I know I have written about the challenges of Spartan Races before, but this weekend was a bit more special. A Spartan Trifecta is running completing a Spartan Sprint, Super, and Beast in one race season. Once you complete the three races and you are a member of the Trifecta Tribe. Nice little marketing bit on the part of Spartan. Makes you stand out a bit in the community, and sometimes at race venues, there are some perks to being a member of the Tribe. Usually, it’s a tent with seating designated for tribe members, or something like that. It is still an accomplishment to be a member of the Tribe. It’s a lot of work.
My first two Spartan Races were the Sprint level, a roughly 5k obstacle course. I didn’t know if I had it in me to complete the Super, let alone a Beast. I was a bit in awe of folks I saw walking around with the green Spartan logo T Shirt that said, “Finisher”. I kind of dreamed of doing it, but questioned if I could finish it. Until one day my wife said, “Either do it, or quit talking about it.” I guess I’d carried on about it too long! With a friend, we completed our first Super and Sprint in one weekend. A couple of weeks later, it was on to the Beast. I did it. I was pretty stoked and excited. I could do it. It really gave me a bit more confidence than I had before as a person.
The Beast itself is challenging. There are 30+ obstacles over a half marathon or longer. But then you add terrain as an ever present constant obstacle. Every one I have done has also been on ski slopes. Some worse than others, but still, ski slopes. It reduces the running for me, it makes obstacles more challenging and completing it is not just a physical challenge, but also a mental challenge too. There are times when you are slogging up the side of a mountain (perhaps over 11,000 feet, like this weekend) where you question if you do have it in you to finish the course. You’ve got to dig deep to find the stamina to finish the course. That’s especially true when you’ve gone up and up and up, then you get to the sandbag carry, where you have to carry the sandbag downhill, then turn around and go right back up. It’s taxing…mentally and physically.
I said this weekend was a special weekend. It was another Spartan Beast, in Telluride Colorado. The start line was at about 9800 feet above sea level. It went to about 11,200 feet and then finished at 9500 feet. Over the course of 14.5 miles. So, most of it was above 10,000 feet. That’s rough. Really rough. This weekend my youngest finished his first Trifecta. His first Beast was largely over 10,000’ feet in elevation. There were times when I questioned if I could complete and obstacle and then I’d watch him just knock it out of the park. He demonstrated a level of grit and perseverance that was impressive. It was a rough course and I watched him cruise on through it. He probably could’ve knocked an hour off his time if he didn’t stick with me, but he stuck with me and finished.
He was pretty nervous on the way down and up to the start of the race. There was excitement, but nervousness too. He didn’t know what to expect other than a long, long day. It was a long day. It pushed us to our limits and even beyond those limits.
It’s pretty amazing to see your kids do things that you know are challenging. He rose to the occasion, both figuratively, and in the case of the rope climb, literally. I guess calling him a kid is a bit of misnomer know, he’s more of young man and he really showed me that all of us are capable of doing more than we think we can.
We have finished our practical lessons on the J/22. Our last lesson in the basic keelboat and coastal cruising line will be on a J/30. It’s made by the same company, but is about 8’ longer. There are also some other differences, including the sail set up as well as steering and anchoring. I’m looking forward to being on a bigger boat, just to see what the difference is between a 22’ and 30’ boat is in terms of handling and sailing.
With a J/22, when you step on the boat, the boat tips a bit. Ok, when I step on, it tips a lot. I’m a big guy and when I set foot on the boat, you know it! When we first starting lessons, one of our instructors said, “Give a warning when you are stepping on or off the boat.” So, it became habit, especially for Matthew to say, “Coming Aboard!” when he stepped on the boat. And “Stepping Off!” when we arrived at the dock. I sometimes forgot to say anything when I was stepping on and Matthew would, in his own kind way, remind me to give warning.
Usually it was a teenager tone….”Coming aboard dad?”
