Wednesday, July 7, 2010

(f)rig it!

So it turns out, sailing is HARD.

OK, let me amend that. Sailing a 420 Laser when you've only ever had one sailing lesson, you're tired from a LONG day at work, and you're not sure what the heck you're doing, is HARD.

Last week I went to my sailing class, after a long, hot day at work. I finished up, went over to the yacht club, ate a peanut butter and honey sandwich, and then helped Linda rig our boat. (To rig a boat is to put the sails on and tie the sheets properly. Sheets are ropes that are used to move the sails. And they need to be tied into shackles and pulleys and things, so they can move the sails with a minimum of work by the sailor.)

The first time I sailed, a few weeks ago, I sailed a pram, which is a simple boat with one sail, one sheet. One person. For some reason which I can't recall now - although it may have had something to do with wanting to try something new, and my boss Stuart who is a sailing genius had said, the 420's were way better to teach you sailing - I decided to up the game a bit and try a 420.

Now, in comparison to a pram, a 420 has two sails (a main and a jib, which is in front of the main), two people (one to be "skipper" and steer and work the mainsail, one to be "crew" and work the jib), and a number of sheets. Like, six or seven or a hundred. I don't know, but more than a pram. Anyway, I foolhardily climbed into the 420 and the instructor pushed Linda and I away from shore. A little too late I realized I didn't know what the heck I was doing.

"Use the tiller!" said Linda, and I did. However, the instructor, getting smaller every second as we drifted away from shore, yelled after us, "Your rudder is only halfway in! Push it down!" But how? Because meanwhile, we're moving into the path of other boats, I'm trying to steer us and I still have no idea how to work the mainsail. There is a rope that looks like it might be the right one, but it's hooked into all kinds of pulleys, so where do I pull it from? Meanwhile my "crew" is no help, because she's working the jib sail and telling me what to do with the tiller, which is still no real use to me because it's not pushed down all the way and I still have no idea how to do that and -

OH EFF the boom just cracked me in the head

Do I have a concussion? Oh shit, isn't THIS perfect - OK, no concussion, but this EFFING HURTS - fuckity fuck fuck fuck - OK steer -

I hate sailing!

I want to go home!

Oh shit the tiller, right, OK - breathe!

Meanwhile the instructors, two women in their early twenties, are going around the eleven of us in their motor boats, going, "You're doing great!" No, I'm really not great here. Every time I think I have it figured out, something else frigs up and I'm left freaking out a little more. We make it around a few marks - miraculously I've figured out how to control my mainsail, no thanks to any of the instructors, who just followed us around going "You're doing great!" and then suddenly -

We're tipping! The boat is going over on one side dangerously close to the water - how the EFF did this happen? Linda's going "What are you DOING LEAH!?!?" and I'm pulling on things and letting things out but none of it is helping as slowly but surely we go degree by degree closer to tipping this whole frigging boat, sails and all, into the water, oh lord what a mess that will be! And then suddenly -

We right again. BREATHE. The other women in their boats clap for us and I give them a grin but inside I'm going WHAT THE HECK JUST HAPPENED?!?! I can't actually remember the few seconds between the boat nearly tipping and righting again. No idea what happened or what I did.

The next time the instructor comes around I tell her - "I don't think I do this." She tries to convince me that "I'm doing great" but I just keep saying I'm not doing well, so she ties up her boat to a buoy, puts Linda in it, and climbs into the 420 with me. I climb into crew position, at the front of the boat with just the jib to deal with. She knows what she's doing and she brings us around a few marks. All I have to do is pull on the jib sheet to match the main sail, and duck my head a little when the boom swings sides. I can feel the tears building behind my eyes - relief, so now it's time for the dam to spill over. I try to keep it back. She says,

"So then we'll switch, and I'll crew and you skipper."

"No, I don't think that's a good idea." Of course I'd love to be able to - would love to give my teacher what she wants, would love to be a great student. But I know myself better than that, by now. I know that I'm melting down. So we return to Linda in the rescue boat, and this time I get in it. Linda and the teacher go for a few turns. I sit in the moored boat and just


there for a few minutes. It's heaven. It's soothing. I don't want to cry because I'm afraid I'll lose my contact lenses so I just sit and breathe. Look out at the other women moving their prams around. Every now and then one of them goes by me and asks what I'm doing in the boat, and I laugh and say, "It's a long story!"

By the time Linda and the instructor get back it's time to go back in to the wharf. I crew this time. Linda skippers. I can tell that she sees how hard it is, now that she's the one doing it. We make it back in. We bring our boat up onto the dolly and wheel it onto the dock. Then we de-rig it. Mona's husband Jim is there and he gives me a big hug and tells me I did great. (He's a former windsurfing pro and loves to sail. He and Mona are among my favorite people.) I'm cursing all over the place, "Fuck that was hard!" Then I apologize for it. "I'm sorry guys, I curse when I'm stressed."

"That's OK," says Lois, "I curse when I'm NOT stressed!"

The sails get folded up, put away. Everyone else leaves and it's just me and Mona sitting there on the steps. The instructors have locked the doors and gone home. We sit there and watch the lake, and talk. We talk about sailing - and how it's actually harder than it looks. How there is quite a lot on the line - despite the cheery view of sailing as the All American sport, rosy-cheeked, white-pants-wearing, robust and healthy men and women pulling on ropes and raising sails and saying "Ahoy there," it's actually life and death out there. Let's face it - if you get water in your lungs, you die. If you get tangled in the ropes and your boat tips and you can't get out of there, you die. And when you're sailing, you can't just pull over to the side of the road. You're out on the water and you somehow have to get back. And the conditions are constantly changing, and you have absolutely no control over them - the wind could be coming from one direction when you start, and then switch around. Who knows what will come up when you're out on the water?

I tell Mona that sitting out in the moored rescue boat, having my private freak-out, I doubted myself for one of the first times since starting work at the marina. See, all day long at work I'm on land, I'm talking the talk but not walking the walk. I talk about halyards and moorings and charts and all of it, and I'm around boats that are on land or are moored to the dock. So it's fairly easy to feel confident in that environment (even when you feel like there's so much to learn and you know so little). But to actually go out in a boat, go out into the water and learn how to control the boat's movements - that's a whole other game. And that day, I seriously wondered - "Do I belong here? Was this a smart move?"

I came back in again and cursed with the other women and realized, remembered, was reminded - that learning takes time. That we can't expect ourselves to master something on our second bloody lesson. That sometimes when you push your limits it's too much. Pull yourself back in again.

Hoo boy.

So here we are - another week has slipped away and become the past. Tomorrow night is sailing night again. This time, I'm preparing. I'm getting off work an hour early. I'm going to go somewhere quiet and rest. Then I'm going to show up at the Yacht Club, and rig a pram. Start again with the smallest boat. Go out by myself, one sail, one sheet, one person.

I bet you've got something great to say. Leave a comment, I'd love to hear from you. I love it when I check my email and I get one saying that someone has left a comment. It makes my day! Tell me about your meltdowns, your sailing experience, your doubts about changes you've made in your life.

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