The sailing community is full of mavens: men and women alike who, after years on the water, are ready in an instant to dole out invaluable advice to an obvious beginner. I’ll speak for myself: I need these experts in my life. And, conveniently, my “skills” seem to attract them.
For instance, the other day, I was bumbling around the cockpit of my newly acquired Cape Dory 25, Delilah, feigning confidence, but really, I was just cleaning.
“Working on a project?” a knowledgeable neighbor asked. He stood on the dock with his hands in his pockets, looking thoughtfully over my boat. I wished then that I had a tool or a thick novel about circumnavigation—something, anything to authenticate me—but all I had was a Magic Eraser. “Looks like your boom kicker is upside down,” he said. His eyes moved laterally, then tracked up my mast. “And your Windex is backward too. Did you put that on there?”
I was tempted to blame the boat, but instead I fessed up. I welcomed my neighbor aboard and, over a beer, we ironed out these issues. I shared my story, he shared his expertise, and, in the end, I became better acquainted with my sailboat.
See, I’m just getting started at sailing. Don’t be fooled by my Sperrys, my JFK-style sunglasses or my well-kept pocket cruiser. Just watch me tack, and you’ll see what I really am: a novice, an amateur or, as my 7-year-old son says, a total noob.
He’s not wrong.
For me, getting a sailboat last year was about venturing into the new and embracing that all-but-forgotten feeling of being a learner. At 38, I hadn’t been in a classroom in years. I’m too old to take up bungee jumping; I’m not interested in mushroom picking, raising snakes or investing in stocks. But all my life I’ve wanted to sail. In fact, I wanted it so badly that I was willing to fail or look silly if necessary.
When we were kids, our curiosity compelled us into areas of inexperience. We learned to ride bikes, swim and fly kites. We reached out and held hands with a first love. But, as adults, we often trade in that curiosity for comfort and limit exploration to our areas of expertise. Sure, we learn new facts, but how often do we learn new skills?
For me, sailing is giving this grown-up a chance to grow. And so, who cares if I put my Windex on backward? Who cares if I put my furling line on the primary winch and damaged my forestay just one month into owning a sailboat?
“Think of it this way,” my wife said. “Every part you break is now a part whose name you know.”
So yeah, I’m learning the names of some overpriced parts. I’m buying my neighbors some beers. My guess, I’ll probably end up trolled in some viral YouTube video, sails flogging as I come fumbling out the channel, backwinding my jib and dragging my fenders.
As Whitman said, I celebrate myself, and sing myself. So here’s to the noobs, wandering amazed. Cheers to the beginners and the dopey mistakes we’ll make: the halyard wrap, the lost anchors, the fresh diesel in the water tank.
Soak it up. Enjoy it all. In the end, the beginning might be the best part.
David Blake Fischer lives in Los Angeles. His writing has appeared in McSweeney’s, BuzzFeed, the Moth, Good Old Boat and numerous other publications. Follow his new sailing adventures on Instagram.