Sailing Lessons

Almost a week after Hurricane Sandy wiped us with her skirts, stomping all over New Jersey and barely hitting us at all, we returned to our boat.

It had taken us about an hour and a half to do the hurricane prep – striking the sails, removing the boom and lashing it on deck, taking everything that was loose or could be loosened and tucking it belowdecks, doubling up on all the mooring lines.  Battening down the hatches, literally and figuratively.  It took us about twenty minutes less to put it all back together and be ready for sailing.

Rather than set sail immediately to test the rig, we did another project that has been on the need-to list.  Engine maintenance.  We tightened the alternator and water pump belts, then ran the engine for a while.  Once the oil was warm, we took care of the oil and oil filter change that has been in the forefront of our minds.  This was the most-used system over the last summer and fall, and we both feel that it had been neglected more than we were comfortable with.

The next day, we went sailing.

Casting off, we got hit by a gust just as the lines were loosed.  The bow swung wide causing us to collide with the boat next to us.  No damage, not even scuffs, but it shook me (Dena) up more than a little.  Rather than tie back up and check both boats over, we continued out of the slip and got underway.

This is contrary to our agreed-upon operating principles.  One thing we established quite some time back is this: we go with the opinion of the more cautious of us.  If one of us thinks it’s time to reef, we reef.  If one thinks that we’re anchoring too close to something hard, we move farther away.  If one thinks that we need to tie back up and check the boat out, we do that.  But this time, we pushed on.

The last two weeks have been exhausting.  Long hours at work, running hard (including subbing for servers who called out and talking down an upset son, regarding whose mother I was about to call adult protective services…among other difficulties), and having to walk everywhere we’ve gone really did come to a head once we got out of the narrow channel for the marina.

Sailing teaches a person about their own limitations, their heroic abilities, and the wide grey zone between perfect comfort and either one.  Out on Fisher Island Sound, we raised sail with a single reef in the main and took comfort from the frothing bow waves and the hiss of water along the hull.  I (Dena) just sat there on the trunk house, in that grey zone, staring at the water as it swept along the beam of the boat and letting the liquid rhythm pull the nerves out of my body.  I came back to the moment, back to reality, back to sailing and wind and water and the boat and James and me.  Back to myself.

Meanwhile, I (James) was sailing the boat.  The wind was gusting, so the main with the single reef drove our broad reach to well over 5 knots.  Putting up any more sail not only would have been stressful, it was needless.  The boat was performing beautifully, but we were heading away from our home port so I knew our beat back home would be exactly that.  A beating.

After we reached the mouth of the Mystic River, I asked Dena if we should tack or gybe with the intention of heading west to put us back in a reach for our return later.  But the wind was building and, as we came about, I noticed that it was solid whitecaps all through the sound.  So I said, “Want to go back?”

With very little hesitation, Dena agreed that was a good idea.

It was maybe 45 minutes of sailing, but it did the job.  We got out and got salty.  We found the sea and we got back.

Spicer’s Marina is so well protected that, once we passed the breakwater, it was a beautiful day.  Warm and calm.  Well, warmer than out on the water.  Tied up and tidied up, we felt relieved by the lack of damage on both boats.  We also felt proud of ourselves – once again, we learned a lesson and put it into practice right away.

How many times will we go a little farther than we’re comfortable with?  How many times will we learn this lesson?

As many as it takes to keep us happy.



  1. There’s this look you get in your eye when you talk about being 10 days from any shore, Dena, that reminds me of the look people get in their eyes when you ask “How was your meditation retreat?” They say “It was great!” but what they mean was they have been to the edge, and maybe over, and back. And how the hell are you supposed to talk about that? Beautiful.

  2. Well said Jennifer! Grace transcendent, sought, found, and claimed. May we all find our best selves, limited and heroic both. SO glad you got some time away, and sounds like it couldn’t come too soon.
    Congratulations on the victory in Maine, y’all. A lot of happy queers up north owe you their thanks tonight.

  3. Kate and Jennifer,
    You two are indeed on both ends of my present existence. I can truly say that the two of you have been profound influences and the above statements are perfect examples of why. Thank you…

  4. Glad you did O.K. in the last 2 weeks. Wish you good luck in the future and hope you are getting a larger boat. Hope you have nice holidays. I am still at W.M., but they have only a few hours so i am sort off layed off. Do not know what the future will bring.

    Happy sailing

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