Red Sky At Morning

Except, it was a breezeless day.  “Light” was how the MIT sailing pavilion volunteers referred to it.  They and Brad all but assured me that the boat would do little more than slightly turn.

Considering the list sequence of activities accomplished in 2010 it’s surprising that I’d approach sailing with such resistance.  But resist I did, from as early as 8 a.m., when I picked up Brad and found myself in a foul mood – primed for drivers seat expletives and Starbucks bemoanings.

I said that it was a bad morning and that I was irritable but someone Brad was able to coax the true concern out of me.  I was scared of sailing.

But how?  Why?  Sailing seems so simple – so run with the wind free that it hardly bears fear.  But that same reticence that accompanied sky diving, trapeze swinging, horseback riding, crept in.  I was worried I would capsize.  Or, worse yet, that I might fail to understand the fundamentals of boat manuevering and make a fool of myself – sitting static in water with a boon of proper sailors with bull horns announcing my defeat.

Brad said that this was crazy.  That is was a freakishly light day and that capsizing was all but impossible, given the weather conditions.  He calmed me some.

We started the class with little instruction and were asked to set up our boat.  Thankfully Brad’s a skilled sailor and he talked me through the stunsail knot – the bow line set up – the rigging and checking.  With his expertise I felt like a real deal.  I stood cooly by my boat imploring the class instructor to let me take the wind.  I thought it could really be as simple as moving forward.

Not so fast, as we were subject to some warnings and ‘safety’ instructions.  We were then led outside, subject to a minimalist demo and told to queue up to sail.

At this point I thought (to myself) ‘ I have no idea what I’m doing but I’ll try ‘ .  Then some anxious volunteer with no capacity to explain himself asked me to demonstrate tacking.

Kim_sailI tried.  He got irritated and corrected me.  His corrections were nothing but a jumble and I tried again.  His irritation doubled and he spouted some quick, incoherent directives that I couldn’t understand.  I tried again only to meet the same fate.  Just as he was about to go down the same rabbit hole I gave up and switched seats with Brad.  I said I wouldn’t skipper – that I felt stupid.  Brad, trying to make the best of the situation took the helm (?) and we pushed off to sea.

Well to the Charles River.  Brad demonstrated turns and manuevers.  It was fun having him in control.  We sailed like we’d been doing it all our lives and I really felt one with the water.  When we again docked it was my turn to skipper the vessel.  I felt good about this go.  I took the tiller and steered us in the direction of a bright orange buoy.  I turned and switched seats as instructed, but no sooner than I did that did the wind carry and the boat feel like it would soon capsize.  The rush of wind – the power of a hand polished vessel fighting resistance – took hold and I panicked.  I dropped the tiller.  I dropped the sail.  I started to scream, “Brad fix it!  I can’t do this!” only to have Brad completely assume control.

This is embarrassing – to type and to relive.  We were in no imminent danger.  The worst thing that could come of that situation would have been us veering off course, but it felt like a personal failure.  I sucked at sailing, and because of this, I had NO INTEREST in follow up laps.

We were given opportunity to skipper again and again but each time I declined.  And with each decline some volunteer, or the instructor, or the instructor’s assistant would ask why.  The incoherent man mentioned earlier bothered me further but asking me to again assess my failures.  It seemed so simple!  Everyone seemed to be getting it!  I can not say what was wrong with me except that all the attention and all the misadventures left me little choice but to cry.

It was a sunny day and I wore sunglasses so few knew, but still the association stung.  I felt like I’d ruined sailing.  Everything that seemed so free and wild and exciting about it was now permanently imprinted in my mind as a chaotic springboard to crying.  I was relieved when we were called in for further class work.

Class made me more anxious.  The instructor, trying to explain the mechanics of sailing, only succeeded in demonstrating all that could go wrong.  We could capsize.  We could hit our head on the boon.  All the arrows and angles he drew on the board meant nothing to me, less a promise of my inability to comprehend.  I could only focus on my failure.  I knew I didn’t want to take the boat out again.

But that was the point of the class.  They set up an advanced obstacle.  We’d have to tack.  We’d have to jibe.  We’d have to zigzag across the Charles like it was our job.  Brad seemed remiss that the sport he loved only offered panic for me, but promised he would skipper, that he would explain, and that as soon as we could get away from the volunteers and instructors and students hollering and offering assistance that I might find some peace, and, consequently, some will to steer.

He was right.  As we went out we purposely avoided the well intended speed boats that yelled out instructions to us.  We steered away from the obstacles and found uninhabited water space to try, try again.  I eventually skippered, doing everything wrong, but starting to like the learning that came of it.

It’s silly really, how afraid I can be of something so still.  But it’s equally inviting that I’m working toward facing fears.  That the me of the past year isn’t lost and that there is so much more out there to leave me shaking.  At the very least it helps remind me of all the life I have in me.

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