Learning to Sail (among other things)

I live on a boat, but I am not a very good sailor. Even with almost seven years of experience aboard, the skills, terminology, swiftness, and confidence (among many other things) hasn't evolved. Some may have an opinion that I haven't worked hard enough to learn; and, while I agree somewhat (especially in the first go-round that we lived aboard), I can see now that sailing is one area where I have a lot to learn... and it's proving to be really hard.


Throughout my early life, I was a whiz at everything - school, friends, sports, work. All the way through my first career, I soared at everything that I did and received praise and accolades regularly. Then, I let my life take a different turn, and I made some different decisions about my paths; I purposely led myself down some roads that weren't so familliar, safe, and easy. These new and different roads strayed me far from the comfort I had previously known. Today, I can see that these changes needed to happen in order to show me places where I really wasn't capable or amazing (imagine that...) Life for me really hadn't been challenging up to that point and by living aboard and changing careers, it really shook up my confidence as well as my ego.

When I mess up (sailing, or otherwise), I get really angry - at myself, the situation, at others. A Psychology 101 course will teach that this anger really is a fear of being seen incompotent; and that's right in my case. As any other normal human being, I don't like feeling that I'm being seen as not smart or capable of doing a good job. It's difficult for me to admit when I don't know how to do something and even worse to admit when I've tried and horribly failed (especially if it negatively has an effect on others). If a good friend was sharing these feelings with me of course I'd say, "If you don't know and you do your best, you can't be upset at yourself. Trying and learning from it is what's important." What great advice, right? If only I'd truly use it on myself!

When I sail with my husband, a mirror goes along. I too clearly see my imperfections, reactions, and deficits, very clearly. Sailing shows me where I can grow - not only in skills but also personally. I am becoming better at dealing with messing up, not being perfect, and being embarrassed. I am working hard to just relax and learn (instead of being irritated or angry). There's a lot of self-talk occuring when I sail and that in itself can be exhausting.  If you asked me to plan an entire unit on how to teach grammar, get kids to read real books, decrease the number of disciplinary referrals at a middle school - I'm your girl and will have it done within an hour. But, taking in an applying all that I need to know to be a successful sailor (and soothing myself when I miserably fail) - it's taking a bit longer than I would like.

If I had to advise young students on learning to read or parents concerned about their children's behavior, I'd tell them to let things happen little by litte. I know from being a teacher that to learn, new material needs to be able to attach itself to something already known. And, it needs to be accessed, used, and applied several times over before the knowledge becomes automatic. Now that I'm fully invested in learning to sail and want to live aboard for many years to come, I'm working on building my foundation so more knowledge can grow. I'm reviewing names of lines in my head, asking questions even if that information isn't immediately neccessary, really watching and thinking about what the more experienced sailors are doing and why. That's the best that I can do right now, and I'm so incredibly lucky to have a very patient, loving, and understanding husband/captain who is working with me. To others, it may not seem this way but I am really trying and I know that eventually, I'll become more of an asset on a sail - not just a participant.


This weekend as we brought our boat back to the slip from being anchored out overnight, I did grab the wrong line when working to release our genoa, did almost miss grabbing our bow lines from a piling, and used many terms incorrectly and had to be corrected. However, I did automatically steer our boat by the correct side of the red markers leaving our anchorage, used the terms starboard and port correctly, and handled the boat well at the helm in 27 kt winds that were almost overpowering. I also noticed that I did not get sweaty palms or feel my heart racing as we worked to anchor our boat or dock her in the slip - this is a BIG improvement for me. I'm proud of what went right, and I did learn from what could have been better. It always means a lot to me when my husband praises what I did well, but even if he doesn't, I am more confident now that all come together for me. I just have to be okay with it being little by litte.

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