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“Okay, Larry, you take the tiller,” said Russ. “If you want to go right, push the tiller to the left.  To go left, steer right. It’s opposite what you’d think. Keep your eyes on that dark warehouse on the north shore, and aim the bow toward that.”

The angled autumn sun warmed us, while the slight breeze on the water kept us comfortable without jackets. The greeny-brown smell of the river was pungent; we could hear the distant rumble of freight trains on the north bank, and the occasional squawk of a misplaced seagull. We headed east against the current toward the graceful S-curve bridge and Mt Hood, swathed to its chin in clouds.

We were in my nephew Gary’s trim 25-foot sailboat on the Columbia River. Knowing how much Larry loves being on the water, I had requested the excursion as a gift for his birthday, and Gary had generously agreed. The feel of the boat on the water, the lovely weather, and the congenial company put us in high spirits–this is the abundant life!

After motoring from the marina into the main channel, Gary raised the main sail while Russ, his first mate, manned the tiller. The tide was in, bringing the water level up several feet, but they had to navigate cautiously past a sandbank, with Gary keeping an eye on the depth gauge.

We hear about solo sailors in the news, but during our short voyage, I appreciated the value of someone experienced to steer while Gary manned the sails. “This boat has been at sea,” he said, “but to be safe on the ocean, I’d want three experienced sailors.”

Larry kept us on course for quite a while, and as the breeze slackened, Gary put up the jib sail to keep us moving east. “We watch what other boats are doing,” he said. Many of the boats near us had both sails up, some with colorful spinnaker sails ballooning. The wind was just enough to put a pleasing curve in our sails. Going against the current, we traveled at a leisurely pace, our movement perceptible only when we looked at the shore.

“Okay, now it’s Carolyn’s turn.”

Russ handed me the tiller, and I instantly felt the pull of the current on the rudder. The responsiveness of the boat surprised me—the bow swung widely with my first movements. Following instructions, I kept my eyes on a shoreline landmark, and slowly began to feel comfortable keeping the boat on course.

After a bit, I handed the tiller to Gary, gathered my courage, and made my way to the bow. It was a lovely feeling to sit on the edge, with the hull quietly cutting a V in the water, the breeze softly rustling the sails. I wanted it to last forever.

All too soon, it was time to turn around, and I clambered back over the deck to the padded cushions in the stern. Heading west to the marina, we watched a dozen boats racing, circling bright yellow buoys. Many had high-tech Kevlar®  sails, their olive-drab color contradicting their expense.

Stepping off the boat, I gave Gary a grateful hug, and we reluctantly made our way up the gangplank.

While on the boat, the pleasure of sailing filled my mind. Now with my feet on the ground, several thoughts come to mind.

  1. To keep on course, it’s critical to maintain focus outside the boat.
  2. Like handling the tiller, doing the right thing is often counter-intuitive.
  3. When you’re heading into rough water, make sure you have some extra support available.
  4. If you ever have an opportunity to sail, don’t pass it up!

Question: How would keeping our eye on the destination instead of the boat make a difference in our journey?