First Father-Son Cruise

Casual, boring, easy. That was our first father-son cruise in a nutshell, according to my son.

Catalina Island
Last week, Ezra and I shoved off from Marina Del Rey on our first ever father-and-son cruise to nearby Catalina Island. David Blake Fischer

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They say baseball is in decline. Bowling too. I won’t miss bowling, but I would miss sailing. So, I’m doing my part to save the sport: taking my kids out on the water every chance I get, hoping they’ll catch the bug and discover the magic of sailing for themselves.

Last week, Ezra and I shoved off from Marina Del Rey on our first ever father-and-son cruise to nearby Catalina Island. Every parent knows the weight that comes with managing the expectations of an excited kid. Will the trip live up to the hype? Will he love cruising? Hate it? Want a boat of his own? Swear off sailing and his weird, boat-obsessed dad all together?

We split a Dramamine as we left the dock. Ezra swallowed his half like a champ; I let mine dissolve in my cheek. Minutes later, my mouth was so numb I couldn’t taste my coffee. 

120-percent genoa
After three hours motorsailing, the wind shifted west/northwest. I shut off the outboard, unrolled our 120-percent genoa, and let Delilah do some carefree summer sailing. David Blake Fischer

“Ith dith nummal?” I asked, putting in a call to a sailor-doctor pal.

“Some antihistamines have topical anesthetic properties,” Doctor Geller said. “Have fun. You’re gonna have a great weekend!”

In fog and flat seas, we motorsailed Delilah, our Cape Dory 25, south along the first half of the 31-mile course for Isthmus Cove. As a parent, I was worried about Ezra, but he was fine. Legs folded in the cockpit, he kept watch for dolphins, took in views of the cliffs of Palos Verdes and offered the kind of pure, unfiltered insight only a kid can produce.

“I wonder if the ferry would’ve been more interesting,” Ezra said. “All I see is nothing but plain old beautiful sea.”

“You want pretzels? An apple? A sandwich?” I stammered, looking to fix a problem that didn’t exist.

“Dad, snacks don’t matter,” Ezra said. “The experience is what matters.”

We played “I Spy” and “Hot Hands” as Delilah logged miles. Ezra spotted ships and deejayed, while I pretended not to love Justin Bieber.

Ezra
Ezra enjoys the ride from i>Delilah’s cabin top. David Blake Fischer

After three hours motorsailing, the wind shifted west/northwest. I shut off the outboard, unrolled our 120-percent genoa, and let Delilah do some carefree summer sailing, moving along at 5 knots on a warm 10 knot breeze over dreamy Pacific swells.

“Dad, this is great and all. But, seriously, why do you love sailing so much?” Ezra eventually asked. 

He was perched on Delilah’s cabin top. I stood in the companionway behind him, watching his blonde hair waive in the wind as the island broke distantly through the haze.

Tears welled in my eyes as I thought about my answer. “Because of moments like this,” I said.

Yeah, I was a gushy mess. Eighteen months ago, I didn’t even have a sailboat. Now, here I was in our pretty little sloop, 15 miles off the gorgeous California coast, listening to my tender 8-year-old express his slightly below-average interest in sailing.

When the numbness wore off, I ate all of the snacks I’d reserved for Ezra. I sang all the Bieber, and cried all of the middle-aged dad tears, thinking about what our first cruise together meant to me and what it could mean to Ezra.

Approaching the island, a spicy breeze was blowing through the isthmus. After 6-hours, our voyage to Catalina Island was nearly over but there was still time to make a few unforced errors in front of my son.

First, I dropped the main on myself and prematurely rolled the headsail. Then, while motoring, I used a foot pump and began inflating our dinghy.

“Why are you doing this now?” Ezra said.

“So we’re ready when we get there!” I exclaimed, breathing heavily, sweating, running out of space in the cockpit to stand.

After approximately 10,000 pumps, I tossed the dinghy overboard and put it in tow, but the drag of the inflatable combined with the current overpowered our 3.5-hp outboard. Add a stiff headwind and now Delilah was moving backward.

And so, back up went the sails.

Back on the boat came the dinghy.

The last half-mile of the trip took a full hour to complete. But who’s counting?

My wife, Emily, and our 3-year-old daughter, Ederra, took the ferry over and joined us on the island. Together, we spent two nights on a mooring in 10 feet of water in Isthmus Cove. We paddled around the translucent shallows in a leaky dinghy and spotted Garibaldi. The kids swam in their summer skin. Then, at nightfall, we put sandy legs in sleeping bags and watched the stars from the cockpit of our little green boat.

Dreams.

On Sunday, Emily and the kids took the ferry home. With a full heart, I solo-sailed Delilah back to Marina Del Rey, still buzzing from the success of the trip, still listening to Bieber tunes, all the while wondering what the trip had meant to Ezra and our future sailing.

paddling in a dinghy
We paddled around the translucent shallows in a leaky dinghy. David Blake Fischer

“How would you describe the sail?” I asked him the following day. We were lounging on our apartment sofa, flipping through photos from the weekend, tending to our sunburns.

“Um, I don’t know,” Ezra said, “casual, boring, easy.”

“Well, I’m proud of you, buddy,” I said. “I thought it was epic.”

“Um, seriously?” Ezra said.

I bit my nails.

“Dad, maybe you’re thinking I don’t like sailing. But I do. Sure, we’ve sailed to an island. I like that we’ve accomplished that, but think of what we’ll soon be capable of. This was like a warm-up for even bigger trips I’m really gonna like.”

Touché, buddy. Touché.

David Blake Fischer is a “noob” sailor living in Southern California whose work has appeared in McSweeney’s, BuzzFeed, the Moth, and Good Old Boat. He hasn’t crossed oceans. In fact, he’s only recently crossed the Santa Monica Bay. Follow him as he fumbles out the channel, backwinds his jib and sometimes drags his fenders on Delilah, his Cape Dory 25. Find him on Instagram @sailingdelilah.

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