Monday, August 18, 2014

Sailing, Sailing

I started a new job in mid-May, and I like it very much. But, I didn’t think about not having any vacation time accrued for summer, and summer here is fleeting, so my opportunities for sailing this summer have been curtailed. When I’ve time, the wind is too strong or absent. Or it’s raining. One weekend I met up with an old school chum, and it was lovely to catch up. Himself had a surgery recently, and while he’s mending, he can’t sail. So, that leaves me to single hand or go with friends.

It’s been mostly single handing, which is okay because I can learn more. But there’ve been times where I wasn’t quite sure to go because the wind was at the edge of where I feel comfortable. I’ve found that where I am at the moment in my sailing life, that 20 knots is about as much wind as I want. More than that makes things a bit too scary for me. I think my boat can handle 20 knots all right, and even 25 knots, if I want to sail with just the jib or consider putting a reef in the mainsail. Or, if I go with someone who knows a bit more than I do, then 25 knots could be doable.

Anyhow, between starting the new job and getting acclimated to that, it’s somehow become the middle of August. Summer has galloped along, and I asked SFB once again if he’d like to go sailing. Every other time I’ve asked, he’s been busy doing other things, family birthdays or get-togethers, and he’s been helping out at a kids’ camp near his house. This last time, when I asked, he said, “You know, I can’t quite believe it’s the middle of August. If I don’t say ‘yes’ now, the next time you ask, it’ll be to ask me to help you take your boat out of the water!” And for a wonder, he didn’t have any activities planned, so we went sailing on Saturday.
He insisted on rowing the dinghy, tried out my new-to-me oars, which are longer than the ones I got initially. SFB and Chuck, the clerk at the marine store thought that 5.5 ft oars would be good for me. They determined that taking my height into consideration, and though they didn’t say it, the fact that I was female. I was thinking longer oars, like 6.5 ft better. But, I took their suggestion since they have lots more experience than I do. This year, I twice was blown around trying to row back to the float where I keep my dinghy. I just couldn’t get enough oomph with the shorter oars. I decided to get longer ones, found a pair of used 6.5 ft ones, and tried them out two weekends ago. Perfect. Yes, they’re heavier, but they also fit my dinghy better because she’s wide. Small in length, but wide. I should have had 6.5 ft all along, and I’ve no doubt had I been male, the guys would have said at least 6 ft oars if not 6.5 ft oars. Now, I can sit and stew about it or I can remind myself that just because someone has loads of experience doesn’t mean he’ll be right in every instance. I really was unsure what size would be best, but if I had stuck to my inner voice, I’d have gone at least 6 ft. Lesson learned.

Once we got out to Retrouv√©, SFB waited for me to tell him what to do and wanted me to do what I typically do. He did start up the engine, which did not get balky at all, he helped with removing the sail stops from the mainsail after asking if I were going to raise the main before I left the mooring (yes, I do do that, I don’t mind raising the jib underway, but I want the main up when I single hand). I went forward to cast us off the mooring, SFB was at the helm. I went aft when that was done, and we sailed for several hours.

It was a beautiful day, nice wind, some sun and some clouds, and SFB stayed on the helm. I was fine with that, and about a third of the way through, I really watched SFB. He became one with the boat, eye constantly looking ahead and put Retrouv√© through her paces. He wanted to see what she’d do and how she handled. His eyes are a striking blue, and as he was fully engaged at the helm, they became a really saturated blue. We tacked a few times, he answered my question about backing a sail (he did it very easily and showed me how the wind went to the backside of the jib, forcing the bow to turn), and I went forward a few times to untangle the telltale or adjust a fender.
But clearly, for much of the sail, he was simply enjoying the feel of the tiller in his hand and watching what the boat would do, quite oblivious to anything except the boat, the sea, and watching as he navigated. I felt her respond differently, and it were as if she sighed with relief and said, “Someone at the tiller who knows—really knows—what to do.”
She seemed eager to please and very happy to be out and about. I silently apologized to her, letting her know that I was doing my best. Perhaps if I had the summer off, I could become a more competent sailor a bit faster. But for now, I had to be content with slow improvements, and I thanked her for being patient with me.

I was reminded of when I’ve heard new fifers play. You can often tell what tune they’re playing, it’s recognizable, and you can see that the new musician is in earnest. But it doesn’t have the same depth of when someone more experienced plays it. And, there is no shortcut for that experience, that wealth of knowledge and hundreds of hours of playing time that come after a while. And so it is with the boat. I’m still learning, I don’t have 60+ years of sailing experience in my hands, but I’m getting there as quickly as I’m able.
In the four or so hours we were sailing, other than explaining about backing the jib, or asking if he saw the lobster buoy or small boat that was partially obscured by the jib, I don’t think we exchanged 20 words.

It was glorious, to be enjoying the sea, the breeze, and not feel any pressure for small talk. As we sailed back to the mooring, I lowered and stowed the jib, handed it to SFB who put it below and handed me the boat hook so I could pick up the mooring line.