“Yeah, sorry I forgot to say something, I thought you’d notice”
“Thanks dad, just give us the warning before you tip the boat.” There was an element of truth to that, especially if he was on the same side of the boat I was when I stepping on! I’m pretty sure we are going to design a shirt that has a sailboat and on the front it will say “Coming Aboard” on the back it will say, “Stepping Off”. I’ll post a picture once we have the design made.
It actually got to be such a habit for Matthew, that even when he was the last person getting off the boat, he’d announce “Stepping Off!” We’ve given him a fair amount of grief for that!
So in our last lesson, we had an hour or so of good wind and were able to practice a man overboard drill at sail instead of at the motor. It was nice because you could tell when you were at a beam reach! There was a fair amount of practice of tacking and gybing. We even put two reefs in the mainsail while in motion, which is important to be able to do, because you put reefs in the mainsail when things are getting rough, so if you’ve never done it…well, you could be in for a difficult time.
Then the wind died. So, well, let’s practice anchoring, tying knots, and discussing the pros and cons of different boat types. Generally, talk about what kind of boating we want to do in the future.
Then our instructor drops a little bit of a bombshell. “Your next lesson will be on the J/30. It’s a really different boat than the J/22. If your instructor on that boat is doing his or her job, they’ll just say here’s the boat, figure it out!” Wait…what? I don’t know how a furler works, is there a windlass on the anchor, it’s a steering wheel, not a tiller. I had a whole host of panic thoughts go through my head. Then I took moment to breath. It’ll be ok. We can figure these things out, and if we’re about to break something, the instructor will step in and stop us. Not that that’s going to happen, but that’s what they are there for.
Once we finish the practical lessons, it’ll be time to take the ASA 101 and 103 written exams. Several yacht brokers that have YouTube channels have said insurance will be easier if you even go to 104 (Bareboat Chartering) as well. So, we will have some decisions to make. Do we go ahead and do 104, do we hire a coach to sail with us on our boat and use that to our advantage with insurance?
For now, the process of learning to sail a smaller boat and the mechanics of sailing has been enjoyable. We’ve got a better handle on what to expect and how to do things. Obviously, we aren’t quite ready to jump aboard and cross the Pacific, but at least now we know what a reef is and the difference between the tack on a sail, tacking, and which tack the boat is on. And, yeah, I feel pretty confident that we can get a boat sailing and while it might heel more than we want for a few minutes, we can get it righted pretty quickly!
Last week we transitioned from the Basic Keelboat practical lessons to the Basic Coastal cruising lessons. So we’ve moved on from, how does a boat work to, if your sailing here’s some more advanced techniques you need to be aware of to operate a boat safely. It was an interesting transition. We know the points of sail, we know the basic parts of the part. In fact when we got there, it was just the three of us and the instructor, and the instructor said, “You guys get the boat ready.” We got there, it took us a minute, but we all knew here’s how you connect the foresail and the mainsail to the halyards and sheets, we knew where to check to make sure there wasn’t too much water in the bilge, there were a couple of things that we needed to be reminded of, but we got it ready. It felt good once it was done, but it was a challenge.
When we started, out the wind was good. I thought, great, it’s going to be an awesome day of sailing…10 minutes after we hit the water, the wind was gone. So, any movement on the water was with the aid of the engine. Which happens in sailing. Everyone talks about either motorsailing, or just running their engines at some point to keep moving in a passage. It’s louder, it stinks, but it gets you where you need to be.
It turns out that for us, that was more of a blessing than we knew. We did two new things last week. First was anchoring. Second was a man overboard drill.
Watching the sailing YouTubers, Gone with the Wynns routinely (it seems) includes a scene about anchoring. They make it seem pretty easy, drop the anchor, run the engine in reverse, yep the anchor caught, shut off the engine, have a cocktail. Part of the ease is practice, they’ve been doing it for five years now. Part of it is the boat, they have an electric windlass to raise and lower the anchor. There’s a reason they make it seem easy.
