What a Sailing Mom Says…

December 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

… is usually something important to listen to.

Every Christmas everyone in our house makes something for everyone else. It’s a counter to buying things. Sometimes a made gift is a painting or a knit scarf or some extra chores. This year, the kids collaborated on a classic for Mom: a box of magnetic Momisms.

Momisms are things Mom says that only Mom can pull off: expressions that change the course of the minute and refocus everyone on something more important like a laugh or a task. And everyone knows exactly what she means. My wife has many, and now, with some kid creativity, they can be stuck to the refrigerator.

  • That’s so Jank – Something is messed up. Busted. Flawed. Move on.

  • Sew buttons on your underwear – Usually follows a trailing “so….” and corrects poor grammar.

  • Your what hurts? – Can be used for many things like “tough it out others have it worse”, or can just be a subtle reference for butt to get a chuckle.

But the Momism that brings me the greatest pleasure will only resonate with fellow sailors.

In our sailing family Mom works the pit. She manages halyards, coordinates sail changes, keeps a clock, has her ears on the VHF, and is, as are many great pit managers, the glue that holds the sailing team together.

And when we’re screaming downwind, powered up, weight back, kite strapped down, chasing surf-able waves, Mom keeps one hand on the Vang all the times. She’s the last line of attack when the boat is about to go out of control. Ease the Vang, and she’ll stay on her feet (the boat and the mom). Don’t, and there will be trouble.

When we’re pushing the limits, Mom will sometimes say, loudly, “I have NO MORE VANG!” Everyone knows to hold on tight. I take it to mean, “Dear, it’s time to reduce sail.” We eventually do. And it’s the right and wise thing.

The 1 Percent

December 18, 2011 § 1 Comment

First published on SailingAnarchy – December 2011

Almost nobody aspires to be cold, wet and scared. American kids are more likely to imagine themselves walking alongside the Mars Rover encased in Kevlar, breathing tank-warmed earth air, than traveling a few miles aboard a sailboat. Perceptions override probabilities.

To see how, you might follow a school field trip to the beach.

Every May, a second-grade class hums and hops at the top of the Milwaukee bluff, shouting out over endless water whipped blue-gray by a northeaster. They’re there to learn a bit about history, weather, commerce and ecology, and most will.

A rusty lake freighter carrying corn plows north sending white sheets over its bow. One kid wonders aloud if people are driving the ship or if it drives itself. Otherwise, the lake is empty and intimidating.

The class braves prickers and thistles on the Poe-esque descent to the beach, leaving dry breeze and a warm sun for the gray dampness that hovers at the shoreline. The teacher tells of wild weather, shipwrecks, drownings, pollution and extinctions while the kids pick sticks to find a shell or a flat rock in the smelly goo of algae, gull poop and chunks of a gelatinous carp carcass. Gulls screech. Tan waves roll and break. An opossum lumbers in the brush.

It is not sandy sand, more rough and jagged mixed with green glass and plastic pieces, littered with the massive white pine bones of the sailing ships that delivered ore from north to south over one hundred years ago and deformed concrete and rebar leftover from human attempts to slow erosion.

Then, the icy water. A few touch a bare toe to it. Like an electric shock, it punches first, hurts and then numbs to the knees. In minutes the class retreats full tilt and screaming spraying mud to the top of the bluff. There, shivering second graders are unanimous that no sane person should go in the lake nor even near it, much less out onto it in a boat. The teacher and chaperones concur. At home, nearly every listening parent agrees. Some warn that the beach and the lake are off limits. Forever. Period.

Childhood experiences almost always have Americans avoiding the water for most, if not all of our lives. We worry about undertows, or sudden storms, or bacteria, or sharks, or the sure disaster caused by swimming too soon after eating. So the idea of sailing seems so risky and foreign that most, indeed 99% of Americans, will never seriously try.

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