“What are your summer vacation plans?” people ask me.
“CORK”, I say.
They nod, not knowing that means driving 1500 km towing a boat trailer, too many Subway sandwiches, hundreds of sailors, and beautiful wind conditions at the Olympic Harbour in Kingston, Ontario.
It started innocently enough. “Do you want to try a summer camp called Wet Feet?” Off they went with their Canadian Tire lifejackets and their Superhero lunch bags.
A few years later my basement is strewn with sailing gear in various stages of dampness and has a perpetual smell of wet neoprene, seaweed, and sunscreen.
Our lives are divided into two parts: Sailing Season and Too-Snowy-To-Sail Season. My kids’ passion (verging on obsession) with sailing shows up in science fair projects, school essays and fashion choices. Zhik, Gul, Rooster, Gill. These are websites to pore over, drool over – my children’s version of The Sears Toy Catalogue.
Packing lunches becomes: “What can be eaten with one hand?” and quick mouthfuls of something high-calorie between races.
Family dinner table conversations revolve around wind conditions (always in knots), roll tacks, carbon fiber top sections, dry-tip techniques and race strategies. They share with me the energized joy that comes with hiking out parallel to the water on the edge of control and the horrors of near-miss collisions, freak gusts, and Bootie Juice.
Over several summers of weekend regattas they have managed to sprinkle their belongings across the provincial yacht clubs. Water bottles, hull plugs, sweatshirts, hats, gloves – some items found and then lost again at the next regatta.
The local sailing store knows me by name; I am greeted like a friend. I live in fear of the words, “Mom, I broke a spar.”, “Mom, the spinnaker pole sank to the bottom of the Basin.”, “Mom, I lost my splash jacket”.
Each spring I greet my “summer friends” with whom I will share carpools, volunteer positions, and daily laughs for the next few months and then hug goodbye for the winter season. I see these same friendships develop even more intensely for the sailors. Sunglass and wetsuit tans, windburn and freckles, I watch their confidence and closeness grow. By season’s end, they are a well-bonded team.
The young adults who coach them – motivate, mentor, lead. They teach my children sailing skills and life lessons in equal parts. In Helly Hanson jackets, Opti-twine bracelets and polarized sunglasses, tying Bowlines and adjusting rigging… they are so much cooler than I ever was. Do they recognize their influence, I wonder?
I watch my kids happily rig their boats and gear up, and I feel a small pang for those old Canadian Tire lifejackets. As they head out into the Atlantic to frolic in the Shipping Lanes, I want nothing more for them right now than what sailing offers: sunshine and fresh air, pushing themselves to achieve goals, engaged mentors, inside jokes, and great friends.
Lifelong passion? Perhaps. Formative seasons? Absolutely.
mother of 4 Nova Scotia sailors