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Tomorrow’s probably going to be an unremarkable day of sailing. Odds are, I won’t have 15 knots on the beam. I probably won’t see Willy do a flip over the harbor break wall, catch a double rainbow, or curate a sailing experience that’ll wow friends. Yep, in all likelihood, tomorrow’s conditions will be “blah.” The sailing will be “bleh.” I’ll motor back inside the marina feeling “meh.” And it’s not only okay, it’s often for the better.
As I write this, we’re closing out four weeks of crap weather in Southern California. In any “normal” place, rain and 55 degrees wouldn’t elicit sympathy. But this isn’t a normal place; this is Los Angeles. Out here, cloud cover is breaking news. Rain feels apocalyptic. When temps dip below 60, we put on earmuffs, listen to Joni Mitchell and shelter indoors.
I’m calling it “March Sadness.” In four weeks, I’ve sailed only twice. On both outings, friends got seasick; the bilge was wet; sunny California was sunless. If anything captures my recent mood, it’s the old garbage bags that are taped over Delilah’s unfinished teak.
Yeah, I’ve been a real Eeyore. Seems to me, the more I love sailing, the harder it gets to accept “bad” days on the water. At the same time, I’m also realizing that sailing, like life, isn’t a beer commercial or a motivational poster. Some days have to suck. The key is to embrace it.
Today, I ventured down to the boat with that attitude in mind. Mist-like, upside-down rain bounced off the cockpit floor as the kids and I motored around inside Marina Del Rey. In a stroke of genius, I put on my foul-weather jacket, then immediately sat down in my jeans and soaked my butt.
My four-year-old, Ederra, held the tiller and steered us through the soup to a guest dock outside a small grocery market. “We can’t sail, but we can eat our feelings,” I told the kids. They scarfed down cookies. I made hot cocoa in the Jet Boil. Then, as rain pitter-pattered outside, we settled in and watched a movie inside Delilah’s tiny cabin.
There’s a tree-filled park in the marina with a hill that offers fantastic views of the main channel. We tied Delilah to a transient dock. Ederra was using a wet shoe to kick a waterlogged soccer ball to her brother.
“There are a hundred boats here, but no people,” she said, looking around in disbelief. “Why are there no people?”
Kids. They’ll remind you of the pleasure and amazement of what life is. Yeah, some days are unremarkable, inadequate, uncomfortable even. But, when we release ourselves from the pursuit of perfection—perfect sailing, perfect weather, perfect parenting—we awaken to the moment with a fresh appreciation for life.
From the park, we watched fishing boats come and go. Long-distance cruisers poked heads from hatches and adjusted their rain tarps. In the distance, the Santa Monica mountains, typically parched and brown, showed a rare emerald green from recent rain.
We were chilled to the bone and feeding soggy bits of cracker to a couple of ducks on the lawn when a boater on a bicycle sped past.
“You’re in an overnight slip,” he told me, gesturing down the hill toward Delilah. “The sheriff boat’s coming. They give tickets for that.”
We ran, slipped and slid down the hill and made it back to the boat just as law enforcement floated past.
“No worries, we’re just practicing,” one of the officers said as they continued past Delilah.
“So am I,” I said, powerwalking like a mall-walker down the dock. Looking foolish is so much easier than looking good.
Anyway, after three rainy hours in the marina, we started back for the slip. I sipped cold coffee and squinted in the mist. Then, about a hundred yards from the dock, a guy in a RIB came motoring by. Behind him, in the pouring rain, a dozen kids were being towed out to sea on Optis. The little boats zipped, wiggled and zig-zagged. The looks on the kids’ faces said nothing of the ongoing atmospheric river, seasonal depression or my middle-aged-man-with-a-sailboat problems. Whatever kind of weather we were having, they were here for it, getting the best of it, soaking it up.
And it was the look on those faces, the time spent with my kids, and, later, the sight of my rain-soaked self, smiling in photos, that got me thinking: Seems to me, you can spend all your energy chasing perfect days on the water. You can swipe at wind and weather apps. You can download charts. You can stalk sunshine, flat seas and idyllic anchorages. And you can totally wear yourself out. Meanwhile, as Herb McCormick recently noted, “Some of the best times you can have on a sailboat are when you don’t actually go anywhere.”
I’m just a noob cruiser sporting wet denim, steering with the tiller cover on, but I’ll second that emotion. Sailing, like life, is about more than pleasure-seeking. It’s about embracing the full spectrum of emotions and a wide range of experiences—even the unpleasant.
And so, my wish for you is that you float on a blasé, windless day. That you motor the marina in the rain. That you spill cocoa, sip cold coffee and get wet. That you tie up to an old dock, feed the ducks, or at the very least feed yourself.
Because sometimes good enough is good enough. Sometimes the low points turn into highlights. And, even when they don’t, does it really matter?
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 his Cape Dory 25, Delilah. Stalk him on Instagram @sailingdelilah.