Thursday, July 25, 2019
Learning to Sail
This week I've been taking sailing lessons. I've lived in Maine for more than twenty years and have only been on a sailboat once before, and I spent most of the time napping in the cabin. I wouldn't have even thought of sailing now except that a friend had signed up for the lessons and invited me to join her.
The first day, we helped rig the boat, learned words like sheet, halyard, and boomvang (which I hold dibs on for a band name if I ever take up music), and manned the jib while our instructor, Will, maneuvered the boat out into open water. We hadn't had any classroom instruction, and, though Will did his best to convey the relationship between the boat, the sails, the rudder, and the wind, it was a lot to take in wile putting it into practice. When it came my turn to skipper, a gust of wind caught the mainsail with the sheet cinched tight, we heeled over, and, feeling like I was sitting in one of those rocking chairs that tips over backward, I forgot everything Will had told us.
Water began to pour into the cockpit, and I looked up in time to see Will sitting on the gunwale, arched over backwards in a vain attempt to counterbalance the tilt of the boat. "Release the mainsheet," he said through clenched teeth. I did, the boat righted, and we spent a long time bailing the water out.
The next day we had much calmer breezes. A bit too calm, as we petered out in the doldrums near the end of our lesson. Day three there was a chance of thunderstorms, so we stayed on dry land, practicing tying knots and studying the points of sail. We were learning backwards, but on a boat you have to take what Mother Nature tosses your way.
By day four, I started to put all the pieces together—tiller, mainsheet, wind direction, points of sail—and managed a successful man overboard drill (rescuing Taylor, the moldy boat fender) and docked the boat.
From our first day, I was struck by the many variables involved in sailing—the wind, the water, the boat itself, gravity, waves, the sails, the lines, the shore, other boats—more moving parts, I thought, than any endeavor I'd ever before attempted. Then I remembered writing. There's plot, character, narrative arc, emotional arc, description, dialogue, point of view, theme, structure, rhythm, word choice. All must work together to keep the whole sailing smoothly.
A couple weeks ago, my sails were full and I was gliding effortlessly, making revisions to my book, starting a new essay. Then I had to change direction to work on projects for other people, and though I tacked fairly smoothly, when I finished the other projects, my bow nosed into the wind, and I found myself in irons, sails luffing. I'd lost momentum, and, moving backwards, my rudder steered the boat in the opposite way I wanted it to go.
My only choice is to scull until my sails catch wind—that means put my butt in a chair and pick up a project, even if it looks about as appealing as a swamped boat, and fiddle with it until I start to pick up speed again. I fully intend to bail out that essay—but I will probably wait until my sailing lessons are finished.
This post went out last week to subscribers of my newsletter, along with some bonus material. You can subscribe here.