Like a Long-legged Fly
I have never felt so peaceful and free as I did when I was sailing.
Our first summer in Toronto, Papa and I joined a sailing club. He had sailed years ago; I was a novice, but thought it would be a fun skill to learn and a great way to meet people. I was right on both counts, but it was much more than that.
Now, we’re not talking about a fancy yacht club—our club was a co-op, called St. James Town. Everyone took turns doing the cooking, cleaning, and maintenance of the modest clubhouse. We learned to sail on small, 12-foot boats called albacores. These boats left little room for error—one wrong move and you would soon be in the drink.
The first time I went out, as the crew for an experienced sailor, it was windy (at least 20 knots) and the waves were high. He deftly guided us away from the dock and I followed his instructions. Soon we were sailing back and forth across the outer harbour on a beam reach, the boat heeling way up on its side, me leaning back as far as I could to counterbalance the weight of the wind, abdominal muscles aching. I was exhilarated. Exultant. Thrilled. I was hooked.
The first time I skipped was with great trepidation. It was, again, a very windy night. The butterflies beat their wings in my stomach and my pulse raced. I navigated from the dock to the open water without hitting anything. Success! Time for my first tack: “prepare to tack,” I ordered my frightened crew. “Tacking!” I proclaimed, with more confidence than I felt. The boat turned, I scooted to the other side, broke my arse on something hard, but recovered quickly, grabbing sheets and rudder in time to stay on course. Jubilation!
Learning to sail was one of the most challenging things I’ve done. I learned in June—and quickly discovered how cold Lake Ontario is in June. If you’ve dumped your boat (which I did often), it is no small feat to flip it over, get back inside and get back on course without dumping again. That summer, my body was black and blue with bruises. I slept like a baby at night after my exhausting efforts on the water.
I gradually became more skilled at sailing, eventually earning my White Sail III. While I never stopped getting butterflies on the dock, once I was out on the water, I felt blissfully free. That summer, Big Papa and I sailed often, getting to the club early in the afternoon when there was hardly anyone else around. We’d find our wind, cleat the sails and lean back, the boat silently skimming the water, the breeze caressing our bodies, the busy sight of the skyline a stark contrast against the sparkling green water. We drank in the sun and the solitude.
We don’t sail anymore—the kind of sailing we did is not exactly safe for a baby. And we don’t want to take turns because we like to sail together—if I’m crewing, I need a skip I trust. If I’m skipping, I need a forgiving crew (hey, I didn’t say I was a good sailor).
I miss it very much.
Now I cherish small windows of solitude when I find them. The other day, while Papa watched our babe, I waded into Lake Ontario and swam out far. I rolled onto my back and floated, the cool water lapping above my ears, drowning out the noise. I was weightless, tranquil, and, for a few moments, once more, truly free.