His Father Taught Him How to Sail

His dad’s deep faith and adventures on the water taught him how to navigate life smoothly. 

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Posted in , Jun 25, 2021

An illustration of a sailboat on the wter as the sun sets; Illustration by Gina Triplett

My dad was a sailor. A serious amateur sailor. He and his buddy Chuck won the North American Championship in their class—sailing the beautiful wooden-hull Dragons, as the boats were called. One year the duo was second in line to go to the Olympics. And speaking of the latter, Dad headed up the yachting venue when the Olympics came to L.A. in 1984.

My brother, Howard, also caught the gift. Howard became an international champion in the sleek fiberglass-hull boats he sails.

Me? Not so much. I can skipper a dinghy around the Southern California bay where the family still likes to vacation, but my siblings would be quick to remind you of the time I took my mom out, getting an earful of instructions all the while, and ended up tipping us both into the water. Mom, drenched, was shouting so loud that everyone on the beach could hear her. (She apologized. Later.)

What I still love about sailing is how close you are to nature, no rumble of an engine or stench of an outboard motor. Just the feel of the wind in your hair, the splash of the water, the billowing sail taking you to your destination.

As a kid I loved lying in Dad’s Dragon—a kindly beast if there ever was one—and listening to the water on the other side of the hull. Is it any surprise that the arched wooden beams of our church and the roof they held up reminded me of Dad’s boat? There we were, hearing stories of fishermen who had to trust in the wind too, as they followed Jesus, the one who could calm the waves.

Dad didn’t become a success overnight. He had to work at his skill. As a kid, that first summer he had his own little sailboat, he competed in all the races in the bay and came in last every time. Sometimes he finished even after the committee boat had left. But he always finished.

At the end of the season, when awards were being given out, an elderly lady, who had watched Dad’s slow but steady progress from her front porch, stepped forward and offered a trophy made especially for him. “The Hope Cup,” she dubbed it. No other reward could match the promise of hope, a quality instilled in my dad and passed along to us.

“As a parent, he was more patient than Mom was and, if truth be told, a better sailing instructor. How well I remember him taking me out in the bay in our little dinghy, the wind still soft, the water smooth in the morning hours.

I clutched the tiller, and he sat across from me. “Where do you feel the wind coming from?” he asked. Was that it over my left shoulder? “You can look at the flags on the beach and they’ll show the direction the wind is blowing, but every good sailor learns how to feel it.” I could feel it.

“Now,” he said, “look at the sail.” If it was luffing—if it fluttered back and forth—I needed to pull in the main-sheet. Better yet, if the wind was behind us, I was to let out the sail so it could fill with the breeze, carrying us across the waters. Effortlessly. As though God’s angels were pushing us along, taking us on a blissful journey.

Dad was a man of deep faith. His long-winded graces at the dinner table were a witness to that when he prayed for each one of us by name. We were in our father’s—and our Father’s—hands. Embarking on the journey of life. Smooth sailing as long as we kept track of the wind. Trusting in the breath of angels.

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