The Abracadabra Moment: How to find time for family sailing

June 3, 2012 § 2 Comments

First published in Spinsheet Magazine – June 2012


A persistent theme in my writing for Spinsheet is that sailing is fantastically family friendly; unlike any other hobby or free time pursuit, it can be done by, and is fun for, adults and kids together. It’s special that way.

But like anything worth doing, family sailing is never as simple as you hope. The wrench in modern family togetherness is a big one. The more people you have to get to one place, the harder it is to arrive. The more interests within the group, the harder is is to agree. The greater the time required, the harder it is to commit. The more possibilities that you must prepare for (weather, safety, experience), the harder it is to be ready.

In tackling the question of how families might find time to board sailboats together, we need to come at it from three angles, not in any order.

– The age of the parents and kids.
– The family’s flexibility.
– The family plan.

The clearest path to sailing as a family is starting very early, even right away. It’s much easier for a dad or mom to convince a teenager, or for that matter, for a teen to convince a mom or dad to go sailing, if it’s what they’ve always done. This means that parents need to be thinking years in advance. They’ll plan how they will expose the child to water, swimming, boats, and training and when to transition towards deeper sailing experiences like joining a team, or volunteering to help at a club or sailing center, or trying new advanced techniques.

Best laid plans are often waylaid at about the time of the terrible twos, and by the reality that most parents with toddlers are more worried about cleaning up spilled mashed carrots than what they’ll be doing in the next decade.

Imagine sitting in the neonatal ward daydreaming that your family will be the second coming of the Family Von Trapp and then waking up to the realization, twelve years later, that nobody knows how to sing.

There is the added complication of different interests among husbands and wives. What if the wife sailed as a kid, but the husband tends toward sea-sickness? As attractive as sailing might seem, this couple may not have the long-range planning discussion at all. The wife needs to find a way to start sailing with her child at the same time that she must convince her husband to face his own fears. Most of the time, nothing happens. I’ve met couples that have split because of this very situation. You may know some too. Then, consider how hard planning is for a single parent.

Here’s the rub: young parents that do plan ahead, and then adjust their own expectations to the level of all of the members of the family, experience continuous sailing joy, and the least hardship finding time for it. But this is not always realistic, so it is rare.

There is a plan B, starting with an odd and often untraceable inspiration. Either the parent or the child puts sailing on the table as an option – as something to try – and if they’re convincing, the other members of the family go along with it. At least once. Sometimes a parent has the idea. Sometimes the child does. Sometimes it comes from the deep recesses of memory. Sometimes a neighbor-sailor is the spark. Sometimes it comes from something read in a book.

Depending on how the trial experience goes, the family may then agree to re-prioritize; to carve out a few hours of time from their complex calendars to do it again, and then perhaps again and again. But this doesn’t happen without compromise. Kids might give up an extracurricular or some time playing video games or hanging out, and parents might give up a favorite TV show or time spent doing chores or yard work or decompressing after a long day.

I like to call this unlikely change the Abracadabra Moment, when the Magician recites those magic words, flicks his or her wand, and old habits and the same-old-same-old disappear in a puff of smoke and are replaced with new adventures and interests. Nobody expects what happens, but what happens is really cool.

But it’s better than a trick because it lasts longer than just one sail or one summer. When the old video game and TV watching habits are broken, a body of shared sailing memories starts to build. It, in turn, feeds itself. Making memories is the inspiration to make more. Eventually, the summer calendar is organized around family sailing, not the other way around. Then, as if by magic, the relationship of the parent and child takes on a new form, a timeless one, where events like graduation, moving out, getting married and starting a new family are shaped and informed by the time committed to family sailing experiences.

You see this when grandkids go sailing with their grandparents. You see it when twenty- and thirty-somethings join their parents on sailing vacations or races. You see it when the family album is filled with images of sandals and sunsets over water, swimming off of the transom, or capsizing and righting the family Sunfish.

It’s about connections. Planning to make them. Then making them. Then sustaining them. Then letting go and trusting that even distance or time won’t break them. It’s the magic of family mixed with the magic of sailing. And it’s why it is worth it to have a family plan… or at least to turn off the game console and the cable box and head for the waterfront.

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