Completing my ASA 103 Basic Coastal Cruising course did a lot more for me than provide me with the skills I need to skipper a sailboat. For the first time in my life, I feel a sense of belonging with a community not genetically related to me.
For most of my life, I was content to be a “loner.” I have always been able to adapt and blend in just about anywhere, but also always lacked a sense of belonging, and mostly didn’t care. I felt just fine keeping to myself. That has changed.
I see myself in other sailors and I know they see some of themselves in me too. There is a common thread of adventurousness, thirst for challenge, and a love, respect, and even awe for nature that runs through every sailor and ties us together as community. Every sailor remembers when he or she was just getting started… the fears we share, the challenges to our confidence and skills that we face and overcome, often only with the help of other sailors who have been there before us. As much as the idea of being alone on a sailboat in the middle of a vast ocean appeals to me, I know I will never get there without the sailing community. When it is my turn to return the favor, I will leap to it, just as so many sailors do.
This last week, I was privileged to receive help from ASA instructor and Captain Bill Moreland. Bill has been a sailor for over 40 years and is also the Director of On-The-Water Programs at Modern Sailing. He is among the best of the best. Weeks before the course, during many conversations with Bill, I shared with him my fears and goals. After only a week on the water with him, I was able to confidently communicate with and command the crew and boat. Of course, I still feel like I need a lot more practice, especially with docking! (Don’t we all?)
After the last day of class, Bill told me that I was a star student and it was a privilege to help me earn my certification and take the huge step from being a quiet crew member to a competent and confident skipper. This warmed my heart — much more so than I let on. I wanted to hug him! His praise meant the world to me and my confidence surged even more.
I spent the last six years fighting to overcome some huge losses in my life, losses that took a toll on my confidence more than anything. It felt safest to remain alone, self-reliant, and disconnected from other people. Only my passion for sailing could galvanize me to grow beyond the sense of safety I found in aloneness. To take on the huge responsibility for others’ well-being, make critical decisions, and tell people what to do felt downright terrifying to me. I desperately wanted to overcome that fear because simply, I want to sail and I refuse to let fear limit me. After this week, I feel like I have finally won the fight, thanks to Bill and my classmates Carol and Brit.
Carol seemed to have confidence in spades, even when she openly admitted her own uncertainty and lack of experience. Her confidence and humility were balanced and realistic, and therefore helpful to her success — and mine. Like me, I think some of Carol’s confidence as a growing sailor stems from her passion for sailing. Unlike me, I think much of her confidence was already inherently within her, whereas I am gaining more confidence in myself through sailing. Carol’s quick laughter, sense of humor, and eagerness to learn made the course even more enjoyable and memorable. We did our best to support and encourage our less experienced and less confident classmate Brit. I witnessed first-hand the effects of self-doubt. As inexperienced as Carol and I are, we were ready to take up the skipper’s mantle within the sailing community — to help those who are less experienced to get where they want to go.
Friday evening after finishing the course, Carol, Brit, and I went to the Buckeye for a beer in all our sweaty, sun-chapped, and wind-tousled glory. Later we ended up at Carol’s house and brought along a man named Frank who had joined in our conversation at the bar. We jumped off Carol’s power boat into the cold bay water, which was especially refreshing after the unusually sweltering weather. Two friends of Brit’s and a sailing friend of Carol’s, Leslie, later joined us. Before we knew it, we had a party of six beautiful badass women and one happy, lucky man.
As the San Francisco city skyline twinkled across the bay with the bright 3/4 moon hovering above, as sailors do, we dangled our bare feet over the water, drank, smoked, and garnished our sailing stories with colorful and foul language. We rambled on about our sons, our dreams, and the many reasons we love sailing. I knew I would be tired at work the next day, and I knew it would be worth it. I had arrived at a monumental milestone in my journey to the ocean, and I savored every moment. I finally found my tribe.