So try to picture this. It’s 88 degrees, no wind, so it’s hot and a little uncomfortable. We motor over to a shoreline near the dam on the reservoir so we have a good place to practice anchoring. Killing the engine does not stop the boat because you just drift at that point, so we kept the engine running. Matthew pulls the anchor out of the cabin. We carry the anchor, the chain, and the rope to the bow. Remember, there’s no wind, so the headsail is lying on the bow. It covers everything. The instructor is telling me to tie the rope for the anchor to the bow cleat. I can’t find it under the headsail, we are drifting toward shore, Sandy recognizes this and backs up a bit, then runs us in some lazy circles, until I do find the bow cleat. I finally have the anchor ready to go, but then Sandy has to reposition the boat so that when we back up, we aren’t backing in the dam. Finally, the anchor is thrown overboard and Sandy gets it set. It was a little stressful. Everything having to happen quickly so that we can be safe. I do think there was an advantage to no wind, but it was still pretty stressful in the moment.
I really can only imagine what it would be like moving into an anchorage with heavy winds around you and the boat is rolling while you are trying to make sure that you are set and not dragging the anchor. The amenities of a larger boat will ease some stressors, but then create additional stressors. Nothing is really “easy” even in the best of conditions.
Even the man overboard scenario was a bit stressful. There’s minimal wind, so we had to try and get the boat to a beam reach (the wind at 90 degrees to the bow) and try to tack to start a Figure 8 so that we could position ourselves properly to get the flotation device out of the water. It’s hard when there’s not a lot of wind, and even though it was just a flotation device that was in the water, you want to get it back as quickly as possible. The upside to the whole scenario is that there weren’t even waves, except for a wake from the other boats, so keeping an eye on the man overboard was pretty easy. Matthew was begging to jump over for this…I think he just wanted to cool off!
Even though things seem like they should be easy, easy is relative. The first time is always a challenge because you don’t know what you are doing. So, you’re getting stressed. Which then adds to the difficulty. Things aren’t ever quite as easy as they seem, even when you think they should be. Some of the challenges, like finding a bow-cleat to tie the anchor off on won’t be an issue on a larger boat, but then again, on the 22’ boat, you don’t really have to adjust the boom vang or worry about a top lift as much. There’s going to be trade offs on boats…just like in life.
The Wind River mountains are amazing. The ruggedness of the peaks as you drive up highway 191 toward Pinedale, WY is astounding. I love to drive up there just to see the peaks from the highway. They are both inviting and unforgiving. If you make a mistake in that wilderness, it could be your last, but at the same time what you get to see is awe inspiring. The pristine lakes, the wide-open mountain meadows, moose, deer, elk, if your lucky a bear. It’s a beauty that’s pretty hard to put into words.
Earlier this summer we went into the Winds, at the Green River Lakes. Our initial plan was to hike to the backside of Squaretop Mountain, which is exactly as it’s name implies, it’s a big flat top. The backside has a boulder field that once you cross it, you can hike up to the peak. There are technical climbs that you can do to get the top, but we had no intention of going up that way. Our goal was to make it to the boulder field and see if the dogs could make it, if not, we’d turn back.
A lot of how far we were going to go was dependent on the dogs. If they were struggling, we would scale back. From the trailhead to Squaretop is about 12 miles and our dogs are older, so we really didn’t want to kill them to get there. Next was us, would we be able to make it. Our packs weren’t too heavy since it was just us and the dogs, but it had been a while since we’d been backpacking.
The initial part of the trail takes you along the lower Green River Lake, which then feeds the Green River, that eventually flows into the Colorado River. The trail is well maintained, but it’s a hiking trail. You aren’t hiking on a sidewalk, there’s rocks, springs, cows, obstacles of all kinds. There were quite a few more people than we expected, and we had to sidestep frequently to let others by. At one point, we had to move out of the way as a family with younger children and dog went by. There was an incline on both sides of the trail, and as I watched Sandy step down, I watched her knee bend in a direction that I didn’t think was possible. The loose soil and rocks just slid right out from under her, and she down on the trail.
We were probably still several miles from where we would be able to set up camp initially, so it was it was key to determine if Sandy could still hike or not. She carefully got up with help as I lifted her backpack. Her knee was tender, but still walkable. At that point, we decided to shorten the days hike so that we would go about 2 more miles and set up camp in a meadow. Adjustment number 1.
