What sailing teaches you: The fine art of patience
By Helen Iatrou. Photos by Carlo Raciti
On a sail boat, it doesn’t matter if you attended Harvard or dropped out of high school to get into the workforce and support yourself.
The boat doesn’t care if you have wads of cash spilling out of your pockets, or a weathered brown leather wallet with a couple of bills inside.
The sails couldn’t give a hoot if you’re a six foot tall brawny guy or a five-foot-four petite woman.
The wind can’t really be bothered hearing about your job woes, that you can’t stand your boss or that you finally nabbed that big-name client after months of working till late into the night.
The sea doesn’t give a damn whether you’re a lawyer, mechanic, real estate broker or security guard.
As we spend more time on sailing boats, developing the skills required to manouevre a vessel, it’s impossible not to notice the immense life lessons that sailing generously provides.
Some consider sailing an art, others a science. I think that most sailors consider it is both an art and science.
We’re nearing the end of a two-month cruising course with our local sailing club, following the successful completion of our sailing licence course earlier in the year.
And we have learnt a great deal more than how to trim a sail or moor a yacht as they do here in the Mediterranean.
The first course provided the basic foundations one needs to start to learn how to sail.
There was a great deal of information to absorb during the theoretical and practical lessons we took over a two-month span that concluded with us proudly receiving our sailing diplomas and licences in May.
Over the summer and through October, we managed to participate in the week-long Cyclades Regatta in July as well as some races that ran between one and three days.
The thought of not hoisting a sail again until next Spring prompted us to sign up for a course with our club here in southern Athens that runs through mid-December.
This course is designed for those who want to charter a yacht or plan to buy their own in the future, therefore is more focused on developing skills required for cruising.
Theory lessons have included one on learning how to read weather conditions with a meteorologist who possesses a sharp sense of humour and introduced us to the fascinating International Cloud Atlas.
Another lesson focused on dealing with engine issues led by a mechanic who then took time out to show us hands-on with a real engine on our training boat.
What has really impressed us, throughout both courses, is the willingness which all of our instructors have shown in spending more time than allocated, both in theory and practical lessons, to show, explain and regularly repeat all of the intricate details of our course material.
Each one of us is encouraged to get their hands on the wheel and helm, plot a course to a destination, work the sheets and sails, drop and raise the anchor, moor the boat into position, fasten mooring lines to the dock and take a line to shore.
We are constantly amazed at the limitless patience that our instructors possess and the fact that they always are happy to spend extra time in class and on the boat with us to ensure we all have our turn, firmly grasp the concepts and practice the myriad skills involved.
Rather than watch the clock, to see when they can return home to their families, they choose to stay on a little longer and ensure that they are providing a solid base to allow us to expand our knowledge through practice and trial and error.
Patience. If there’s one thing that all old salts who have notched up their fair share of miles at sea share, it is this remarkable virtue. In a world where it seems like someone has pressed the fast-forward button and technology is moving at breakneck speed, the desire for Instagratification is all around us.
So, when you meet someone who sits you down and takes the time to explain in simple, understandable terms and show you the ropes, then explain again after a few weeks, months or, perhaps, years since your last outing on a boat, it’s not to be taken for granted.
We have come to realise over the past year that, above all, patience, is an absolute essential in sailing.
It’s the reason we have chosen one club and instructor over others, and crewed on a yacht in a race with one shouty individual and won’t be returning to that boat.
But, it’s not just about them. You need to demonstrate equal patience and an interest in learning. Even if you think you’re patient in most situations, sailing will test your limits.
When there is no wind to speak of and you’re sailing into what is proving to be a very long night, hoping to complete a race leg within the time limit, you need to be patient.
When you’re skippering on a sailing holiday with your buddies and your friend brings along a friend you don’t know and he tends to drink a little too much, you need to be patient. You need to know how to approach the situation to ensure his safety and that of everyone on board.
When you’re undertaking a long-distance voyage and you face engine issues, you need to patiently check your manuals, books and notes and figure out the problem in a calm, collected manner.
If you’re impatient, sailing will oust you, sooner or later. Or, you’ll be sailing single-handed.
We have been fortunate enough on our course to be part of a group of sailors who are not only patient but also willing to listen and learn, cooperate and share.
Going back to the concept of the democracy of sailing, we have all had the opportunity to learn a little something from one another.
In our group, we have a biologist whose family has long worked in sailing charters, a street-smart municipal sanitation department worker hoping to launch a small yacht charter business of his own, a twenty-something, soft-spoken, fast-learning electrical engineer, a computer chip designer, a chemist and an automotive parts dealer who occasionally suffers from seasickness but enjoys sailing races nonetheless.
It’s a curious mix of backgrounds and professions but that is what makes it so interesting. While we may not be training for a race, we still have no choice but to learn to get along and work together on our training boat.
Our course incorporated two weekend-long lessons, so we spent time on the boat together and off the boat.
We have had to learn when to allow a fellow sailor their time at the helm, perhaps to learn how to steer the vessel in rough conditions.
We have had to learn to work as a team when mooring the boat at a marina, taking directions from the person at the helm, lowering the anchor at the right time and laying out the right amount of chain, preparing the mooring line and throwing it to the fellow sailor on the dock so they can wrap it round a bollard quayside in time before returning it to the boat.
When one sailor coiled a stern line then dropped it and had to recoil it as the yacht’s stern approached the deck to moor, a fellow sailor, noticing his nervousness, stood next to him and guided him through it.
What we have all realised is how important it is to find a knowledgeable, serious, patient instructor who takes the time to explain in simple terms, with a smile, and makes you feel at ease as you build your sailing skills.
With the right instructors, we are learning the fine art of teamwork, gradually building our confidence and self-reliance, and working to allay any fears we might have before we eventually head out to sea on our own steam.
The perfect sailing weekend
While the weather forecasters predicted clouds and rain for our second and final weekend sailing lesson, we lucked out with the best possible conditions.
As we’re taking a cruising course, most of our practical lessons focus on anchoring and mooring, so we couldn’t believe our luck when we motored out of the marina aboard 46-foot cruiser Rozerina amid flat seas as the sun poked through light clouds.
Our destination was the island of Aegina and, as we arrived, we were welcomed with an awe-inspiring Autumnal sunset which transformed the Argosaronic Sea to liquid gold.
There, we spent two days dropping the anchor in the deep, jade waters of sheltered Klima cove, Med-mooring at pretty Perdika town’s marina and taking a line to shore in a dinghy at the islet of Moni as a family of inquisitive peacocks looked on.
On the Saturday night in Aegina’s main town, we headed to a locals-only taverna where we shared a hearty spread and swapped sailing stories. Our instructor Kostas Manthos, who heads the offshore sailing school of the Nautical Club of Paleo Faliro, laughed as he recalled his days as a 20-year-old leading a charge of energetic young students aged seven to 12 on sailing camps in Aegina.
“I’d wake them up at 7 in the morning and have them run laps before their sailing lesson, and then again after the lesson. Whatever I asked them to do, they never gave me no for an answer,” he said.
After the boys took their turn at taking a line to shore in the dinghy, some taking a little longer than others, the girls showed them how it’s done on the Sunday morning, and all in a matter of minutes.
It was an incredible, memorable weekend of learning, laughs and bonding with our sailing buddies on board and off.