Sailing against perfection

Sailing against perfection

OK. The wind is gusting. What do I do?

Tighten things up?!

OK. Let’s do this.

Oh, crap I’m in the air again! Not good. What do I do now?

JUUUUMP!

Mountain Kid 2 and I sailing our Sunfish.

Into the murky water of Edenton Bay I went as my little Sunfish capsized. The 14-foot long boat with an equally as long mast went sideways into the water. I swam out to the tip of the mast, holding it up until Brian, my sailing instructor, got his motor boat into position to push the boat back into it’s proper position. If the mast sank into the water, a thing called “turtling,” there was a good chance that I’d have to swim underwater to dislodge it.

I was wet and being held up by my life jacket. Mentally, I was in shock. WTF just happened?

After my husband bought a boat in 2017, one of our family goals has been to learn how to sail. So we signed up for sailing classes this summer. Mountain Kid 3 doesn’t meet the age requirements so we took him to swimming lessons to hone his skills. I reluctantly signed up for a morning class in mid-July. However, due to the number of people taking the class and my work schedule, I took some of my four two-and-a-half hour classes at night.

By the time I took the class, my kids had a week’s worth of classes under their belts. Brian, the instructor, is a seasoned sailor. He told us about wind and how to do what we needed to do. At the end of each class, he’d go over how things went. We also learned some knots and the names of the parts of the boats.

The first day, after a brief introduction to our Sunfish, we went out. I was with the assistant instructor, a teenager named Walker. He was the typical looking beach kid — sun-kissed blonde hair with a tan, someone who is at home on the water.

He knew the water like the back of his hand. He’s been sailing for at least five years, and calmly explained everything he did as we sailed. It was calming. I might be able to do this, I thought.

About halfway through the class, Mountain Kid 2 and Walker switched boats. MK2 was nothing like Walker in every way except their confidence. It was kind of surprising how the quietest kid out of my brood worked the sail without hesitation, with authority.

Then the wind came and went in bursts as we worked our way back to the dock. We would move a few yards, picking up the wind. Then the wind would die and we’d be stuck in “the irons.” The best way to get out of this is to turn your sail or rudder, but that’s when you have some wind. We were stuck. Then, we’d move again. It seemed like forever, but eventually, we made it to shore.

Not bad for your first time, Brian said. I felt pretty cool.

Day two, I rode with an experienced student. He called our boat the USS Iceberg. Yeah, we were an iceberg out to scare the crap out of other students. I was scared too, as it was my second time in the boat. We went fast, sometimes slow, in between other boats, dangerously close to other boats.

Then a gust of wind caught us off guard, blowing the bottom of the sail into my forehead, I re-situated myself, and then, we capsized. Everyone who is new to the class (except adults if they don’t want to) participates in capsizing drills. The person up front goes to the end of the mast to hold it up. The person who worked the tiller is supposed to go to the back and try to upright the boat, using the daggerboard (it’s like the bottom fin of a fish) to climb on or pull down the boat.

Once we got the boat upright, I let the teen climb in first. I wasn’t sure whether I’d make it back in without help. But, with a lot of effort on my own part, I managed to get it. For me, that was the highlight of my second class. I got back in the boat by myself.

The next class was uneventful, we sailed and didn’t sink. This time I went out with Mountain Kid 1. This is when I learned about boat boredom. If everything goes right, there isn’t much to do if you aren’t working the tiller (it’s attached to the rudder, steering the boat). So I heard a lot of “Hamilton: The Musical.” Since MK1 sings the songs at home too, I cracked several times, telling her to shut up.

As a parent, one of the bad part of taking classes with your kids and their peers. You have to be a student, not a parent, but sometimes you can’t help but order little minions around. Also, when your kid seems to be getting the hang of something you aren’t, it’s frustrating.

The highlight of day three was seeing MK2 operate the boat by himself. He did a great job for a little less than two weeks of training.

The last day of the class, Brian gave each of us our own boat. I was scared. Like race day scared.

This is when my perfectionism kicked into high gear. Sure, I snapped at my kids for luffing — letting your sail get slack in the wind. But this time, I controlled everything — I had to do this right. I didn’t want to capsize again.

And of course I did. The wind was gusty, going strong one minute then almost dying the next. It was bad enough, that after a few minutes in the harbor proper, we moved into an alcove where the trees cut some of the wind.

At several points, the wind picked up and the back of the boat where I was sitting started lifting. In a panic, I would loosen the sail. Then the wind would die, and I’d have to bring my sail back in. Sometimes, I’d bring it in too much or angle the boat in a way that when a gust hit, just made it fly.

The conversation with myself at the top of this post happened about half an hour into that last class. A power boat, which I learned usually ignore the sailboats, had a powerful wake that I was sailing into. As I adjusted for the waves, a gut of wind hit my sail and I pulled it in, instead of out. I went overboard.

Brian was helping MK2, who was stuck in the irons at the time. He didn’t realize that my boat had flipped for a while — it seemed like forever. Eventually Brian helped me upright and boat. It was a little bit harder this time, but I made it in.

So in the alcove, we had more trouble with the wind. Walker was a natural, as usual, and he and MK1 made it back to the docks without help.

MK2 and I didn’t have such luck. We did a lot of circles in the water. Even when we worked together, we just couldn’t get back to shore. During this whole time, I keep muttering, “Just tow us in. Just tow us in.” Eventually, Brian hauled us back in with the motor boat.

Brian goes over the debriefing.
Brian goes after the debriefing on the last day of class, hence the cupcakes.

Brian went over the wind direction and how we should have moved our sail. MK2 and I worked against the wind, trying to bend the circumstances to our needs. Instead, we should have worked with the wind more. It wasn’t a time to be tidy and clean. It was time to go with the flow and use to wind to our advantage.

For a few days afterward, I was sore. As an adult, I’m not build to hang out in a Sunfish. While kids can quickly adjust their weight and don’t have to worry about the sail smacking them in the head. I was constantly ducking, slowly switching sides.

My muscles were tense the entire class, trying to anticipate shifts in the wind, turns and other circumstances.

It was a rush to be able to go fast on the water. Kind of getting the hang of sailing was also a great boost mentally. I was doing something I’ve never done before.

But I think the most joy I got was seeing my kids conquer a new skill and look like they were having fun.

What are you doing on your adventures? Are you learning anything new? Feel free to comment or send me an email.

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