The wind was picking up, which helped with the heat, so as we crested a ridge and saw a meadow where we’d be able to find some shelter for the tent, that was near a stream, our pace picked up to a spot that we thought we’d be able to set up camp.
We found a pretty good spot, with a large boulder that would act as a wind break and set up camp. I woke up just before daybreak and sat and watched the light slowly creep over the mountains, gradually the meadow lit up. It was an amazing experience and even though I thought it would be a great picture, I never took one, knowing it just wouldn’t do the daybreak justice.
Sandy got up as I was brewing coffee for the morning. Her knee was good, but we decided stressing it with a 40lb backpack probably wasn’t the wisest thing to do. Adjustment number 2. Change the goal to suit the current conditions. Squaretop was out completely, next best thing was Slide Lake. I didn’t even look at the map, just figured we’d follow the trail and make our way. Sandy figured it was about 3 and half maybe four miles from camp.
Making our way to Slide Lake meant climbing switchbacks for about 1000 feet of elevation over the course of the 4 miles. It was a challenging a hike and many times I was thinking that we should turn around. I reminded myself that the best views took the most work to get to and this was a destination that we chose, so we pushed on. We ran into some other hikers who were on their way down, “Oh yeah, maybe a quarter mile left…” about a mile later, one of the calmest lakes greeted us. Sitting on the rocks looking up at rock formations all around, the hike was worth it. These views were truly amazing. The best part was that for a good 45 minutes to an hour, no one else was there. The only sound was that of the water leaving the lake for the waterfall and any talking we did…which wasn’t much.
Afternoons in the mountains can bring unexpected thunderstorms, so we packed up after about an hour and headed down. Going down was a bit easier, because we knew where the end of the trail was. We knew where we were going. It was also slower because the dogs needed more time to rest. They’d walk and then one would lay down. His muscles were tired, he was tired. All of us worked pretty hard that day, and for a while I even carried him to give him a break and keep us moving.
At the bottom of the trail was a great little stream that came from the lake. We stopped there for a good 45 minutes and let the dogs lay in the water and rest. We were close to camp, but it wasn’t worth pushing too hard to get there right away. There was no rush. No reason to get back to camp right away. So let’s rest. Let’s get muscles relaxed some and move on from there.
Everyone was rested…for the most part so we finished the journey back to camp, made dinner, played cards and just rested. Everyone got back in the water to recover some more and before we knew it, we were all asleep.
The next morning, Sandy woke up first, and she started to shake me to wake me. “Jon, Jon, get up” I groggily roused, “Look!”, about two hundred yards from our tent was a cow moose and her calf lumbering through the willows that lined the stream near camp. It was one of those moments that make backpacking worth it. The moose just lumbered on by not paying us any attention, as watched them.
Everyone was moving slowly getting out of the tent and as we watched the dogs, we decided we did not want to sit around camp and wait for the bugs to find us, but we knew another strenuous hike was out of the question. So, do we walk down to the Upper Green River Lake? Do we go to the Lower Green River Lake and sit on the beach? Do we leave and take our time? Adjustment number three. Let’s cut the trip short a day, even though we’re all pretty sore, the dogs can rest more easily in the car on the way home and recover better at home. Even though the new Thermarests were comfortable…our bed would be better. So, we headed out. We took our time, watched the mileage back to the car and let the dogs rest whenever they needed it. It wasn’t to be a death march back to the car, but just an easy stroll…with 35 lbs on our back.
After we reached the car and made our way through Pinedale, we looked for the best place to get some food. We found this great little hamburger stand on the side of the road and the lady running the place saw we had dogs, and asked if they would like a completely unseasoned hamburger patty. I knew they would, she then through in some “doggie” size ice cream cups too, the dogs devoured both, put their heads down and went to sleep as we hit the highway and headed home.
