I took up sailing late in life and my sailing life was rather short, only 10 years start to end. There is nothing like moving to the desert to get in the way of sailing. Nevertheless, learning to sail will always sit high on my list of major accomplishments with lifelong lessons embedded in my soul.
I was 45 when I took my first sailing lesson. I had recently lost my husband to a massive coronary heart attack and was crushed by a broken heart. My husband had passed away on a chartered sailboat while we were on vacation in Aruba. I had never sailed before that day. We were there because I had gotten it into my head it would be fun to learn to sail together. We both loved the ocean so very much.
It was during a grief group session that I found my way to sailing. A fellow grieving widow who was also a Commander in the Navy informed me that as a surviving spouse of a retired Marine, I had access to sailing lessons at the Newport Naval College. I lived just 45 minutes from Newport. I drove down later that week and signed up.
I successfully passed the Naval sailing lessons, sailed all that I could, and continued to take additional sailing courses. I bought a sailboat – a Beneteau 331. She was named “Je T’aime” – French for “I Love You.” She was a beauty that I fell in love with immediately. Many thought I had lost my mind. Perhaps I did. But I also know sailing saved me. Sailing allowed me to heal my soul and find myself again. Eventually, someone came into my life and started to learn alongside me. We married and spent time at sea every spare day possible until my job moved us one time too many.
The accomplishment of learning to sail and the lessons learned will always be the highlight of my life. The lessons came back to me this past week in conversation with a coaching client when he asked, “Will we ever find our way out of this mess?” referring to the pandemic and its impact. My reply came out intuitively, “Sure, we will need to adjust our sails.”
With that simple statement, the lessons learned across the ten or so years of my sailing life came flooding back. I was astonished to realize how close these lessons apply to life and certainly in this time of our COVID-19 life. Let me share a few experiences that apply.
You are never really in full control.
When you are sailing, you can’t control the wind, the best you can do is manage the situation you are in. Sometimes there isn’t any. Sometimes there is far too much. Storms occur, equipment breaks regularly, you learn patience is a necessity. Things don’t always go as planned, and you deal with it. That is sailing, and that is life. Sailing requires you to prepare for the worst because when you do, the rest is easy.
Learning coping skills to work through unexpected situations and building the skills to adapt and thrive regardless of what life throws at you, is my favorite lesson learned. We did not plan for COVID-19. Most of us (myself included) could not have imagined the impact it has had on our lives. We don’t know what life will look like in a month or in a year or two. We only know there will be a tomorrow and a day after that. Yet, we are coping; we are adjusting, we are managing the situation as the best we can.
Small details make big things happen.
One of the first lessons that I learned from sailing is that the details matter the most if you expect to arrive at your destination at all. You learn to read the wind, the waves, the clouds, and the sun and to come to “feel” the boat under your feet. A sailor’s earliest lesson is to learn to continually watch for shifts in the wind by watching small thin strips of yarn blowing on the halyards (the line used to raise the sail). The lay of the delicate little line would indicate a change in the wind. Failure to accurately judge the wind and adjust the sail could result in the boom (the bottom of the sail) violently swinging across the bow damaging the boat or worse knocking into your crew.
In sailing, tying the right knot for the correct application makes all the difference in the world. There are many different knots used for many reasons. For instance, the bowline may be the most important of any knot, is not complicated, and has been used by sailors for over 500 years. It is most useful because it is used to tie a line around a post or any fixed object, and under pressure, it tightens and will not give away. Knowing how to tie this knot and do it quickly can make the difference between your boat unintendedly breaking away from a cleat or your jib sheet breaking away.
Just as in sailing, we are required to pay attention to the details while living under the threat of this pandemic. Wearing masks, keeping distance, paying attention to washing our hands, and keeping our hands away from our faces are little things in the scheme of life. These little things matter in the care for us, our loved ones, our customers, and our businesses.
It takes a crew.
Looking back at the few times I attempted to sail single-handed (that means alone) as an inexperienced new sailor could be thought of as comical. But it was not. It was scary and downright dangerous. It became a whole lot more fun when my someday to be husband joined me in learning to sail and manage the boat.
Just like in life, sailing demonstrates the power of working together. Life without support can be just as scary. No matter what your status in life is, you need to build a crew, a team to share the burden, come along for the adventures and to toast the celebrations. It is essential to build relationships, nurture them, and contribute to a broader community. I never took for granted the tight bond amongst sailors and their willingness to help each other without expectation.
A beautiful life is all about people. Not everyone has what they need or the skills to maneuver under the weight of COVID. That is why we must focus on helping each other and ignore the noise of those who prefer us divided.
We will persevere.
One of the greatest lessons I learned from sailing is that we will persevere by working together. Like life, it is easy to give up in the face of unforeseen obstacles or what looks to be impossible challenges. Like a sailor, we do not have control of the way the wind is blowing, or where our life is heading. There is still too much to be learned about the COVID-19 virus to let our guard down. It is important to keep moving forward, ready to adjust our sails if we see signs that we are moving too fast or moving too broad. We can do this together.
Stay safe as we continue this journey together,