Thursday, April 21, 2011

Fear and Sailing

This is an entry from, Kerry, the First Mate of Brigadoon.  It's regarding our last weekend out.  My own post will follow shortly.

Posted with her permission...

So..  I'm learning how to sail.  I figured that since I am now living on a sailboat, I should probably learn how to sail.  And Donn is hoping to take the boat out as much as possible, especially as the weather gets warmer, etc.

Last weekend we motored down to the south end of Lake Washington, spent the night and then had some fun sailing back part of the way.  

This weekend, we were determined to get out into the Sound.  And hopefully cross over to Blakely Harbor on Bainbridge Island and spend the night there.  The weather wasn't exactly optimal on Saturday morning, but it wasn't bad either - so we set out.  Two bridges, a pass by my Dad's marina while he took pictures of us from his dock, and we were at the locks.  I felt fairly prepared for this - we had visited as tourists a few times and Donn had talked me through what I needed to do up at the bow.  All went pretty smoothly in and out of the small lock.  Good.

As we cruise out past Shilshole and start figuring out our next course of action, I notice the waves aren't small (at least by my standards).  We head into the wind - Donn is planning to put up the main and the staysail.  I'm at the helm while he prepares to raise the main and I'm feeling a few things... cold, on task, and a little nervous.  He's up there getting stuff done,  the boat is bucking into the waves and it's sprinkling on us a bit.

We start to sail heading west - the boat hits 7 knots pretty easily with the wind from the north.  It was actually kind of exhilerating if it hadn't been so damn cold.  We have my laptop open on the nav table and can see it through the pilot house windows.  We have software that connects to our GPS and puts us on a chart so we can track our progress and set a course.  It's pretty cool and I'm keeping my eye on it.

Then we start heading south towards Bainbridge.  The wind is mostly behind us and we're "running" which means Donn has to pay a lot more attention to possible jibes, which can be scary if they happen unplanned.  We're chopping through some pretty rough water and I'm thinking to myself, "well - this is just a small taste of what it would be like on the open ocean...  am I up for this?"   I told myself I was fine, cold, but fine and tried to sit up in the cockpit with Donn and much as I could.  When I got too cold, I'd head inside to the pilothouse.

I was starting to feel the motion of the boat as we were getting closer to Blakely.  We were in 3-4 foot waves at this point and the boat was reacting appropriately.   We were getting lots of spray, and some splashing over the boat now and then as well.  I was starting to feel stressed for some reason.  I knew the boat was solid - it wasn't really about that.  It was about my ability to deal with that much motion, hold on and get things done when and if I needed to - without falling down or even worse, falling overboard.  

Then it was time to lower the main and things got really scary for me.  Donn had me take the wheel and we pointed north up into the wind again.  This meant that we were headed staight into these big waves and the boat was crashing up and over and down again.  Meanwhile Donn was going FORWARD in the middle of all of this, to lower the main and batten it down as best he could until we got into quieter waters.  I held the course, prayed that he could do what he needed to do, while holding on, and that the boat wouldn't buck him off.  I had no idea what I would do if he went in the water.... I mean yes, I would circle and come around to him, and call for help if I needed to - but getting him back in the boat in that kind of wind and water?  I was having trouble with that idea.  So - I kept doing what I'd been told - kept the boat pointed in the wind and watched Donn as the bow came up and crashed down with large waves washing the deck up front.  Donn, thank god, held on and got it all done.  He came back, rolled up the staysail and we went inside to drive from there.  

All of a sudden the feelings I'd been feeling started rising up the surface.  I felt overwhelmed and afraid - and part of me was ashamed for feeling that way.  I wanted Donn to trust me as a first mate and know that I'd be there for him.  But all I wanted to do was sit there and cry.  He looked over at me and asked how I was doing and I couldn't answer, but the tears started coming out.  He got us into the much quieter harbor safely and we put out the anchor and settled in for the night.  He said he had no problem with me getting stressed out and emotional.  This had been our choppiest experience yet on Brigadoon and our first time out in Puget Sound.   

Our ride home this morning was much mellower and even a little sunny, although still cold.  We had a chance to talk more about yesterday and I realized that it's not bad that I feel these fears and work through them.  I'm not going to stop sailing and I'm going to keep learning.  Fear on this level is a rare thing for me - it's not often I put myself in a situation that could be lethal if something goes wrong.  Weather is something we can't control.  We can only avoid it (when possible) or move through it and with it as skillfully as we can when it's encountered.

I'm left with a feeling of accompishment that I made it through the sail yesterday.  And I'm no longer ashamed at my emotional release as we were heading in the harbor.  Crying has always been my form of release and I sure needed it after that ride.  Brigadoon is an incredibly solid boat - and we continue to learn about her and how she reacts to certain conditions and sail trims.  It's good.  We're all learning together.  One sail at a time.

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