January 13, 2006
Sailing with my Dad
The river we sail in the summer is a big river, wide and deep, big enough to act as a boundary between our country and our neighbors to the north. And the islands – more than a thousand of them – make our section of the river especially interesting. Some are mere chunks of grey rock, while others hold summer cottages and groves of trees. As we sail between islands, sometimes gliding through narrow channels, we see carefully tended flower gardens, picnic tables set out on rocky points, hammocks hanging from pine trees, paths leading up to cottages, and everywhere, boats tied to docks. Sometimes when the wind shifts, we take an unexpected tack and end up on a part of the river we haven't seen in years.
We don't get to choose what kind of sail we are going to have. The wind chooses for us. Some days it is a peaceful drifting, just ghosting about, a leisurely sail filled with quiet moments in the sun and lazy conversations. A strong, gusty wind makes for an exciting sail. If my Dad and I are alone, with no fearful passengers on board, we'll pull in the jib sheets, reef down the mainsail, and then point as close to the wind as we can. Some days I’ll stand on the edge of the boat, balancing myself by clinging to the wire shroud, moving my weight out over the water every time the boat heels.
One of my favorite sails takes us past an island that was set aside as a refuge, a breeding grounds, a sanctuary for great blue herons. The nests the herons build are big untidy nests, built high up on the branches of dead trees, their silhouettes looking like a picture from a Dr. Seuss book. The great blue herons tend to ignore the sailboat, accepting our presence on the river, and we can glide up close, getting a great view of the baby herons with their ridiculously long and awkward legs.
The noises of sailing are wonderful: the ripple of the canvas sail when you point too close to the wind, the gurgle of water against the hull, the swish that a thick bed of weeds will make as you glide over, the call of the osprey overhead. Sometimes we sail to a particular destination, usually an island that is great for swimming, but more often than not, we sail just for the chance to be gliding about on the water. We sail for hours and return in the end to the dock in the marsh where we started.
Learning to sail takes time and patience. Always, you must take into account the current and the wind. Sailboats don’t take many shortcuts. Sailing means tacking back and forth, adjusting your path to changes in the wind, getting to where you want to go in a manner so gradual that often by the time you get there you don’t remember why you came.
Posted by jo(e)