This entire pandemic experience is going to make us better.
In the end, it will all come down to the decisions we make and the way we choose to move forward.
So here’s a story about my father, boats, and holding our course.
My dad served in the Navy when he was young and it was beyond obvious to anyone that ever met him, the impact that his sailing experiences had on him. The Navy had left him with a passion for the water.
From ocean faring on a massive battleship to fishing the local lakes where we grew up, to cruising the mighty and magnificent St. Lawrence River, when we had the time, the water was the place to be. We always had a family boat, from speedy family ski boats to the simplest aluminum fisher. Each boat was bought used, had older model motors and often times after market equipment, but to me, every one of our boats represented the perfect manifestation of proficiency and preparation.
My dad would equip, maintain and prepare a boat like nothing else. His decades old engines were tuned to perfection. The gas tank was rarely below full and the boat was always clean. Safety items were non-negotiable. There were the standard items like life jackets, ropes, lights and oars, but there was also always spare gas, a hand scribbled parts lists and the most reliable item of all - his tool box.
Yet, beyond the nautical gear, tools and gas, was the true mainsail of our boat life; my old man’s presence. The most valuable nautical asset ever in our family boat was the sum and substance of his experiences, interests and curiosities about the waterways. My dad was a student of the entire process. Maybe that’s why we also call a boat a craft.
Regardless of a pleasure cruise, a fishing trip or a simple ferrying of camp supplies, he would read the water and the skies continuously. He would study the depths and the shallows, call out the perpetual landmarks on shore and he always gave the known shoals plenty of berth. He knew when to be on the throttle and when to let her skim. In those rare events where nature defied prediction, I always admired the man’s ability to adjust to the storm and navigate on.
“A ship at harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are for.”
I can’t help but think some of my family’s best life lessons were drawn from those boat experiences of our youth. There were times to go fast and there were times to go slow. There were moments where all that was reasonable in an unexpected moment was our best reaction, but in the end there was for sure, always time to plan ahead.
In time, my siblings and I all grew up to pilot boats of our own.
We’re learning so many lessons still.
Piloting a boat is about responsibility forward and accountability backward. Plan for a smooth and safe voyage, but be prepared for the worst. Study your circumstances, adjust to your conditions and learn from your mistakes; and always, always look after those on board in your trust. When you face the chance of stranding yourself and your loved ones far away from shore and it comes down to the decisions that you alone must make, anything worth doing is worth over doing. For sure, nothing is more frightening than getting caught in a raging storm on the open water. But then afterwards, there is nothing more relieving than when a sun beam breaks through those dark clouds to touch the water’s surface as it calms. But, without a doubt, nothing else brings peace like a sunset on the water. To this day there isn’t a better place on Earth for me to feel deep appreciation for life, than under a Saint Lawrence River sunset with my family.
“You can’t cross the ocean without the courage to lose sight of the shore.”
Water craft of any size were simply built to be on the move.
Boats perform best when in full motion, where the resistance of the water lifts them onto plane. In fact, we can only turn a boat and change our direction when it is in motion. Also interesting is the difference between heading and course. You see, boats never truly hold a constant course or ‘line’ to a destination. Rather, the heading of the boat, which is a virtual line that runs down the midline of the boat, sways a few degrees to the right (starboard) and a few degrees to the left (port) as the bow pushes through the waves. This sway occurs constantly, all while moving toward our destination in the distance; much like life.
We are always making course corrections as we move toward our goals.
Also as in life, navigating in the dark or in the fog is not impossible, but it is dangerous if you don’t have clear waypoints or fail to stay true to your plan. In fact, it is more successful when you have others to help you navigate on the way.
In regard to others, when on the water, we should show respect to every other boater that we encounter and expect that they could be that one boat that comes upon us when we need help most. We may all be in separate water craft, but we’re all on the same water.
At its core, boating is not a competition - where we measure ourselves against the other captains and pilots at the launch. Boating is about being a better mariner than our previous voyage.
To a captain, the water, wind and waves are the simultaneous challenge and prize; the resistance and the reward. Piloting a boat is a multi sensory experience of attention, learning, appreciation, exploration, accountability and wonder all at once. It’s a place to challenge ourselves and strengthen character.
If you can’t yet tell, I love the parallels of a boating experience, to life as we currently face it.
“The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sails.”
It is April, 2020. Our world is mid-pandemic.
We are all away from the shore, with a massive storm overhead, right now. Even the rescue boats are feeling the chop and there aren’t enough of them to help us all. If ever there was a time for proficiency and preparation, this is it.
Things in life seem to always go proportionally better with planning and preparation. But then, just as quick, life can give us something we did not plan for; even something that we never could have expected. It’s in those moments that we must adjust, adapt, stay on the throttle and press bow first into the choppy water. Remember, boats fare best under motion, determining their course as they drive into the waves, rather than floating powerless to be tossed by the whim of the currents.
What we have planned for and what we have learned to this point are all that we have in the boat with us. But as captains At the helm, we also bring an endless supply of choice.
How we choose to respond, what we choose to do and where we choose to go, are all ahead of us. Will we use our known landmarks and our prior experiences? Will we adapt to the conditions and learn from our mistakes as we go? Will we be accountable to those in our trust? Will we assist another when we see them stranded? Will we stay on the throttle and navigate on? And, when it is all over, will we pause, admire and be grateful for that amazing sunset?
My friends, stay steady on the wheel. Squint against the wind and the rain, keep your eyes on the horizon. We need to move together down this channel. Stay under power, keep moving forward and adapt to the swirl of the currents. Watch for other boats in distress and be ready to help however you can. If we are all watching out for each other, we will get though this.
We cannot change the seas or the weather, no matter how hard we try. It would be best for us all to start learning to sail in new conditions.
After all, rough seas make the best sailors.
I’ll see you on the water
“Legacy is not leaving something for people. It’s leaving something in people.”
John F. Green - USN 1951, 19 years old