Your father taught you to sail when you were six,
barking out orders like a modern Ahab
fueled by anger
and a sense of warfare with the elements.
The learning came hard,
trying to make sense of ropes and pullies,
of shifting seas and fickle winds,
of a new world where nothing stood still
where waves and spray and venom
crashed over you in equal measure.
For you, it was a wet hell,
a beautiful hell of teak and canvas
and a certainty that you would never
be enough, be able to master
even the simplest tasks,
much less the seas,
and when you left home,
you left the seas as well, seeking
the refuge of mountains and safe harbors,
of silence and a world that stood still.
But uncertainty is a strange drug
and the ocean called to you like a lost lover
and, weak at you imagined, you answered her call
and found your own vessel,
sure it was madness to return to the sea.
This time, though, there was no battle.
Without your father’s anger, his need to conquer wind and water and
sailing became a romantic tango.
Like the most intimate of lovers
you and the elements became one
and the shifts of currents and weather
and soul intertwined
and there was no need for a safe harbor
for wildness became safe
as the landless sea that surrounded you.
About this poem.
I actually did learn how to sail at six. The first time out the nose of the sailboat plunged into the waves and according to my father, I practically climbed the mast. He drove me hard in many ways, and I thought I hated sailing.
Until he sold his sailboat and bought a ski boat. Suddenly I missed it, and bought a small sailboat of my own. It was amazing the difference when I no longer felt I had to battle the elements, and learned the joy of working with them instead. I became more aware. Without the battle with my father, it became a thing of joy.
Later in life, my dad bought and restored a larger sailboat, and by then my love of sailing was my own. And everything changes when something is your own.