We’ve had a few sailing lessons now, the first one did not have any wind, so it was more of an exercise in learning the parts of the boat, running the motor, when there was wind, trying to figure out where it was coming from. The next two lessons had wind! So, we could sail! The boat we are learning on is a J22, it’s made by Jboats. It’s nice little boat to learn the basic mechanics of sailing. You learn how to gybe, tack, reef the mainsail (reduce the sail area), use the winches, etc. We also learned about the importance of having the proper position of the mainsail relative to the boat, and the wind. Aspects of it are challenging because the J22 uses a tiller, not a steering wheel, so you have to push the tiller the opposite direction you want to go…which is difficult when aren’t doing it daily.
It’s been an interesting experience for a variety of reasons. First, sailing is romanticized, on TV, movies, YouTube, books, etc. It’s portrayed as this peace, put the sails up and let the wind carry you…there’s a lot more too it. You have to watch the wind, watch the water, watch your sails. When you are in the vicinity of other boats, you need to keep your eye out for other boats. Is your point of sail the best for the wind and the direction you are going, if you’re approaching another boat, do you need to tack or gybe to avoid it? There are, just like driving, dozens if not hundreds of questions that you are asking yourself at a given moment to avoid hurting yourself or others.
I recognize that these lessons are designed to teach you the mechanics of sailing, not necessarily the joy of sailing, though, I at least, did find some moments, when I was manning the jib sheet, that I was able to just relax a bit and enjoy the feel of the wind and knowing that the wind is what is driving you across the water. There really were some peaceful moments then, but they were short lived because you had to snap to and watch what was going on.
There’s also some excitement, and fear involved too. Trimming the sail is adjusting the position of the sail relative to the centerline of the boat. If the sail isn’t trimmed properly, you either a) won’t go anywhere because your sail will be flapping in the wind or b) the wind will drive the boat toward the water, this is called heeling. A little bit of heeling is normal and probably pretty good if you are trying to get some speed. However, you can heel too much. I was on the mainsheet, which means I was responsible for trimming the mainsail. We were in the midst of a tack (running the bow through the wind) and I when I changed which side of the boat I was sitting on, I didn’t release mainsail right away. Which meant that the trim was tight for our point of sail. This then caused the boat to heel pretty dramatically, and we did have some water splashing over the rails. The instructor was yelling for me to release the mainsail, I was trying to remember how to do it, everyone else was hanging on hoping not to have a man overboard event!
As soon as I released the mainsail and loosened the trim on the sail, we popped upright. We hit that normal sailing position that is desirable, and things went right back to normal. Several YouTubers that we watch have said, “Sailing is 90% boredom punctuated by 10% terror”. Maybe that’s an exaggeration, maybe not, but the 1% of terror that we experienced was a good lesson. It’s not just the romantic throw of the sails and call it good. There’s a lot to pay attention to. It’s hard to put this event into words. The feeling of gravity pulling you toward the water, the wind pushing you over, knowing that you need to do something right now. I don’t know that words ever do the experience justice.
I imagine that it’s a bit different on the open ocean in a much larger boat, where you don’t have to worry as much about the boom hitting you because it’s more than 7’ above the deck. You have a destination in mind and once you set your sails, you aren’t changing much about the sails, unless you have a major shift in the wind.
We are learning a lot. Each time we’ve been on the open water, it’s been good learning. The mechanics are slowly coming along, but I recognize that until we are really on the open water in a boat day in and day out, those mechanics aren’t going to come naturally. You need to live it to really know what you are doing. But at least now, we won’t be in a position where we won’t know a sheet from a halyard and running from standing rigging when we get our own boat. That’s really the goal of these lessons. I want to know how to trim a sail properly. How do you know when a gust of wind is coming before you feel it? These things that we are learning, which really will put us in a good spot when we throw off the lines for the first time!
It wasn’t the tropics, it wasn’t a beautiful reef with all kinds of colorful coral and fish, or sharks. It was just a swimming pool that was only four feet deep. But it was our first scuba experience. It was pretty cool. Sandy and Kenneth has done Snuba before, but no one had ever done scuba before. We all stayed underwater for about 45 minutes and used all of the equipment that you use when you are in the ocean. The whole point of the experience was to see if you liked scuba diving, give you an introduction to it and be able to decide about whether or not you want to pursue your open water certification.
