Stories With a Lesson...

Sailing with Walter, Life Lesson Two:

Looking back, I think sailing instruction could be greatly improved...

—at least from the way I was taught. First you learn a bunch of names like pintles, gudgeons, downhaul, sheet, boom vang, and outhaul. But then?  It’s about how to make the boat go.  Isn’t that the big question, “how do you make the boat go by using the wind?”  And especially, “How do you make it go upwind?” So that is what I passed on to my friend Walter, in his one and only sailing lesson.   

After my experience with Walter I think we should begin with how to stop the boat.  Can you imagine a Driver’s Education instructor saying, “Okay kid, get going.  Just push on that pedal down there on the right.  Good!  Now steer with that wheel!  When we get to a stop light and it happens to turn red, I’ll teach you how to stop.”  No. And the first sailing lesson ought to be on how to make a boat stop in the wind.

If you’ve ever been in a sailboat...

you’ll notice that there are no brakes.  And even boats with motors can’t get them going fast to depend on them to stop.  Of course, we may have the parking brake, the anchor.  But it does not work very well for a brake.  When you really need it in a hurry, it is already too late. No matter how well you got it ready Old Murphy puts his hand in. “The quicker you need your anchor, the more tangled will be your anchor line (rode)”.

My friend Walter called, very enthused.  A few years previous I had given him one sailing lesson, and it didn’t go so well. I had since married, and moved away a three hour drive.

“Burt, I just got a new boat.  We want to bring it up and take you and Sharon sailing.”

“Walter, that’s great.  But that’s a lot of trouble.  How about we just sail our boat?”

“No, we really want to take you sailing and I want you to see my new boat.”
(He described it.)

“It sounds kinda’ small…are you sure four of us can fit?”  (It sounded WAY too small.)

“Sure!  It might be a little tight, but that’s okay.”

Oh no.  We had our Catalina 22 docked at Fern Ridge and it was the only good local place to sail.  We wanted to keep our sailing friends and I knew… well, Walter was at times socially challenged. Okay, we could launch from a different ramp where we wouldn’t be known—just in case.  The day finally doomed…er, dawned, and Walter showed up with his wife and a boat.

If you’ve never seen a boat like this, it may be because you haven’t made many trips to the landfill.  It was a disposable boat, a chunk of foam with some thin plastic stretched over it.  The spars (the mast and boom)  looked like they were made out of the same stuff they make shower curtain rods with.   

We mangled…

er, managed to get all four of us on it, and it actually sailed. After about an hour the whitecaps were forming. I expected the mast to break. I was soon to wish it had.  I was dreaming of the jiffy reefing on our boat.  Of course, there was no reefing on the land-fill boat.

By the way things appeared, Walter hadn’t taken any sailing lessons since our first sail some years before when we ruined a double-hulled dingy by sailing it into a stump.  I’d only taught him how to make the boat go—nothing about stopping.  By what followed, it is pretty certain he had never contemplated how to make a sailboat stop.  In fact, if I’d let my memory serve me, I would have remembered that Walter really had no problem with running sailboats into immovable objects, like stumps.  And docks. Now, shouting over the noise of the howling wind I asked if he wanted me to sail it in.  No, he was going to bring it in.  In vain I began to explain how to approach the dock. He wasn’t listening.      

We came barreling in full speed ahead.  The dock was loaded full. Wiser sailors had gotten off the water sooner, and there was no room as boats were lined up waiting their trailers. We were screaming in on a broad reach.  

Clearly, this was a time for a holding pattern until the dock cleared.  Did I mention Walter could be a bit socially rough?  He was going to do it his way—which was to steer into the pile of boats that were already there on the windward side, waiting for their trailers. It was one of those times when you can hardly believe what you are seeing.  

He finally let out the main sheet and turned parallel to the dock—but we were upon the boats on the upwind side. The boom swung instantly into the cockpits of the boats we were bouncing along, gunwale to gunwale. Our boom was pushed back towards us when it reached the shrouds of our victims.  Of course, that had the same effect as sheeting in on a reach.  We were thus re-energized for an effective assault on the next boat. A couple people were still in their boats, ducking and dodging our flying shower rod and curtain.     

My wife and I were fully occupied in what can only be described as dingy break dancing.  It is where you throw your body and arms one way, then another, to avert disaster.  The winner is the one with the fewest mashed fingers. Naturally the sailors in their boats joined in with us.  This is an event where even total strangers can become instant partners.  This may be as good a way for bashful people to meet as bringing a puppy to the park.  

I expected some angry rebukes...

from the people at their boats.  Then I saw why no one was saying anything.  Walter was pretty good sized, and he wasn’t saying anything with words, but the expression on his face and his body language glowered loud and clear:  “What’s your problem!?  If you didn’t have your boat in my way, I wouldn’t have to smash into it. Get over it, or I’ll help you get over it NOW!!

Next time I teach someone to sail, the first lesson will be on how to stop.  And doesn’t this apply to all of life?  Those of us who do not learn how to stop from the rush of life finally end up crashing, usually adversely affecting others. My college training was all about doing and going—how to get the most done—there was little emphasis on stopping.  But if you would have a good life, you must learn to stop.  Stop and consider the One in whom is life eternal—Jesus.  Let him through his Word teach you how to stop from the rush of life.  What is the original word for “Sabbath”?  “To cease”, or “to stop”.  In the New Testament we learn the certain day is not the issue for those of us who are Gentiles—but we must regularly stop. 

c. 2009 Burton W. Lowry, Ellsworth, Maine.  All rights reserved.

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  Ellsworth Assembly of God ~ 131 Beechland Road ~ Ellsworth, ME 04605 ~ 207-667-8998