Sailors’ Wisdom: Life Lessons From The Boat

A few weeks ago my son Chris and I took a two-day sailing course on Sandusky Bay.  Captain Dave of Fair Wind Sailing School was a great teacher and we learned a lot.  I was thinking back on the lessons and realized they make great life lessons too.  Here are just a few:

1.  Always check the chart!  Before heading out into unfamiliar waters, a wise captain studies the chart.  Water looks the same (for the most part) no matter what’s underneath, and if your boat has a 4-foot draft you need to know where the water is deep enough to navigate safely.  To quote Captain Dave, “Rocks are bad!”  When starting a new venture or learning a new skill, it helps to consult an expert and get some guidance.  Learn from someone else’s experience, not from your own mistakes!  Find the rocks on the chart, so you don’t find them with your keel.

2.  Mind the wind and weather!  Especially on Lake Erie, the weather can change quickly.  Checking the forecast before starting out and getting frequent updates will keep you from being caught with too much sail for the wind or out of your harbor with a storm building.  Adjusting for changing conditions is easier if done in advance.  In finance, in business and in life keeping an eye on coming events and watching forecasts can keep you from making costly mistakes.

3.  Know who has the right of way!  When two boats are on a collision course they both need to know who has right of way.  The one with right of way is expected to stay his course, and the other is expected to change course.  Knowing the etiquette and expected behavior for different situations makes it easier for all of us to avoid ruffled feathers and close calls.

4.  Practice your knots!  Skills need maintained.  You have to practice and hone your skills until they are second-nature.  Sometimes you have to be able to perform tasks without thinking about them, like tying knots on a boat in a hurry.  I hadn’t tied a bowline in about 5 years, and I fumbled a little trying to show Chris how to fasten the jib sheets.  (That was embarrassing).  So we spent some downtime over lunch practicing in the cockpit with dock lines.  The only way to stay on top of your game with important skills is practice, practice, practice.

4.  Pull in your fenders!  Captain Dave has a funny story about a type-A captain he knows who forgot to pull in his fenders (the bumpers that keep boats from rubbing against the dock) when he was out on a sail.  So someone announced on the public VHF channel that his fenders were still out!  That poor guy was so embarrassed.  Not that it’s a big deal to leave your fenders out, from a safety standpoint (in fact we forgot once to pull ours in) but it’s kind of a mark of a sloppy sailor.  You never know when someone will point out your mistakes in front of everyone, so try to pay attention to the little things!

We had such a wonderful time with our sailing lessons, and we plan to spend another day later this fall out on Sandusky Bay playing on Old School.

Here’s a picture of Chris working on Old School‘s pesky jib sheets!

Chris and Old School

Question:  Have you ever been on a sailboat?  What was your experience?





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