Monday, May 17, 2010

Golden Threads

Yesterday was the kind of day that often comes along in autumn and winter here. A high pressure system had parked over the top of us. When we arrived at the boat the fog was quite thick and there was a light northerly blowing - maybe 2-3 knots.
There were 11 of us on board for the day and as others arrived the fog started to slowly lift. We got underway and as we motored out we raised the yankee and the main. There was just enough breeze to keep us moving very slowly but there were large glassy patches as well with no wind at all. So up went the big asymmetric, our speed picked up slightly and we trickled away to the east nearly close hauled!
The wind was pretty fitful. It had gone to the east as we got underway and it came and went. It was the kind of day where the helmsman could both steer and trim the asymmetric. The crew settled on deck and down below, chatting, lazing and generally chilling out. This was a very special crew. The links were long and deep.
Reaching the eastern side of the bay we tacked and again came as high as we could, following the lifts along the edge of the bay. The wind freshened slightly and a fog bank well to the south made the air slightly chilly. We tacked again and headed southwest, this time with eased sheets. The breeze was still only 5-7 knots, a gently zephyr. We brought food on deck and ate as we chatted and sailed. Finally we eased sheets even further and headed for home.
I came back to the dock feeling happy, and deeply contented. Connections do that to you.
Nearly forty years ago, in my second year in high school, my parents sold their house and moved to one far extremity of the country. We bought a block of land and lived in a tent and caravan whilst we built a house. It rained, and rained then rained some more. I was one of those children who felt very keenly any difference from my peers and living this way was pretty different. I also disliked school intensely.
The thread of gold in this situation was D, he was one of my new teachers and he was the first teacher who had ever treated me like an individual and a real human being. We called him by his first name. He taught me to sail, to canoe and generally how to live as an adult. He trusted us deeply. The only time I, or anyone else, ever heard him raise his voice was when I clowned around and knocked all the freshly cooked sausages - our camping dinner - into the dust. The response was short and pithy!
They were golden years. We would go sailing every Thursday afternoon, sometimes not returning until Friday morning - going direct to school. We had fun, we learned stuff and we began to grow up. D had a wonderful capacity to get alongside young people and to challenge them to learn and develop. He was well educated, had impeccable manners and a ready sense of humour.
D, his wife and two small children, lived for a start in a school house behind the school. Out the front of the house was a 28 foot yacht which D was building. The lucky amongst us were recruited as labour on the project.
I left school and moved a long way away, later I moved to another country and still later shifted to a new city in that new country. Nearly 30 years passed until someone told me that D's son, T, lived in the same city. I had first met T when he was about 3 years old and hadn't seen him at all in the intervening time. We began to sail together and I renewed my contact with D as he visited T.
We attended T's wedding, he and I shared rough and windy Bass Strait crossings and we sailed together when the opportunity arose. Each time D and his wife visited we'd get together and try to do some sailing. It was a satisfying thing, sailing on our boat with the person who taught me to sail. D was now retired from school teaching but still working incredibly hard as a sailing coach.
Yesterday our crew consisted of my wife and I, our daughter and her friend, D, his wife, T his wife and their two sons and another great sailing friend of ours. We talked and learned from each other, I realised that much of my seamanship - such as it is - was learned during that time with D as a child. We remembered scary incidents and I realised, perhaps for the first time how D had gone out on a limb, probably often, to let students take the risks that they need to take to grow.
This connection is one of the longest in my life and it's one of the golden threads that connect me to who I am.
It was a very satisfying day.

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