Mastering a Mainsail

When I was eight, dad took me and my sister sailing in a Hobie Cat. The three of us huddled on the center trampoline as dad maneuvered into the wind-chopped lake. After a reassuring wave to the rental guy and a few tangled lines, we made it to the middle of the lake where it was time to turn around. We'd been gone an hour and the weather was coming in, it was late spring and an icy sprinkle of rain gusted from the sky. We were dressed in light shirts and shorts. After a half hour it became apparent my dad had no idea how to get us back to shore against a mounting headwind. We were stuck. The next three hours were an agony of mounting terror as my sister and I were convinced we'd plunge to our deaths in the glacial water. When we finally reached land I swore I'd never sail again. I kept that promise for 25 years.

Then I met a friend, an avid sailor. The men in his family were as comfortable on the water as they were lounging in their living room. They had sunk (and fixed) more sailing devices than I'd ever stepped foot on. He convinced me that sailing could be fun. I didn't really believe him but I wasn't willing to sit behind in the beach house while they jaunted around the bay. I wasn't willing to let them know I was too girly to get in a boat. So I boarded the fifteen-foot sloop with mounting trepidation. I watched the shore recede in the distance. I was the only one clutching the gunwale.

Sailing meant I was stranded far from freedom. You can't just call it quits on a yacht. You need to make deliberate plans. You sail to a point, then you turn back and you are bound to your floating device until you're anchored at the jetty. You can't decide in the middle that you've had enough and quit. You can't walk away. You need to see the journey through to the end. If you're sea sick you have to suffer, if you're bored, you're stuck until the wind drives you back to your destination, if you're afraid, the ocean is a constant reminder that death by drowning is between you and a few inches of plywood.

But the more I sailed the more I learned to like it. The thrill of heeling over, of commanding the tiller, of maneuvering the boat. I became fascinated with the direction of the wind and mastering the art of balancing the hull on that perfect line between speed and direction. I learned that sail boats always have the right of way, the difference been the mainsail and the jib and that a portable speaker works beautifully when it's propped against the deck. When you're tipped up on your side and the water froths along the leeward side of the boat it's both terrifying and exhilarating.

And then there are the moments when you're docked in the calm of a sheltered bay and the boat rocks gently, the waves are an inviting green. You enjoy a glass of wine and a picnic lunch. You dive off the bow into a refreshing expanse of lagoon and paddle around until you've had enough. Email and voicemail can't intrude - you have no service - you are completely unmoored from ordinary life and it's tedious demands. You are far away from ordinary obligations and chores. You're free.

Tahnee PerryComment