Friday, June 02, 2006


"Sailing stinks. I hate sailing. I'm never going sailing again."

On Wednesday night, after sailing, I discovered that the son of one of my best sailing buddies had had a bad sailing experience at the weekend and had emphatically declared that he was retiring from sailing for good. The kid is about 11 years old.

Earlier this week in response to this post, Ward from said ...
I would sincerely like to have answered by anyone whose children are safely past adolescence: How many years' hiatus from sailing with his father does the average teenager require? For the first season ever, mine apparently just wants to play (1) World of Warcraft online and (2) his guitar in his free time. Is the lure of a crew of naked women my only current hope, or is this the part where I am supposed to lean back and not let on that I miss his company?

And Carol Anne from Five O'Clock Somewhere said ...
I'd second Ward's request for a discussion on dealing with teenage offspring as crew. I don't have the problem of mine losing interest in sailing (you don't need naked women; a Dutch track star in a bikini works wonders), but there are some, uh, interesting dynamics at work.

Judging by the record number of comments to my post about Sailing Romance, you guys are somewhat interested in this whole question of sailing and its impact on personal relationships -- or vice versa. So I will write some posts on the topic of being a sailor and parent of teenagers who also sailed.

I won't make these part of the Ask the Tillerman series because that is a spoof agony column where I write pathetic attempts at flippant humor. It seems that this is too important a subject to treat in that way.

Let me first make clear my qualifications, and lack of them, for addressing this topic.

I do meet Ward's criteria of having children past adolescence. More importantly both of my sons learned to sail at the age of 7 or 8; sailed and raced throughout their school years, including those tempestuous teenage years; retained an interest in sailing through their years in college with one of them being an active intercollegiate racer; and now in their twenties with all the typical pressures on people in that age bracket -- building a career, dating, entry-level salaries, graduate school, marriage, mortgage, baby, fixing the leak in the roof -- are both involved to some degree in sailing at an age when many people give up or take a break from the sport.

I have also seen many other kids who weren't as fortunate as mine, both from the perspective of my work as a sailing instructor and as a friend of other sailing parents. Sadly, I've seen numerous kids turned off by the sport or who simply lost interest in sailing.

On the other hand I don't think I have any magic secrets. I count my own sons' continued interest in sailing -- no teenage hiatus there -- as amazingly good fortune rather than any particular parenting prowess on my part. Like most of us I stumbled through the years of being a parent of teenagers without an owner's manual, made a lot of mistakes, yet somehow survived.

But now I look back and realize how lucky I was, how lucky we all were. My kids stayed active in sailing and still enjoy it so we must have been doing something right. I think it's going to take several posts to tell the whole story -- the good, the bad, and the downright ugly -- and to discuss what works and what doesn't so I'll sprinkle them in with other posts over the next few weeks.

Some of the topics I want to discuss are ...


Litoralis said...

I think one of the major keys to my involvement in sailing as a teenager and now my continued involvement after college is your continued involvement with the sport.

When I was in high school, you would be going to regattas whether or not I was coming with you. And because we were sailing Lasers and Sunfish I was sailing in the same regattas against you instead of with you on the same boat.

After I finished college, when I had little time for sailing, you were still heading off to the Laser Master's World Championships etc. and so I was constantly reminded of your enjoyment of sailing and am now starting to get back into sailing Lasers myself.

I don't remember any real pressure to sail, it was always just what we did on Sunday mornings. I also can't remember much about exactly what sailing we did when I was in high school and earlier, so my memory is probably selective at this point.

Pat said...

Sailing is just what we do on a typical weekend... that part works well for us. And, letting Tadpole crew on other people's boats also has worked well. And, having him start sailing with us before he was a teen worked out just fine. But, the combination of a teenager and one or both parents is when things can get interesting.

Tillerman said...

Ward and Carol Anne, you might be interested to know that as an unintentional result of my including your quotes in this post, it is now #1 in a Google blog search for the phrase "naked women".

Between the three of us we are disappointing a lot of frustrated searchers!

