A while back, I posted about being the only guy in an all-woman sailing class - and on the very day that every manly man on San Francisco Bay was out sailing the Three Bridge Fiasco.
As you might expect, it took most of the post to explain how I got to be in such a predicament, so I never really got to the main point.
Which is that my wife is learning to sail, and that I've had the chance to watch the learning process happen.
As I've explained quite a few times now, my wife and I have been sailing together for many years. She knows a lot of the tasks involved in sailing a mid-sized keelboat, but she's never before wanted to learn to skipper the boat - to make the jump from doing an appointed task to thinking about what the next task needs to be.
I was asked to fill in at the last minute for a student who dropped out of the class, so there we were a few weeks ago - my wife, the instructor, and me on a Capri 22 in a quiet corner of the Bay that's perfect for learning to sail.
My wife is a school teacher and had been taking the approach of an academician in learning to sail. She'd been poring over the textbook and studying all of the explanations about weather, charts, right of way, parts of a boat, points of sail, lines, knots, pfd's, hypothermia, navigation marks - geesh, was learning to sail really all that complicated?
When you see everything you have to know spelled out in black and white in one long list, it can seem daunting. No wonder so many beginners throw up their hands and just give up or retreat to the nether world of powerboats.
But, as our first day on the water unfolded, I realized that learning to sail really has nothing to do with all of those terms, diagrams, and complicated explanations from Mr. Bernouilli.
As we made our way out of the harbor, we passed the Richmond Yacht Club, home to one of the best training programs on the Bay for junior sailors. Two classes were out doing drills - a Laser class of 12-year-old Paul Cayard pretenders, and some eight-year-olds in El Toro's - San Francisco's answer to the Optimist dinghy.
That morning, things hadn't been going so hot for my wife. We were doing points of sail and she was having a hard time relating all of those diagrams in the book to how a real sail works. The instructor was barking orders - beam reach, close hauled, close reach, bearing off, coming up, coming about. The words and the pictures and the little angle diagrams were swirling in my wife's head and she was getting more flustered and frustrated as the morning wore on.
As I watched an 8-year-old in one of the El Toro's pop through a tacking drill like he had been born in that boat, it hit me - he wasn't thinking about a bunch of diagrams in some book and a lot of confusing terms. He was just dropping into the groove and having a blast.
For each of us, that magic moment comes. The acceleration of a small boat, the angle of heel, and something inside that you just can't explain suddenly tell you when the sail is drawing. You start to feel that groove and what you need to do to stay in it. The wind is no longer a blue arrow on a white page.
The folks who draw all of those diagrams and write the long explanations must know that feeling and try their best to get it down on paper. But it starts with the feeling and before you get that, all the words and pictures are pretty useless.
It would be another week before that moment would come for my wife.
Late the following Saturday afternoon, after a discouraging day of docking practice and the umpteenth jibing drill, the instructor's exercises were wrapped up for the day. My wife took the helm and started steering us across the harbor. She looked up at the sail, and I saw a little glint in her eye. Our boatspeed was picking up. The sun was dropping, about the time she would usually be getting cold, but she wanted to go around the harbor again. We were close to the dock and could head in at any time.
But she wanted to go around yet again. Just this once. Just this one more time. The glint in her eye was becoming a smile.
In that moment, I knew we had another sailor in the family.
By the time we got back to the dock, I could tell she was excited. The next day, she got every single question on the written test right. She wanted to know how we sign up to take the training boats out again.
My wife wanted to take us out sailing.
I have been informed that this summer we will not be taking a long trip in the big boat. We will be spending our time in the little boats. And guess who will be driving.
I am a very lucky man.