He was tired, but happy, and looked 10 years younger. I was happy, too, as being out on the water feeds my soul as nothing else does.
I had mentioned a mutual acquaintance having a new-to-him Friendship sloop, at the other end of the harbor, so we went down afterwards to see her. She was moved from where I’d first seen her to a mooring. Had we known, we could have sailed up to her. Maybe next time.

Rain spat on and off for much of Sunday, so I stayed home and attended to housework. Today would have been a delightful sailing day, but work calls. It feeds my boat habit, so I’m not complaining. I just hope the weekend has nice weather like this, too.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

First Fig

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light!
--Edna St. Vincent Millay

This poem has floated through off and on in my mind since i was reacquainted with it last week. Funny what your brain forgets and then when it sees something again, it greets it like an old friend and wonders why it fell into that forgotten space.

This poem has knocked on my consciousness more often over the last 24 hours or so since hearing the news of Robin William's death. It saddened me that he most likely chose to end his life. [After initially posting this, i heard the suicide was confirmed.] Perhaps he simply grew tired of trying to outpace his demons or keep them at arm's length.

I didn't know him personally. Each time i saw him being interviewed or in any of the movies or tv shows i watched where he had a role, i always noticed his neverending energy and sometimes wondered if it would suddenly burn out, like a sparkler. I don't think i would have been as surprised had he died at a younger age as a lot of brillant people in the arts have. I suppose i was lulled into a place where he seemed to be managing all right, and i hoped he'd make it. That if he couldn't successfully harness all that energy, creativity, and ingenuity, he could at least hang on for the ride and not let go of the reins for a long, long time.

I am sorry that he was ready to let go.

It's made me reflect on the people who have come in and left my life, and on those dark times where i didn't know how i was going to hold on or for how much longer i could hold on. To date, each time i have, and am ultimately always glad i did so. I hope i am never in a place where suicide appears less painful than continuing on and getting through whatever darkness to the next place of light. I hope that when i let go of the reins, it's because it's time to let go.

And, for all i know, he knew it was time for him to let go, so he did.

I don't think every successful suicide is a cry for help that went beyond. I think that for some, they feel ready to do it and follow through. No histronics or threats, they just have a quiet moment and are ready.

When i worked as a waitress in a family restaurant, we had lots of regulars who'd stop in for a meal. One couple were a hoot, Jack and Lynn. They laughed a lot, and often made me laugh, even if i wasn't having a great day. Each was on their second marriage, and each had their first marriage go horribly wrong. Both were astounded that each was eager to try again and so happy not to be disappointed. Jack had some horrendous illness before i knew him, and Lyn said he nearly died. He was in the hospital for a long time and went in before Christmas. He told her he'd be out of that @#($( hospital at some point, so don't take the tree down. They had a cut tree that year, and Lynn kept the tree up. Jack was discharged in March. The tree barely had a needle left on it, but it scraggily stood all the same to welcome Jack home. Lynn said it might sound silly, but the tree gave her hope, and she wasn't going to take it down while Jack had a chance. That started a tradition for them where they kept up the tree an absurdly long time. By the time they were relating the story to me, they both laughed about it, although i still get a lump in my throat thinking about it.

Lynn said it's the weirdest thing how something so small or silly could change your life. She confided that she was ready to commit suicide. It was after her first marriage had been so horrible and ended. She hadn't yet met Jack, she felt her life was in the toilet, and she was going to off herself. She got all the paperwork squared away, cleaned the house well, and decided slashing her wrists was the way to go. She said there was an absolute certainty in her decision. It wasn't a cry for help, she simply decided that she was done with living. Period. Full stop. So, after tidying up the paperwork and living space, she was ready. Calmly, she went into the bathroom, turned on the water in the sink, looked at her face in the mirror before she took the razor blade to her wrists. She saw the determined look in her face and was ready.

She said she would have been successful, too, if it weren't for a friend who had a key to her place, knocked a short while later, knowing Lynn was home, and grew very concerned when she didn't answer. The friend found her, called emergency responders, and Lynn survived. Was angry as hell that her attempt had been unsuccessful. And then she met Jack, and was glad it had been unsuccessful. She wasn't angry with her friend any longer and would have done the same thing if the situation had been reversed.

"But," she emphasized to me, "When i had made my plan, i was ABSOLUTELY sure it was the right thing to do. I didn't tell anyone about it, because i knew they'd try to talk me out of it. I just calmly decided how and then picked a date."

She told me that on the other side of that attempt came the greatest joy she'd ever known, and she was sure in part, that she enjoyed it all the more because she very nearly didn't have chance to be present for it at all. Rather than make herself crazy with wondering about it, she accepted it as a gift.

And so i wonder, about those who are in that space where they feel ready to go. That this is the right thing. Is it? Or is it just around the corner from something wonderful, if only they could get through this patch?

It was a reminder to me that if i feel i'm in a dark place, i have options, even if it doesn't feel that way. And for my part, i need to be available to others in case they are struggling. A smile or kind word that costs me nothing to give might make a huge difference, like ripples from a small pebble tossed into a pond.