Looking aloft at Swan Song’s mainsail!

Watching from the porch of the Club house, I envied the freedom of those hardy single-handers who would walk, matter-of-factly, down the gangway and wait for the launch, watching the Sou’wester filling in, ready for a glorious afternoon of solo sailing. To properly understand my frustration, you’d need to know that I was the proud owner of a beautiful little Herreshoff-designed boat (an H12 ½), but lacked the confidence to sail her alone! You see, in those early days, when we began to sail together as a family, my husband always took the tiller. I was, happily, in charge of holding our two babies, and making sure they felt safe and had fun in the boat. But I longed for the day when I would have the time to sail and develop the confidence to take the tiller myself, to venture out alone and harness the wind to take me where I wanted to go.

Fast-forward, then, to teen-aged children, when I was at last able to find a little time here and there to get out and sail – with a lot of help at first, of course, from some wonderful friends who encouraged me and took the time to get me started. In the beginning, I sailed with a friend as crew, who was as much of a novice as I, and we had a hair-raising summer of what I can only refer to as “on-the-job-training.”  We went out sailing every chance we got, juggling the demands of several children between us, and the never ending last-minute change of plans that threatened to mess with our boat time. But once we got out there, we had a ball. It was our therapy. Never mind the sheer terror of getting on and off the mooring (my little boat hasn’t got a motor, and it has a VERY large mainsail), or the steadfast nerves required to maneuver among a thousand boats moored throughout the harbor – never mind all that, because we loved being out there, and we absolutely lived for those precious times on the water.

Over time, we did improve, and we decided (with great trepidation, and not a little determination) to go out and try racing with our Club’s fleet. We were pretty nervous that first time, but we learned so much that day, and we were absolutely hooked after that. Although people were generally happy to have another boat out there racing, one veteran racer was heard to say: “I didn’t know whether to be really proud of you both for getting out there and just going for it, or horrified that you guys were actually out on the line!” Oh, the tales I could tell. But perhaps that’s for another blog entry…

And so, with the support of friends, lots of practice, and the requisite time on the tiller, I got a whole lot better at this sailing thing.  And later, much to my surprise, I was asked to take charge of our racing fleet, and have been enjoying finding ways to get more sailors, especially newer sailors, involved in our racing. My work in helping others to get out on the water and sail has been richly rewarding, and I hope that I can continue to play a part in encouraging people to love sailing as much as I do.

Perhaps my stories can help you on your journey, either as a new sailor, or as one who, like me, has been working hard to improve my sailing and racing, and is always thinking about ways to do things just a little bit better.  Hopefully this blog will inspire you to take the tiller!  If you do, I promise you’ll learn some surprising things about yourself, and that you’ll meet some amazing people along the way.

And to all you veteran sailors – I hope this blog will inspire you to reach out to those who are just starting out. Offer a helping hand! Take someone out for a lesson, or take the plunge and be a mentor to someone you know who has shown that they are really passionate about sailing and eager to learn. I believe we are, each one of us, a crucial link in passing down this beloved, ancient art.

So — grab a friend, hop aboard, take the tiller, and go sailing!

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Deborah Bennett Elfers
I was practically born on a boat, though on a working lobster boat rather than a sailboat. In my early days, I sailed quite a lot on a Sunfish, but not very elegantly, as in our little neighborhood “fleet,” the boat was primarily used as a weapon in a wildly popular game of “kill the other guy!” Who could have imagined way back then, that one day I’d become so passionate about all things sailing?
Deborah Bennett Elfers
Deborah Bennett Elfers

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