Stories With a Lesson...


The exhilaration of that first sail in a stiff breeze had me hooked!….

Then I attended a Red Cross Aquatic School for two years.  These were a week of swimming, lifesaving, first aid, sailing, scuba, and canoeing.  All in all, it was great. But how I regret one day!   

We sailed on Emigrant Lake in southern Oregon.  The first year instructor was excellent, and he even let me sail his own Penguin.  But the second year instructor was incompetent—we were pretty much on our own.       

The wind on Emigrant could sure kick up in the afternoons, giving us exciting whitecaps to smash about with those C-Larks.  It was just getting fun when the instructor signaled us in, had us switch boats, and asked me to take a new student sailing. A girl. She’d never been sailing. Being fifteen and shy, I could hardly think straight with a girl that close, and I was supposed to teach her?  

First mistake: I didn’t check the new boat over. Second: I did not notice her long, unsecured hair.    

She was not having fun.  Her basic survival instincts appeared to be taking over.  I vaguely remember her saying something about wanting to go back to shore.  Feeling duty to do as the Sailing Instructor instructed, I did my best at teaching her.  

By her death grip upon the gunwale she apparently didn’t know that is was okay for sailboats to heel (tip).  And telling her didn’t seem to help.  Too bad, she might have gotten some blood circulating back into her hands.  Isn’t heeling the fun of it?  Isn’t it a great challenge to see if you can ship a bit of water without capsizing? What was wrong with this girl?

We were doing okay, she was sort of tending the jib, and the wind was really blowing.  But what was this shrieking I now heard?  Her hair had gotten tangled up in a block on the boom, and she was being dragged from amidships off to the port side when we came about.  (It must have been quite a sacrifice for her to release her death grip and go upon her knees to the other side of the boat with her hair.)  I had heard that ladies are far better at tolerating pain than men, but her moaning was a strong indicator that girl’s hair hurts when pulled, too. 

I immediately brought the boat into irons take the pull off of her head. (“In irons” means to point straight into the wind.)  This proved to be of questionable benefit, as the sail and boom were thrashing back and forth in the wind and waves. Ladies, please know that for most of us men it is very unnerving to hear you shriek and moan.  It makes it hard for us to think.  I was trying to hold that boom still, keep the boat in irons, and help her extricate her hair and was pretty much overwhelmed. 

If I’d read the right books...

I’d have had a nice sharp knife ready for such emergencies. Then, I could have rescued the damsel in distress, and she could have found much comfort in me pulling a blade, aiming it at her head with the boat bouncing and the boom thrashing, and then hacking off a chunk of her beautiful hair.  That way, we could have been on our merry way so she could more fully learn the joys of sailing.  We’ll never know.

Being in irons wasn’t working.  I thought if we close-hauled as tight as possible, it might help by stopping the boom from swinging so violently.  I tried to explain this to her, but it seemed her ability to understand the finer points of sailing were somehow hampered.  It seemed logical to close haul…yes, it would drag her head to the side a bit, but at least the boom and her head would stay in one spot.  It is all such a bad memory I think my mind has blocked some of it out.  I do remember that I tried to sheet in the main only to find that the new boat had no stopper knot tied in the end of the mainsheet and during the ordeal in irons it had worked its way out and was now under the boat as we were being blown backwards.  More thrashing.  

With face grimaced, and now entering the “fight” part of survival, she tore her hair loose. My, wasn’t I relieved!  Now we could get on with sailing!  

At that point something told me that this nice girl was capable of murder.  After forty years, I can see that face.  No, I can feel that face.  It had the expression of a cornered wild animal.  Her eyes gleamed with assault and battery. I made a beeline for shore and spoke only when necessary, very softly.  She ignored me. I do remember that she was very careful to hold her hair down and was kind of petting her hair all the way in, like it was some precious Persian cat.  It would be some years before I understood the relationship between a woman and her hair.

When we touched land she bailed out...

“Now we pull the boat up further and fold the sails.”  But she stormed off.  A friend (male) nearby helped me and we both wondered why she was so overly sensitive.  (Must have been something in her childhood….)  I tried to talk to her later, but she wouldn’t speak to me.  And what could I have said to her?  “Sorry. I’m an idiot. But you ought to try sailing again.”?       

Perhaps in the years that followed she asked each prospective suitor, “Do you like sailing?”  A “yes” would get a black eye, fat lip, and a primordial scream of “GET LOST!!!” I really do feel bad, because she was a nice girl. But I can’t blame her if she is negative about sailing. I do remember her hair was a beautiful golden color as the sun shone upon it after our sail.  You could see pieces of it there on the boom.   

And now, having been a pastor for many years I am aware of how something went wrong for a lot of people when they were exposed to church, or the message of Jesus, or to someone who said they were a “Christian”.   When they learn that I am a pastor, and that I teach the Bible—the look they give shows that something went wrong for them, like the girl I introduced to sailing.  I have heard others in our church relate that they have experienced this, too.

A couple of thoughts on this:

First, if the Bible is true, then we all have a natural aversion to a holy God.  We have violated his Law.  (Exodus 20). What thief wants to hang out at the police department?  All of us know that we don’t measure up to his holiness.  It can make us shudder to think that he knows our every thought, deed, and word.  But this is really not a big problem, it is that which drives us to the sacrifice of Jesus, and there we find the cure for our waywardness. “He who knew no sin, became sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God.”  II Corinthians 5:21

Second, a lot of people…perhaps you…had a bad experience with church, “religion”, a pastor, a “Christian”.  And the thought of going back to that would be like inviting the girl mentioned above to go sailing.  Yes, I regret that day as an incompetent sailor.  But way beyond that, to not represent the Lord well—now that is something else.  All of us pastors are fallen people—far from perfect, as are people in our churches.  Throw in outright hypocrites and “wolves in sheep’s clothing”, and it can add up to hair caught in the boom.

There is a passage in the Old Testament, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8)  He really is.  If what you got at first wasn’t good--then it wasn’t Him.  Look again.

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

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