On Luck and Learning
I’m lucky, privileged as well as lucky really. But lately I’ve been feeling jinxed. I figured out last night after sailing a boat that I toiled over for two years, that I’m too hard on myself. I was anxious about every detail while using the freshly refurbished boat. I did not want to scuff her, or have anyone see me make a goof, or worse have it recorded in photos. A boat was waiting for me to take pictures of the boat with the newly donated sails.
A few nights before I sailed with the best sailor I know, Larry. I was left without crew, so he invited me aboard while he taught a newbie. It was Friday the 13th and the dubious date tossed him (I thought it was aimed at me) a little test. As we entered the busy dock area, he asked the new sailor to drop the jib. It was jammed. Calmly he instructed, “well, drop the main then.” It was under the same spell. It would not come down. I tried too as we were sailing fast in a fairway that was not that long. “I’m out of options.” he calmly said as we turned the boat as close to upwind as the fairway would allow. “We’ll come in to the dock at a small angle and bleed off as much spend as we can. Hang on.” I moved to the bow, grabbed the bow line, hung on to the forestay and stuck both feet out, not to try to get off to stop the boat, surely I would be sacrificing myself to save some fiberglass. I don’t believe in that, but to drag both feet to slow us before we hit one of the zillion obstacles in our path. The green slimy dock was slick as snot on a doorknob. I didn’t think my worn out deck shoes provided any friction to slow us, but we did not crash and burn. Far from it. A sailor who was pulling his boat onto a trailer unceremoniously grabbed our shroud as we zipped past and brought us to an easy stop. So, was I jinxed or was I lucky? After thinking about it, definitely I was in the LUCKY camp. I have the privilege to be welcomed on a National Champion’s boat. I had the prior experience to know an heroic leap from the speeding boat would unlikely end well. Most accidents happen at the dock. I have seen many mishaps and learned to avoid many of them by never jumping from a moving boat. I only step. Lucky! I got experience in a way that injured no one and broke nothing. Lucky! And the next day, Larry, the very accomplished skipper said after admitting it was hairy and something he never had happen before, it was lucky the newbie got a very nice lesson without damage or injury.
Although I’ve been at sailing for a long time, I’m still learning. There is so much to understand. To learn, for me anyway, it sticks best when I mess up, or there is a memorable crisis, causing me to rethink every detail. When the spinnaker pole goes overboard, when the halyard jams at the top of the mast, when the winch handles breaks at the most inopportune time threatening to break the mast — that’s when I learn the most, not when someone tells me, “Do it like this.” I attend the school of hard knocks. I’m lucky to have such skilled professors! I’m lucky the knocks have been in a progression that never resulted in more than a bruise or bump.
As soon as the new sail photos were posted, a very good sailor shot me a note with the preface, “Don’t take this the wrong way…” This is not the first time I have seen that phrase referring to sailing photos while I was driving. He noticed I was not holding the tiller extension correctly and explained how it should be done. I’ll ask if he saw other goofs later, when I see him
I’m lucky I have so many school of hard knocks sailing teachers.
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