October 22, 2013

Sailing smooths the troubled soul

THERE IS SOMETHING about sailing that attracts people with problems.  Perhaps it is an escape —  the thought of gliding gracefully over calm waters in healing silence, far from the worries and distractions of modern civilization.  Perhaps it is the faint hiss of the wake, the beautiful swell of the sails and the gleam of the varnish.

The interesting thing is that the size of the boat doesn’t seem to matter.  I can remember two occasions when I took grown men sailing in an 11-foot Mirror dinghy.  They were seeking salve for their troubled souls, and they didn’t seem to mind cramming themselves into a boat designed for one adult and one child.

The first occasion involved an older friend who was going through a palace revolution at work. He was a director of a large and powerful company and his future was to be decided by the full board of directors at a special meeting after lunch.

He asked if I would take him sailing in the Mirror. “I don’t know what to do with myself,” he said. “Two things can happen. They can kick me out — and then I’m done for. Or they can promote me — and I’ll be in the catbird seat.  Meanwhile, I can’t stand the stress.”

We went sailing on the bay.  I gave him the helm. I thought it would distract him from what was happening at work, and I guess it did.  He never did lose his tenseness completely, but the soothing, calming effect of sailing worked its magic on him and the farther we went the more he relaxed.

After a few hours, when he judged the board meeting would be over, we headed back, and he drove off.  I learned next day that he was the new executive boss of the company, destined to become rich and powerful, and never to set foot in anything as small as a Mirror again.

On another occasion a military man asked me to teach him to sail. He was a major in the army. He, too, took the helm of the little Mirror and  was soon sailing with some confidence. He seemed to be a very nice man, not at all as fierce as I had imagined an army major might be, and he was obviously a quick learner. I thought him very smart, in large part because, at the end of the lesson, he praised me for being a good teacher.

Two weeks later he committed suicide. Shot himself in the head.

I was shocked, and didn’t know quite what to think of that, or how I might have borne some responsibility. In the end, I decided that the magic of the Mirror came too late to save his troubled soul. I can only hope he found a few precious moments of mental peace while we were out in the Mirror together.

Today’s Thought
To know how to suggest is the great art of teaching.
— Amiel, Journal, 16 Nov 1864

Heredity is one of those scientific terms that can be very confusing, but basically it means that if your grandfather didn’t have children, then your father wouldn’t have either, and neither will you.

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


Keep Reaching said...

Good post.

I agree completely that there is something very soothing about sailing and I am convinced that the smaller the boat and the closer you are to the interface of wind/water the more soothing it is - until you capsize of course.

Doc Häagen-Dazs said...

I always say that each hour you spend in a dentist's chair shortens your life by a day, and sailing has the opposite effect.

Jack said...

At the tender age of fourteen I was introduced to a Mirror Dinghy, It love at first sail. That was over forty years ago and the love affair with boats is still going strong.

Webb Chiles sums it up for me in this passage from him......
"One of my primary reasons for going to sea is to disconnect from the cacophony and ugly clutter of modern society and to purify life into simple elements of beauty
.But when I sail away, I enter the monastery of the sea, where I am not lonely and don’t want to talk to anyone who is not on the boat".

biglilwave said...

Wow John that was a heavy read. I would like to think that if the Major kept on sailing into the sunset, he would have been okay.