Sailing Offers Life Lessons…..
Sailing is a floating classroom for the observant student. The lessons often transfer back to the land where life is more complex, relationships more nuanced, and responsibilities more numerous. Some lessons are quite humorous; others more philosophical; and sometimes they may be life threatening.
Philosophical: We were sailing on Cygnet, my 25 foot Contest, through the East River in New York City, approaching the junction of the Harlem River. It was a beautiful day. Sun was shining. Temperature pleasant. Wind light.
The boat was handling well with genny and main. Wind filled the sails. Steerage was good; water was flowing by the rudder. The water was moving quietly past us.
However, after a few minutes we checked landmarks. We discovered we were slowing moving backwards! The opposing current was stronger than the wind.
Life lesson: Everything may seem to be going well on your job or in the community organization as long as you are looking only inward. If you look outside at other benchmarks, you may discover additional power or energy is needed to move ahead.
Life Threatening: Sailing at night is often delightful. We were sailing from Boston to Provincetown on my Dufour 34. The wind was light and we were power-sailing at about 6 ½ knots. The sea was calm, protected by the Cape’s arm. I gave the helmsperson a heading that would take us to a bell marker off Long Point.
The captain and other crew busied themselves preparing to anchor inside the hook in the Provincetown harbor. The helmsperson grew tired. The large genny obscured her view. From under the sail, a huge object appeared! It was too late to turn sharply to avoid it. We hit hard with a glancing blow just forward of midships!
Was it another boat? A floating object? A huge container from a ship? No, it was the marker, a large steel buoy rising above the deck. Even though it was floating, it was like an immoveable object.
The crew below quickly checked the hull for water. None was coming in! I took a flashlight and examined the outside hull. There was a deep gouge near the rub rail, but it did not penetrate the hull. In the morning, I made a temporary repair to keep out moisture and did a more thorough examination. There was no structural damage.
Life lesson: The captain (executive) is ultimately responsible for the safety of the ship and its crew (organization) no matter who is steering or on lookout. This does not mean micro management; it does mean macro oversight.
Humorous: It was time to wash the linens and clothes at the Laundromat. We were at Niagara-on-the-Lake in the southwest corner of Lake Ontario, a picturesque Canadian town that features the Shaw Festival of theatre each year. I grabbed a large gallon detergent jug from under the sink.
We had two large loads and I poured the detergent into the machines, piled the clothes in on top, pushed the coins in the slot, and settled down with a good book. Finally the wash cycle was finished. I pulled out the damp clothes. To my surprise, there were dark splotches on the towels. I pulled more out. Sheets, an orange outfit of my sister’s, shirts – all appeared to have a poor job of tie-dye.
My first reaction was, “What’s wrong with this machine?” Then my wife Barbara said “Let me see that detergent jug!” I unscrewed the cap and she held it up to her nose. “It’s oil!” she exclaimed.
The light slowly dawned. I had pumped dirty crankcase oil into the container at the end of the season and failed to dispose of it or label the jug. I went to the supermarket for real detergent and spot removers – but the tie-dye prevailed.
Life lesson: Even apparently intelligent people can really goof-up and a sense of humor can move us through our stupid mistakes.
The Best Lesson: It was late afternoon and we were just leaving the Cape Cod Canal into Buzzards Bay, heading for Cutty Hunk Island. The 20 knot wind was off our starboard quarter. The boat was moving a little faster than hull speed.
Clouds rimmed every horizon. The rest of the sky was clear except for a yarmulke-like cap immediately overhead. As the sun set, the western sky lit up in brilliant reds and oranges and yellows. The western sky was deep blue, grays, and pinks. We could see every horizon and as we sailed on, the colors changed in spectacular ways. It seemed to last an extraordinarily long time. There was a hush on the boat. We spoke in quiet tones. It was like sailing through a great cathedral with its stained glass sunsets on every side, and a beautiful skylight overhead.
It was a moment when we discovered the spiritual in sailing – the beauty of the natural world, and our unique privilege to be able to enjoy every horizon. It seemed, in our awe, that the maker of the universe was touching our lives.
Life lesson: Spiritual nourishment is available to us in many, everyday ways, if we take time to partake.
Adapted by Nelson Price from his book, Spirit Sail: A Memoir of Spirituality and Sailing, published by iUniverse, January, 2008; copyright by the author. Available from www.iUniverse.com or 1-877-823-9235; www.bn.com (Barnes&Noble); www.amazon.com. Paperback $14.95; hardcover $24.95.