My father owns a small, 15 foot sailboat, an International 470, that I named “Blue Eyes.” I’m the only one that calls the boat that, my family calls it blue boat, and now I never understood why I had my own name for it. But, it’s not about the name. It’s about the structure—the thing that carried us out onto the water.
It is a small boat made of fiber glass that my dad bought several years ago. It has been around since before I was born. The boat was intended to be raced by two adults, we managed to fit all five of us on, but one had to sit on the centerboard. When I was a little girl that was my seat, and my job was to push down the centerboard as soon as we got into deep waters.
For those that are unfamiliar, the anatomy of a boat can be broken down into three broad areas: the parts of a sail, the rigging and the hull. Our boat had two sails, the mainsail and the jib. The main sail is connected to the boom, the large horizontal member attached to the foot of the mast, and the jib is the front sail connected to the top of the mast. My dad controlled the mainsail, the driving force of the boat, and as I grew older I took control of the jib. I called myself the jib master. It felt like a reckless job; the powerful wind whipping through the sails, through the ropes into my hands. But as I grew in age, I grew in confidence tightening in the jib or letting it flop or flail in the wind on my own calls. My dad still called the tacks, but I knew exactly when to let go of the ropes and let the wind take over.
The body of the boat is small, no one can sit on the bow, and only two people can sit back at the stern. The other two sit on opposite edges with the centerboard between. The boat is controlled by a removable centerboard, or keel, a rudder and a tiller—just that small lever steered us. It’s amazing to think that we were able to go so far out in the water, controlled by the forces of nature, and maneuver through it all on a small structure with only pieces of wood and fabric directing us. We trusted the boat.
We trusted the work that went into it, the care that we gave it, and the way that it sailed us. That boat holds a time capsule of memories formed by our relationships—to it and to each other.
Little blue boat took us out every day windy or not. We drifted, glided, sailed across the water, soaring, or sometimes sputtering, past the beach front that looked like miniature play-mobile, into the open waters. There was no motor on the boat, so we relied on the wind. If we ever went out with little or no winds, we would putz around, float, get caught in a cat scratch, a bout of wind, then stop, sit, nothing. It was then that we had conversations about what we wanted to be when we grew up, or sometimes, we’d dunk our heads back (nearly tipping the boat) and cool off. When we were stuck out there, far away from shore, too far to walk in, we would jump out, grab hold of the jib line and pull, push, and drift until we were caught in some kind of breeze to get started again. There was something about the kind of power that nature possessed. It was unpredictable, and uncontrollable.
On windy days we would soar across the water moving too fast to hear or see what anyone was saying. So we sat, sailed, and took it all in—the water, the waves, the wind, the absence of everything except the sounds of the sailboat. There’s a special kind of way that being out in the middle of the lake makes you feel when you’re guided only by nature’s force, the wind in the sails. We were free, liberated; free from ourselves and feeling as though we could do anything. Yet we were so dependent on nature, learning to respect what it gave us. It’s a paradox really; that something makes you feel so free yet has so much control over you.
Summer after summer we spent on the lake. Early morning sails, when the water was crisp, like a sheet of glass, just enough breeze to keep you going, but not too much to give you goose bumps in the cool morning air. Afternoon sails when the sun was hot and the water was rough. Big waves would splash into the boat as we’d plunge between waves. We would soar through the water, dipping our hands in forcing them against the water, like a knife cutting through the water it created a splash that would spray up and cool us. When we were close to shore, we’d jump off the boat and get pulled by a towline, like the boat pulled by the wind. And the evening sails into the sunset with a red sky at night (a sailor’s delight my dad would say). It was one last time before the night ended. The air was cooler, the water settled down, and the breeze smelled humid, like a summer rain.
There was no predicting the water or wind, and despite that, we’d still take the boat out everyday. That was the adventure of it all—sailing. What we learned from the water was the uncontrollable power it possessed. It could suck you in, throw you around in a series of tacks or jibes, or give you a smooth perfect sail. With every condition, you learned to accept it, live it, work it. Everything is fast on a sailboat, there’s that one split second before you release the lines, you catch the eye of the other sailors with a glint that indicates a kind of uneasy readiness. Then, it’s chaos, all at once until you get control of things.
It’s the relationship that you have with the boat. The structure you know and feel a part of, the work that goes into it that’s not just a routine. It’s a part of you and different every time. And that’s the thing that ties you to it, makes you a part of it and guides you through the risk. But that’s what makes sailing an adventure—the knowing, deep down, that it’s all unpredictable.