Ward said...

Aw, jeez, Tillerman - if I had only stopped to think about SEO ramifications, I could have helped make things far more disappointing.

I just mentioned that the party is at your house on this one. Really appreciate your giving it a whirl. Starting to think it's not just sailing but, rather, doing anything at all with the old man (who is, possibly, too stupid to live). Golf also looks to be off the radar this summer. I tell you, it's clearly time for an adult beverage this Friday evening and I am not inviting him to join me with that.

johnsee said...

This is an interesting topic, as it is realted to something I see all the time working in a sailing school. What do you do with kids whos parents are forcing them to sail?

Tammy said...

I think your son said it all :) You did a great job keeping your passion, your passion. I'm looking forward to reading more!

Pat said...

At least in our remote part of the world, there's no danger of kids being dragged into sailing school - - they have to work pretty hard to get any sailing education at all. Our son has the opposite problem - - almost no organized instruction at all within a distance of hundreds of miles. So, he's sailed with adults. When he first became interested in racing, we were still pretty solidly cruisers, so he sailed with other adults and families, which really turned out well for him.

The problem now is when he sails with us, he has lots of expertise (but not as much as he sometimes thinks he has) and isn't shy about letting us know - - sometimes to the point of correcting something that's already right, or of fiddling around with some fine adjustment when other more important or urgent tasks need to get done, or of simply disobeying the skipper's orders and doing things his own way because he thinks he knows better - - sometimes at the expense of common sense or safety. It's sort of like having a whole bunch of rock-star big-ego skippers trying to crew together.

Ward said...

Guess I should add a couple particulars. Sailing is just something the kids and I have always done together in the summer. We don't belong to the local YC, and don't race. We just enjoy the scenery, as it were, eat and plot ways to blow PWCs out of the water. Sort of floating picnics.

No formal lessons or camp. Just Dad letting them take the tiller and sheets. Over the years, they've all (two boys and one girl) become competent, confident sailors.

Sailing is one of my great joys in life, and I love spending time with my kids doing anything. Never pushed them to compete at sports as I was pushed so many decades ago.

These leisurely cruises were working out well until this year. Now the eldest son is my height, growing a beard and acting like, well, I don't even know how to describe it. (Like I'm a stranger on whom even common courtesy might be wasted?)

So, I don't know (1) if he needs more of a challenge to enjoy sailing at his age, (2) just needs his own BOAT, (3) if it's some kind of an age-related Alpha male thing, (4) it's temporary antipathy he's going to outgrow or (5) - and this is the part that worries me - if my casual approach over all these years has been all wrong. Hate to think I messed up passing along the joys of sailing to someone whose happiness is so vitally important to me, know what I mean?

EVK4 said...

Mine is only five, but the key is to force them to sail. It's the only place a parent can have absolute authority...captain's orders are always followed.

Here's an example of how you can brainwash your 9 month old was sick and his grandfather was visiting. I worry to no end that the baby is going to get my only reliable crewmember sick so I gave him a vitamin packet (Emergen C).

When he wouldn't take it, Camille piped up "The captain said to take your vitamins, you have to obey the captain." This only works if you're on the boat.

Elioat said...

My dad quit sailing until my brother and I were in our 20's. Some of this had to do with all the things going on in his life through those years, however it really was his belief that my brother and I would take to sailing more readily of there wasn't the feeling that we were just doing something that he wanted us to do. I think it worked pretty well, and I have many friends that quit sailing as soon as they got their drivers licenses because their parents were way too involved and sailed as well. The burnout rate in classes like the Optimist is pretty high for this very reason; quite a few phenominally gifted sailors dropped out shortly after thier remarkable Opti careers. Nowadays my family enjoys cruising together quite a bit, although my brother and I have a different cruising routine than my parents, so we like to split things up a bit. I am honestly not sure if I can take one for the team and stop sailing as my dad did for my brother and I, but I do know that I will put limited pressure on my kids as far as their sailing is concerned. The important thing for me is that they find lifelong interests and hobbies that are committed to.

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