Monday, May 12, 2008


Here is an entry in our group writing project about Learning Experiences received via email from TK...

I can remember it from the time I was very little. I would sit in my row boat tied to the dock and watch the sailboats with their brightly colored spinnakers race down the lake off on the distant shore. I have always loved boats, always been drawn to the water. I love to walk the docks in harbor towns. I love to gaze out at any body of water from little ponds to Lake Michigan. But more than all that, to my very core, I've always wanted to be great at racing sailboats.

It must have been imprinted on my brain when I was about seven and I went to my first trophy dinner at the club. I watched wide eyed as the local legend in his 1970's red checkered pants went up to receive trophy after trophy. Wow, I wanted to be like that. I wanted to be better than that!

That drive has always been there deep down inside like a little pile of dry kindling. And that moment of my youth was when the match was lit, and the journey began. There have been lots of people that have affected that journey and altered my course, as the drive inside pointed true north on the compass.

"Well aspiring youth, meet local legend. He's won the fleet championship ten times."
"Nice to meet you!" and I'd learn whatever I could. But I'd ask myself, "what if I want to be better than that?"

"I'm sure you'd like to meet regional rock star. He's won the district regatta three times."
"Nice to meet you!" and I'd learn whatever I could. But I'd ask myself, "what if I want to be better than that?"

"What do I need to do to become a really great sailor??"

And that's where the journey stalled for a little while. Looking back at first I thought it was my own club. They really only cared about the fleet championship. They only sailed on their lake. Once a decade, a local sailor would go out and win a regional regatta or two, but that was as far as anyone would take it. I've later learned that this is true for many more yacht clubs than my own.

Who really has the desire and dedication to take the journey as far as it will go, to keep climbing and climbing towards the summit? Most get satisfied somewhere along the way. They may get tired. They may just stop and rest. But they stop.

It reminds me of the line in the movie Miracle by Coach Herb Brooks, "Nobody has ever been willing to work hard enough to beat the Soviets. Gentlemen, we will."

I digress. But it makes me that much more grateful for the lesson that made all the difference. I wish I could credit it to an old weathered sailor with his hand on my shoulder like Norman Rockwell fancied. I actually had it relayed to me second hand or even third hand. But that did not lessen the impact of the words. I try to pass it on to every youth sailor I know.

The old salt's words go like this:
If you want to be a really great sailor, you have to get off your home lake and travel the boat.

Man oh man, that's it! Eureka!! My local club's occasional flash was the sailor who got off our lake. The rival lake that always cleaned our clocks in the regional regattas had sailors who traveled all the time!

I had the drive, but what I needed to do was drive!! White line fever!!!

And I did. I hit the road and regattad more than almost anyone in the class. Frustrations. Growing pains. Always another lake to figure out. So many people saying, "why do you do this so much? Is it really worth it??"

And then it crystallized. All of a sudden everything got easier. Starting in big fleets. Figuring out the breeze and the local lake effects. Staying with the really fast guys. And I started to win. Even a lot.

Well I haven't made the Olympic team. And there's still one national title I seek with the crazed obsession of Don Quixote. But if I stop and think back, I've gone farther than I ever thought I could. Than I ever dreamed, really.

But I still hear Herb Brooks' line in my head. And I still keep climbing.
"What do I need to do to be better than this??"

It goes on. And someday when I'm older. I guess I am older. When I'm just plain old. I will be like the Ancient Mariner, constantly seeking out the promising youth that has signs of the kindling that has been touched by the match, and I will tell him or her. You've got the drive? Great. Now you need to drive!

Thanks TK. Superb story and a lesson that is so true. There's still plenty of time for others to submit their stories of learning experiences for the group writing project. Full instructions at Learning Experiences.


Litoralis said...

Very true. Also a metaphor for real life.

David said...

Beautiful. I'm printing this one out to hang on my wall.

Shopping City Chaplaincy said...

I think your right if you want to win pots but I think being a great sailor is bigger than that. Thats just sailing a boat quick around a few plastic bouys. Big deal. Life is bigger than that.
This weekend I took out a 12 yr old lad who has dispraxier and showed him the ropes. We were slow, overpowered upwind, tacking was an ordeal. But was he chuffed that we still beat his Dad sailing his laser? You bet! He loved the sailing, it did his confidence wonders. I feel good about it.

Anonymous said...


Each person has their own definition of what being a great sailor entails. I understand if yours is different from me and the countless others who strive to sail quickly around the plastic bouys.

I'd invite you to share with Tillerman your most pivotal learning experience.

Lastly I'd add that it's not the silver pots or pickle dishes I'm after. When you master the wind, the competition and most importantly (and with most difficulty) yourself, it is magical. That elusive harmony of you and the universe as one, that is what I chase.


Shopping City Chaplaincy said...

TK, I think that was the point I was trying to make. I just thought your post put a slant on 'great' that leaves a lot of folk frustrated. We don't all have the time, money or the energy to travel the land or even the ability to become champions and I just wanted to hoist the flag for those of us who find other ways 'be great' in our own little ways. Good luck with your dreams.

David said...

As one who strives to both get around the cans as fast as possible and make sailing in general a fun, educational, and rewarding activity for my family, I can say that "the drive" applies to both. As a youth, I became a much more competent sailor during extended cruises away from home waters such as two weeks up and down the coast of California and two months deep down into Mexico and back. Yeah, we were fortunate to have the time and money to be able to do that. More recently, I towed my old 19' O'Day two hours south to Monterey. Sailing amongst the otters, dolphins, and even a whale(!) made this a truly exciting and memorable occasion for the full family. We learned how enlightening a change of venue can be.

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