This Sailing Vacation, We Spent Nothing (Except Time Together)
October 1, 2010 § Leave a comment
First published in SpinSheet Magazine – October 2010
The aft births are dark, damp, deep caves inducing claustrophobia in most adults and where the smell of musty closed-cell foam and unwashed feet lingers, and wetbags double as pillows. But the kids like them. Kate climbed out of her’s, wiped the leftovers of vivid dreams from her squinting eyes, smiled lazily into the morning sun and wondered aloud what the day would bring.
We’d sailed and settled into Nicolet Bay the day before, our first stop on the way home from the 2010 Hook Race, a 200 mile offshore sailing race that starts in Racine Wisconsin, and ends on the western shore of Green Bay at the intersection of Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, in the twin small towns of Menominee-Marinette. Fifteen miles across Green Bay, tiny Nicolet Bay is a natural harbor on the east shore, on the coast of Door County in Wisconsin, offering a sheltered anchorage when the wind is from about West to Northeast. If you’re lucky, as we were that day and night, to find a holding anchor, swinging room and a favorable forecast, the summer breeze delivers larger gifts: the smell of campfires and conifers and the sounds of singing and playing in the forested state park that surrounds the bay.
I had Kate’s answer, hooting, then diving from the cabin top into cool, clean, clear, fresh Lake Michigan water and coming to the surface with a refreshed and happy groan. She and her sister Elizabeth, just out of her own dark bunk, scrambled into suits and jumped in the lake too, and the day began with another gift from Nicolet Bay: an hour-long pre-breakfast family swim, leaving our limbs limber, our hair soft and clean, our lungs, hearts and minds awake, and the sense that all the world was smiling on us.
A night at anchor in Nicolet Bay is a rare treat, like flat clean lake ice for ice-boating in a Wisconsin winter, requiring confluence. Some years, indeed often many years in a row, it just doesn’t work out. My wife and I must work hard enough in our jobs to be able to take the time off to race. The family must select sailing over other more pressing or fun things that it might do in the summer. The race must finish at the right time. We must take a couple of extra days off of work to make a lazier return trip, and we must luck into a day, like this one was, where nature cooperates.
This is one of the central lessons of sailing and one of its prime attractions: you just don’t know what you’re going to get. You might not get what you hoped for, for long periods of time. You might have to wait. You might have to adjust your expectations. You might have to try again. Most of the essential variables are out of your control. But when it comes together, it can be stunning in its beauty and power: graceful, organic, complete and, dare I say, spiritual.
On one hand, it’s the ideological antonym of the phrase “instant gratification”. These rare memorable moments can’t happen without patience, confidence, trust, hard work and the cooperation of many. They directly oppose the X-Box, cable news, and the all-inclusive theme-park. On the other hand, we can also find an ideological link to the time-honored practice of “living in the moment” and rewards not unlike those that might come from centering through prayer or meditation. You find yourself free of distraction and complication and in balance with the world. It’s like you’ve discovered something brand new.
But there is another notable and very important benefit: you are there with people you love, and they feel the same way.
In our minds, these moments of common joy and circumstance overwrite the trivial, and stand out as the most important in life. These are the formative events.
When you hear people sharing these stories, it is clear that they’re talking of the best times, and the best people they’ve known.
And note something else: they’re not talking about something they purchased with cash or credit. Indeed, they’re telling you about something that they made… that they created… that they waited for, and then seized upon by their own volition… by investing time and trying again and again as a team and by trusting.
That’s why I believe we should Save Sailing. There are few such ideal formats for making meaningful memories and in doing so, feeding our souls and strengthening our families and our collective spirit.
I must report that when I talk about these things and hear a knee-jerk response to my book, I’m often told that I’m suggesting a cultural change: something too big and too hard for families to do on their own. Something that takes too long. I’m told we have to transform sailing into something we consume in small easy bites since nobody is willing to wait anymore. After all, we’re all American Consumers, right? That’s all we know how to do.
After a cup of hot cocoa, an apple and some home-made coffee cake, the girls leapt back into the water. We had borrowed and were towing an inflatable dinghy, and they turned it upside down, transforming it into a diving platform. They shrieked and splashed and paused to float and chat in between cannon-balls.
My wife touched my shoulder and said, “This feels a lot like last time. Last time was seven years ago. We shouldn’t let so much time pass in between visits.”
I’m not proposing a cultural change. I’m proposing that our individual choices — the ways we elect to spend our time on earth — are what determine our culture. Culture doesn’t change from the top down, it is created from the bottom up, when people make choices like spending time together on sailboats, and with enough commitment and frequency to luck into magical places and times like Nicolet Bay in the morning.
If you or your club are interested in sharing ideas, feel free to email me at email@example.com.