say was:
"Be careful, you'll poke your eye out!"
Well OK, maybe those weren't her exact words, but the message was more in her tone. She just wasn't 'getting it' the way I was. She was happy to be along for the ride, if that's what I wanted to do, but she was just humoring me. And could it be she may have been just a little bit scared, too? Is it possible she may have doubted that I knew what I was doing?
Over time, we moved from rented Lasers, to a more stable 'family-style' daysailer, to a sailing club with keel boats, to chartering in turquoise water. At each step, the boats were more comfy and my wife's confidence in me was growing. One incredible day, she actually suggested it might be nice to have our own boat.
Thirty seconds later, there I was at the boat broker's, signing my life away for a slyly smiling 20-year-old Catalina 30 that knew more than it was letting on.
I declared victory - finally we had a boat that was substantial enough for my wife to feel safe on. But little did I suspect the battles that still lay ahead, some of which are still raging today.
What it's taken me years to figure out is that it's not the boat that inspires confidence. It's the skipper. And it's not enough to know how to trim the jib or how to steer through waves. Putting your crew at ease comes from a million little things.
Like knowing that the big wind is coming and getting a reef in ahead of it, sailing off the jib, before anyone goes sliding to the low side of the cockpit, while casually keeping up a friendly chat with your companions as if there were no other way to tie in a reef.
I think the casual chatter is a big part of it. If you can manage that while making the important stuff happen, seemingly all by itself, then you are truly a master of your vessel, in every sense.
A million little things.
I think I'm about half way there. I have just another half a million things to learn.
While others are working on their rolltacks, reading the shifts, and staying ahead of the deathrolls, I am learning when to just say "no" to sailing. When to say, "Today we shop, tomorrow we sail." How to make my wife feel that this is her boat, too. And that she has a say in how it is run. These are hard lessons to learn. Just as hard as backing down from a setting anchor, holding the bow up into the wind. Or figuring out what is exactly the best position for the jib fairlead.
Learning these lessons and failing to learn them has resulted in some of the best times my wife and I have shared together.
And in some of the worst.
One good thing about the small confines of a cruising boat, though, is that there is no place for either of us to run away. There are no doors to slam. We've both learned to face the little calamities and to deal with them, right then and there.
I think we've both learned that sailing together can be something so good that it's worth figuring out how to do without killing each other. I think she's learning to trust me and I think I'm learning to trust her.
How about you? Who do you trust?