My brother and his family were kind enough to give us a gift certificate to the Colorado Scuba Diving Academy, based in Fort Collins. The first 30 minutes were an orientation to scuba. How to avoid the risks of scuba diving (some of which can still happen in 4 feet of water). What happens to your body when scuba diving? Pretty much, here’s what you need to know to be able to do this safely today. There are inherent risks with scuba diving, so they obviously wanted us to be able to avoid those risks even in a pool. Most of it, I’ll admit is hazy to me right now, but the point was to ensure that you could scuba safely that day. Once we move forward with our open water certification, I’m sure the instruction will be much more in depth because it’s geared toward a lifetime of the activity.
After the safety orientation, we were suited up with all of our gear for the next 45 minutes. Swim fins, boots to protect your heels from the fins, a vest that your tank would be mounted to, the tank, breathing regulator, and a mask. Headed over to the pool, where the instructor and his assistant set up the tanks, and then we donned the rest of the gear. Once we jumped in, he showed us how to clear the breathing regulator and pretty much turned us loose.
Even in the pool there was a sense of freedom that came with being able to swim underwater for 45 minutes without ever coming to the surface. You went from one end of the pool to the next and side to side. I think at one point I let myself lay on the bottom of the pool for five minutes. I never did move, just lay there and breathed…underwater! It’s kind of funny that kid who grew up in Florida has to go to Colorado to learn to scuba! Once the session was over, I looked over at Matthew and he had the biggest grin on his face. He just looked at me, and said, “When can I do this for the rest of my life?” I imagine once he’s old enough…in about six short weeks, we’ll start to have some conversations about getting our open water certification and then the advanced open water (which allows you to dive on your own) certifications. I guess first we’ll see about getting him his driver’s license!
Several people told me when they first tried scuba, they felt claustrophobic. I can see where that might be the case, but at least in the discover scuba, I didn’t feel it. I wonder if once I am 30 feet down and the water is a little darker if that might happen. I won’t really know I guess until we reach that point and start the open water certifications.
Sandy and Kenneth, when we went to Hawaii, did a SNUBA experience. SNUBA is where you are tethered to a compressor that is at the surface, you can swim around underwater for thirty minutes or so. They were both impressed with experience, but it does have some limitations, like depth and distance, that scuba takes away. I see the pictures or videos of people diving on reefs with all the wildlife and I know that this opens the door just a bit to being able to do that too.
A little different post this week. Some pictures from the Green River Lakes in the Wind River Mountains. Truly an amazing place! These were taken with my new camera on this trip. We spent three days out there. I’ve got a written piece about this that needs some editing, but I wanted to share this with you. You might see some of these on our Instagram account too @the.greatwander
Grandad said, “When I tell you, push the tiller until the bow is pointed at that point, I’ll trim the mainsail from there. We can’t sail into the wind, so this is called tacking.”
I said, “Yeah, if we pointed the bow directly into the wind, we’d go backwards, right?”
Grandad, “No, we can’t sail into the wind.”
Me, “I know, the wind would just push us backwards…”
There was a look of frustration on my grandfather’s face at the point and he just dropped it. I didn’t understand that sails operate like the wings of airplanes. The sails use lift to pull a boat, it doesn’t push the boat the way I thought it did.
Fast forward 40 years, Skipper, “Prepare to jibe!”
I’m thinking, wait, there’s wind? But I respond, “Ready to jibe!”
Me, “Umm, how did you know that we were jibing and not tacking… I couldn’t tell that there was that much wind.”
Our instructor, John, looked up at the telltales on the sails and said, “well, there wasn’t that much wind, but the tell tales were moving just a little bit from the aft.”
His answer made sense, but really, we couldn’t see or feel much wind at all on us. In reality, I think the current was moving more than the wind was moving us. Our first sailing lesson was ok, there wasn’t much wind, so there wasn’t much sailing. When I described it to my brother, he said it made him think of the movie Tommy Boy, being in the middle of a lake with no wind.
