Hold On? Let Go?
On a humid, sun-burning, sun-baking summer afternoon during a sailboat drifter on a friend's 34' sloop, our floating craft felt more like a floating frying pan than a racing yacht. Peering up as we passed under the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, I recall the girders' temporary shadow and shade providing only modicum of relief from the oppressive heat. At the time it was enough to restore our faith that cooler temperatures still existed. As our resolve weakened any forward movement was a minor victory. And the favorable flooding tide as our only means of forward progress gave us our only hope for finishing the race.
If we had been fighting current, we would certainly have been "sailing" backwards. The glassy waters did not bode well for any propulsion. To make matters worse, the breathless, mirror-like dead calm reflected and magnified an already intensely scorching heat. We were being cooked from above and below. I remember my feet baked and sweated like grilled hot dogs inside my brand new pair of deck loafers. Without shade, wind and much steerage, everyone onboard felt uncomfortable. When I finally decided to remove my deck shoes and go barefoot, I finally found some more momentary relief.
Our skipper and crew knew very well our situation would eventually change so we crew accepted and dutifully endured our snail-like motion. Our sails became useless sheets of cloth, but we floated with the current and held our own against the competition who were all baking their cookies and weaners as well. Not one crew member or other competitors dared announce "let's quit, turn on the engine and motor back to Annapolis". While all wanted to "throw in the towel", all held on to finish what we had started hours earlier. We wanted to let go, but we had held on far too long.
Go with the flow.
Don't make waves.
Sail with the wind.
Don't buck the tide.
Drift with the current.
Sounds easy, safe and reassuring but even the most laid-back person can't follow these nuggets of wisdom all the time. Unique circumstances and conditions often dictate a favorable course. Anyone can follow a leader or stick with the proverbial pack for awhile. These reminders apply to that part within us that adheres as dutiful, careful, compliant, cooperative and easy-going souls...or maybe just those recently hired, retired, wrecked or dejected go along for the ride.
No experienced skipper encourages any crew to go barefoot especially in the middle of a race. Moving around any deck full of numerous potential hazards, toes often become bruised, blistered and/or bloodied casualties. But of course, a teenage boy thinks he knows best. So instead of tossing my brand new topsiders down the boat's companionway, below deck, out of the way, I left them on topsides on deck near the transom. It was flat calm after all, and weren't they called topsiders for a reason!
Unbeknownst to me at the time, I needed to be taught a lesson. In a matter of a minutes that learning arrived. As we suddenly gybed our droopy spinnaker, a sheet somehow snagged or lassoed one of my deck shoes overboard. Of course, the whole crew heard the splash as loudly as I hear their chuckles. I peered sternward to notice my remaining shoe missing its forlorn sole mate. Sheepishly I made my way to the stern and performed the necessary rite of passage - pushing the remaining sole overboard without any prayer or sympathy. Just wished the pair find each other. The way I looked at it was I had been stupid so I might as well "let go" of the whole pair and reunite them. What does one do with only one shoe?
At the end of each of my 8 summers teaching sailing at Sachem Head and Pequot Yacht Clubs in Connecticut, I would always ask my mostly adult students what one memory, tip, concept, idea, skill, drill or experience, shaped their learning about sailing. Often to my surprise, the most common response was "Assess and Modify". I had first heard the expression while I attended a US Sailing instructor clinic. But to me the idea seemed natural. Having learned to sail when I was 5 years old, I grew up learning all about change - adapting and adjusting to various situations and nature's ever-changing forces. My frequent surprise was that many of these adults had not realized or recognized how frequently change happens and how people need to respond. For many, sailing challenges skippers' abilities to adapt and to adjust to changes.
Stay the course.
Give it up.
Cut the tie.
Cut our losses.
Kiss it goodbye.
No need to hold on any longer.
Just before I cut the stern line, I took this photo of Clint (with hammer) and Mike (on board Mystique) struggling to untie a taut line as we departed Marigot, Sint Maarten's canal bridge. When a novice fuel dock attendant poorly tied Mystique's stern line around a cleat that it soon became impossible to release, we responded as best we could at the time. While our boat strained against a strong tidal current, Clint brought out a hammer to loosen the knot while Mike tried slaking the line. After struggling for 5 minutes, I realized there was only one solution left. I told Clint to get aboard and with a swift cut from my knife, we were free. Of course, starting the engine and backing up didn't occur to any of us at the time.
Winds have blown me off course and sometimes out of sorts. And those "blows" so to speak have challenged my reality and resolve. But I had a few "wake up calls" recently...finally realizing I had held tightly onto some things, ideas, perspectives and even some people way too long. I knew the route symptoms and causes of my angst, but I had not realized how they were affecting me. While I didn't get sick, my sleep patterns became erratic. I also noticed how tired, tense, impatient and frustrated I felt.
So when I finally decided to let go of all of these discomforts, it was as if I had shed off a heavy outer layer of callused skin. My world suddenly became lighter and brighter. My sleep pattern returned. Everything seemingly changed almost overnight. When I realized my perspective had been askew and out of focus for some time, I started viewing people and situations differently. And then some truly amazing and glorious and totally unexpected things began to happen. My writing helped me find these reminders: