KIDS AND SAILING
One of the highlights of our five-year cruise around the world with our two sons Si and Tim happened one night on the passage south from Gibraltar to the Canary Islands. Si was 14 and Tim 12. It was after dinner and the boys were on watch while Rosie and I grabbed naps before the overnight watches that lay ahead.
I was just dozing off when I heard Si suggest that they put up the big symmetrical chute. The wind was mild, probably blowing no more than 12, and the seas fairly flat. We just lay in our bunk and listened. We heard Tim running the sheets and Si getting the pole attached to the mast. The chute was in an ATN spinnaker snuffer so Si was able to hoist it while Tim arranged the guy and sheet and made sure the autopilot had us on the right course. Then, Si hoisted the sock, the chute filled and our 43-foot ketch Clover leaned to the wind pressure and accelerated.
The boys had not asked for permission or help. They made the call and hoisted a big downwind sail by themselves without a shout and without incident. I have to say I dozed off listening to the water rushing by the hull, feeling quite proud.
Sailing is many things for families and teaches many lessons to children who are lucky enough to grow up on the water. Sailing as part of a crew teaches teamwork in its most basic form. If you are racing, the teamwork is what separates winners from the middle of the fleet. For cruisers, teamwork is what gets you to your next landfall safely and without incident.
Sailing teaches self-reliance. Whether you are sailing across a wide bay or across an ocean, you are on your own out there and need to be the master of your fate. Modern communications and a highly efficient Coast Guard and rescue systems save lives every year. Yet, it is our job as sailors to avoid putting ourselves in harm’s way. It is our job to be able to solve problems and not delegate our safety and well being to professionals. Aboard a sailboat, you need to be able to fix everything; and, you need to be able to carry on without it, if it can’t be fixed.
And sailing teaches us about our relationship as humans to the natural world. Using invisible wind and well-shaped sails to make a boat go through the water is just the beginning. Understanding lift and air flow makes us that much more in tune with the birds around us while the action of the keel and rudder have much in common with the fins of the fish and marine mammals below. Sailing with currents and tides tunes us into the rhythms of the solar system and lying on deck far out at sea on a clear night reminds us of our place in the universe.
When my alarm went off that night for my midnight watch, I came on deck to find that the wind had picked up and the spinnaker and pole were stowed away. I hadn’t heard the boys dowse the big sail as the wind piped up but it was obviously the right decision. Sailing can teach kids a lot, not the least being good judgment.