But it was still a good experience. Transferring the knowledge of looking at a 2D diagram of sailboat and applying it to an actual boat lifted the veil of confusion! It was much easier to figure out where the clew was, what the battens are, as well as just being able to walk on a deck. The boat was about half the size of anything we are considering buying, but it’s where the sailing school starts you. Our first six practical lessons will be on the J22, a nice little 22-foot J/Boats monohull.
It was also great to see what the instructor was talking about with the figure eight knots being zip tied. Seeing that made things a little more real. There’s still a lot to learn, but it was a good start. One thing we did learn as well, though this wasn’t a lesson from the instructor, is the importance of weather planning when sailing. The wind that day might have been 5 knots, with a few gusts up to 10 knots, but before we schedule our next lesson, I’m using the app Windy to determine the best day to schedule the lesson so that we can have a good day of wind.
I know that as we progress through our lessons we’ll get a lot more out of it, but even now, I feel like the look of frustration on my grandfather’s face would transform to a smile of satisfaction knowing that I now understand why you can’t sail into the wind.
The past few weeks have been a series of first steps in our sailing journey. Step 1: Know Your Knots! Step 2: Our first practical sailing lesson. Step 3: Our first introduction to scuba diving. Step 4: Booking a trip to Florida to look at boats. Sometimes the newness and excitement of it all is overwhelming! But the journey is underway.
We took the “Know Your Knots” course from Victoria Sailing School in Denver in early June. Excitement, butterflies, nerves… all emotions were coursing through me as we drove down to Denver that Friday night.
When I was in Boy Scouts, even when I was in college, any rope I tied knot in became known as a “Jon Knot”, because it was impossible to untie. No matter what you did, you couldn’t get my knots untied. It might have started out as a square knot (reef knot), but it turned into a mess that even Alexander the Great couldn’t have sliced with his sword. My scout leaders, parents, friends, all tried to help, but beyond tying my shoes… forget it! I couldn’t seem to learn to tie a knot.
Back in November, when we were quarantined and began conversations to move up our timetable on our adventure, I started to find websites that could teach knots. I got a section of rope and started working on the basic knots that I could. Then Santa left a knot tying book and deck rope in my stocking, and slowly I reached a point with several knots that I could tie them proficiently. As spring rolled around and we did more outside, I stopped practicing, so I was a little nervous going into class.
The knots I had learned over quarantine went well, a few others went so-so, and there was one that just kicked my butt. But eventually, I reached a place where I could tie the knots that were expected of us. This was the first requirement before setting foot on one of the boats for the practical lessons.
So, why does it matter what kind of knot you use? So what if I just tie of bunch of overhand knots to use as a stopping knot for my halyards? Who cares if I don’t use a knot at all? Does it really matter if I wrap my line around the cleat a whole lot at the dock? Given my experience with knots, I will admit that these questions ran through my mind. I stayed optimistic, and as we learned, IT MATTERS! The wrong knot and your halyard can slip up through the mast requiring extensive time to rework the rigging. Another wrong knot, and your boat can slip off the cleat on the dock wreaking havoc in the marina. Knots matter.
During our knots class, I came to realize that there’s a bit of parallel to life here. We might not always understand why things have to be a certain way, but there’s usually a rationale for it. You use a figure eight knot to stop the halyards from going up the mast, but you also use it because it can be undone when you need to remove that portion of the running rigging.
I understand after going through that class why the school requires you to learn those knots before you set foot on a boat. The owner of the school told us that on the smaller boats used for the initial courses, they put zip ties in the figure eight knots to keep them from being untied accidentally. It didn’t make a lot of sense until I saw, but when it did, it all just clicked. It felt good to take this class and take the first step toward learning to sail.
Step 2: On the wet! Sailing is amazing… when there is wind! But that is a tale for another day.
In addition to these first baby steps to the ocean, this summer we’ve also enjoyed a trip to Temple, TX to help Sandy’s niece, camping with amazing friends in the Snowies, and a backpacking trip into the Winds. Life is indeed, good.
