“Share your passions with your children,” a wise homeschooler once advised me. Over the years, I tried sharing my interests with my daughters, who are now 17 and 14. I exposed them in varying degrees to horseback riding, canoeing, genealogy and family history, organic gardening, canning and drying food, cooking, writing, hiking, politics, fossil hunting, cultural studies, bluebird trail monitoring, a plethora of arts and crafts, and more. Some of these interested them, and even evoked a little enthusiasm, but most of them fell flat. Somehow, though, I did not share with them one of my earliest and longest passions: sailing. I suppose I thought it expensive, a bit dangerous for little kids, and I assumed that, like most of my interests, this one would hold little appeal for my children. I was wrong.
As a 10-year-old girl, I fell in love with sailing the first time I set foot aboard a sailboat. The thirty-foot yacht belonged to my mother’s friend, David, who had invited my mom and her 4 kids for a day of sailing on the Chesapeake Bay. I remember the harbor in Annapolis, with its tangle of masts jutting into the sky and the windblown halyards slapping a wild tune. We motored out of the harbor, and then our captain raised the sails like a glorious dove unfolding her white wings. The water riffled and gurgled against the hull as the boat took to its seaborne flight. Soon after the sails filled with wind, my sister was hiding below deck, where she would stay for the entire voyage, woozy with nausea and Dramamine. I’m not sure what my brothers were doing; the only thing I cared about was learning to sail. David encouraged me to take the tiller of the Islander 30. He told me how to choose a landmark and sail toward it, and how to watch the leading edge of the main sail, called the “luff,” for indications that I needed to adjust my course. Spaced along the luff were small pieces of yarn, “telltales,” which started to flutter before the luff did. They provided small, early indications that the steering needed correction. Keeping my eye on the telltales, David said, would help me stay on course.
I focused intently on the telltales as I held the long wooden tiller, learning by experience which way and how much to push or pull in order to keep on course, to keep the sail taut. All else fell away; I was not aware of time, and the only thing that mattered was steering the craft as we passed beneath the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. I marveled at being able to handle and maneuver this seemingly large vessel with ease. I didn’t sail again for over a year, but right after my 11th birthday, I began to volunteer at a park that had just acquired a small fleet of sparkling new Widgeon sailboats. One of the park’s staff offered low-cost sailing lessons–which, to my delight, were made available for free to volunteers. The Widgeons were easy to handle, reliable, and well fitted. If I was extremely lucky, my assigned sailing partner was absent from the day’s lesson, and I had the boat to myself.
During those rare classes when the wind roused small whitecaps on the river, I discovered a new and exhilarating joy. Nothing stirred my soul more than “hiking” out over the side of a heeling sailboat, wind whipping my hair, brackish spray dampening my face. In the best of conditions, with the boat trimmed just right, I could lean backward over the gunwale and sweep the wrinkled face of the Potomac with my hair. On land, and with people, I felt awkward and unsure. But here, dashing across the waves, I felt strong, capable, and free.
Although I had the bookwork down after the first sailing course, I took the class again that summer, and twice more the following summer, just so I could sail. I would have chipped and painted, pumped the bilge, peeled potatoes in the galley, anything, to get out in a boat, to sail. At 13, I completed the US Coast Guard’s safe boating course. The following year, I spent a significant part of the summer singlehanding a wooden dinghy in the Atlantic off the coast of New Hampshire. Throughout my teen years, I sailed whenever I could borrow- or tag along on anybody’s boat. I had two harrowing experiences, many hours of contentment, and a few joyful days of perfect sailing.
I even owned a nice little boat for a short while. It was an MIT Tech II sailing dinghy, the kind sailed on the Charles River in Cambridge. Twelve feet of smooth white Fiberglas, with an aluminum mast and a single sail. I thought it was beautiful, and spent my entire savings–a summer’s worth of pay for scraping and painting my orthodontist’s yacht–to buy it. I loved the beamy little boat that sailed in the lightest of airs, so I was heartbroken when my mother announced that she had sold it to pay rent on her storage unit.
As I allowed the currents of young adulthood take me where they would, I let my sailing dreams blow away, although my yearning never stilled. About a year ago, I decided that it was time to bring sailing back into my life, whether or not my children cared for it, so I went sailing for the first time since my late teens. My older daughter, Caitlín, and I spent three hours on the river in a Flying Scot, and did just fine! OK, we had gone out without a chart, so we cut furrows into a few sandbars before we figured out where they lurked, but other than that, it was great! The wind was perfect; not too much, but enough to raise a few small whitecaps, and enough to heel the boat on close tacks. I was hooting and hollering when we first felt the wind that heeled the boat. My poor teenage daughter was horrified, and she was thankful that we were out where nobody could see us.
Caitlín proved an able first mate, handling the jib well, and seeming to enjoy the experience almost as much as I did. This prompted another outing last summer, with both girls aboard that time. My younger daughter, Laurel, enjoyed the close-hauled tacks, but practically wilted when the wind wasn’t favorable. (She’s a speed freak. I wonder where she got that.) During that outing, I managed to coax Caitlín into taking the tiller for a short while, and she did well with that, too. The child is a sailor born.
One day in late April of this year, the weather was so perfect for sailing that I heeded my inner adventurer’s voice, dropped everything and took the kids to rent a Flying Scot. It was aaaaaaaawesome! Force 4 winds, with sturdy whitecaps! I had that baby heeled over hard about 1/3 of the time, heeled over slightly about another third and running wing-on-wing the rest. Woohoo! Despite the occasional whines, whimpers and screeches from the crew, it was The Most Perfect Day of Sailing Ever. Again, Caitlín handled the jib beautifully. I am extremely pleased that both of my girls seem to be hooked on sailing, on this earliest of my passions. I can hardly wait until our next adventure. Soon, I will take my girls back to the river, into the wind, into the spray, under the clouds, to fly with the wheeling birds, to share the stirring of my heart.
© 2007, Shay Seaborne. All Rights Reserved.