We started sailing by mistake, husband and I. We’d been camping in Cornwall, watching people hopping in and out of boats and thought what a lovely way to spend a summer holiday. Before we knew it we were signed up on a Level 1 sailing course. It soon morphed into Level 2, followed swiftly by our own dinghy. Turns out that big boats aren’t as much fun (or as cheap) as the little ones. It was a bit like the time when we thought it would be a nice idea to take the bikes on holiday and ended up cycling across the Scottish Highlands, and camping on the way.
We never got good enough to win anything (apart from some mugs and rather nasty hats as the award for travelling the furthest to an open meeting), but, after a week’s holiday-with-tuition in Spain one Easter, we weren’t too bad. We were getting good starts, and our enthusiasm and confidence was such that it didn’t seem to matter when we wrapped the spinnaker under the front of the boat after shooting off to the wrong end of the lake in a rather uncontrolled manner.
Unfortunately for me we were just getting the hang of it when we had a baby. Pregnant sailing didn’t really do it for me, and babies and boats don’t really mix; not when you are as unpredictable as we are, anyway. And these days we find we are so busy running around just trying to keep up with life that we barely have time to take a breath, let alone get out in a boat.
So, not so long ago, we had one of those conversations about whether or not to keep it or sell it. And it turned out that we don’t want to give up on the dream just yet. There’s nothing quite like hiking out on a sunny day, and, when we are at the club, I see the confidence in the young people as they pootle about on the water, turning their boats over and over, and I think to myself, ‘I want some of that for my kids’.
So, onto Ebay we did get, and, before you could say ‘Jack Robinson’ we bought them a boat. It’s a great little thing (my dad is insisting on calling it HMS Bathtub) designed especially for kids and with stability in mind, and A, the boy who has been reading Swallows and Amazons well into the night is quietly delighted. So delighted, in fact, that he was heard singing to himself all the way back from the purchase, rather than arguing with his brother, a miracle in itself.
There is a youth squad-thing at our club, but the kids all seem to be bigger than ours, and not exactly beginners, so, as you do, we thought we’d give teaching them ourselves a go. We did a bit of googling, and reminded each other of how we got started. All those years ago, our course began in a classroom where we were instructed on wind direction, points of sail and tacking and gybing. We practiced leigh ho-ing and ready about-ing in a yard with a couple of chairs, a bit of rope and a broomstick that whacked you on the head when you weren’t expecting it. We tied knots, bunnies went in and out of burrows, lefted over righted and righted over lefted. Simple. But, as husband has found, transferring knowledge from one adult brain to two little child brains doesn’t always work the way you expect.
Explaining the wind, for a start. A seems to be getting the hang of it, what with all the Arthur Ransome stories playing non-stop through his imagination, but to L, who is only 8, and not so much of a reader, it is a bit of a mystery, this thing that you can’t see, but has the power to move you around all at will, and throw you in the cold, cold water if you aren’t on your guard. We’ve had long discussions over how to explain it, and how much to tell, and we have both discovered that too much theory has them bored and they stop listening to life-saving information. You can sneak an awful lot of weather awareness into the car journey, and, if you plant a few not-so-innocent seeds, you can get one child to explain it all to another without you having to do a thing.
And the difference between the two of them is immense. A, at 11, and with so much reading filling his brain, is much quicker than the little one. He is better at listening, and understanding the theory, has a more mature understanding of what he is aiming for. He wanted to be off the long rope we brought with us so that we could haul them back in if they got into difficulties within five minutes. She, three years his junior, needed reassuring that we wouldn’t let her go.
And Sam. What are we going to do for him? When you sail a boat, there is a surprising amount of things to co-ordinate. There’s the tiller, which works the opposite way to the way you expect, ropes, booms, balance, and changing sides every time you tack or gybe. But he doesn’t like swapping sides, he gets tangled in ropes incredibly easily and is attracted, in a rather helpless manner, to Things He Shouldn’t Touch and Ropes He Shouldn’t Pull. When you sail, you need your reactions to be quick. You need to respond to the conditions, either the weather or other craft, or there will be consequences. You’ll lose the race, or you’ll be swimming. It’s been hard enough for the younger two.
But we’re not giving up. To sail a boat is a most wonderful thing, and if we can find a way for him to experience the thrill, the excitement and the sense of achievement, we will. We’ll practice on the other two first. We’ll make our mistakes, we’ll pick the brains of the experts, find the best way to teach. More importantly, we’ll get the conditions right. We won’t start on a day when it’s blowing a hoolie. We won’t take him out when he’s cold, or feeling poorly. We’ll wait for a lovely sunny day with a steady breeze. We’ll stay by his side as long as he needs us. We won’t let him go before he knows what he’s doing.
We’ll watch him closely, our boy. We’ll watch and see how he behaves when he is out with us. Can he get out of the way, or will he sit still and cry when the boom hits him on the head? Will he get across the boat quick sharpish, or will he stare, fascinated, at the water coming in over the side? We won’t be putting him in that boat until he’s ready. That would be sailing a little too close to the wind for comfort.
For a post that relates to teaching, in a direct way, see here.