When I was 11 or 12, my grandfather took my brother and I out to his sailboat to spend the night. His boat was moored in Connecticut. I don’t remember how big his boat was, but I can’t imagine it was more than 26 feet long. I remember there was a cabin in the front, and the ‘dining room’ table came out to make bunk beds, which was really cool! That’s where my brother and I slept that night. We cozied in and swayed with the waves. The next morning my grandfather woke us up very early and we got up and ate cheerios on the deck. I know my memories may not be completely accurate, and may have blurred over time, but those memories are idyllic for me, and that time with my grandfather deeply cherished.
The reason Grandad got us up so early is that across the way from his mooring was the Electric Boat Company, today owned by General Dynamics. They make submarines. We got up early and ate our cheerios on the deck so we could watch the submarines come into the river. It was amazing and memorable, to say the least.
At the time we lived in Florida. Since we lived less than a quarter of a mile from the ocean, my brother and I spent a lot of time on the water. As kids we would spend a lot of time at the beach. We fished, swam, and went out with friends on their boats. I developed a deep appreciation of the ocean, and the allure of her mystery began to grow in me.
The ocean is amazing. She sustains life with gifts of food. Her currents help transport our goods across the world. Her waters temper the climate and drive our weather. And, she can also take life in the blink of an eye. I remember a babysitter we had as children that drown in pretty shallow water, I think he got caught in a rip tide. The ocean demands your respect and will remind you of her power in every wave and tide. Whether you survive that reminder depends on you, the situation you are in, and ultimately, powers greater than us.
As we were on the boat that night with my grandfather there wasn’t much rocking, although I remember loving that gentle sway. We were tied up at slip at a marina, well protected from the elements. I vividly remember the sounds of the waves hitting the boat. The intoxicating smell of the salt air as we ate our cheerios. Watching those submarines cut silently through the water. It was in that moment that I became enamored with the ocean.
It was around that time too that my grandparents gave me a copy of the book, “The Boy Who Sailed Around the World Alone”. The book recounted the story of Robin Lee Graham, a 16-year-old from California, and his five-year circumnavigation of the world. While there’s not a lot of specifics that I remember about the book, I remember thinking I wanted to take on that challenge. Without a doubt, that story shaped my dreams and started a fire in me.
Not long after that we moved to Germany, where, as a middle schooler, I would sketch out sailboats with living quarters. I was trying to figure out the best layout for a boat. I’m pretty sure now that if any of those ideas were ever found by a boat architect, they’d laugh themselves silly! But, as a young teenager, it was a lot of fun. It kept me connected to the ocean and that fire in my belly to sail the world continued to grow. I remember someone looking at one drawing and asking what I was doing. When I told him I was designing a boat to sail around the world in, he didn’t laugh at me! But he did jump to all of the dangers of sailing.
Life then did what life does. I graduated high school in North Dakota and went on to become a teacher. I fell in love, got married, and had a two amazing kids. I bought a house and joined the great American middleclass life. This life has afforded us some amazing opportunities. Living in Wyoming, there are things that I’ve seen and done that I would’ve never had the chance to do anyplace else. The Tetons are truly spectacular and having had the opportunity to go elk hunting will always be a highlight in my life. But, that fire still burns and the ocean still calls.
As we’ve talked about the live aboard life, I’ve felt something awaken in me that I haven’t felt in a long time. There’s an excitement, and a fear. Not the kind of fear a child has of monsters under the bed, but fear nonetheless. It’s the fear of the unknown. Of all the things that could go wrong. I remind myself, there’s always a path to get through the unknown. And, there’s tremendous excitement! Of knowing we can conquer the unknown and live in harmony with the ocean. The excitement of living out a childhood dream that I long ago dismissed as fantasy.
I’m not at all sure what our sailing adventures will bring. I long to fulfill that dream of a circumnavigation, but I’m not sure if we will complete that or not. I’m not even sure if we will love or hate the live aboard life! We might miss life on land, or, we may sail away and never look back. What I am sure of is the excitement, and sense of peace, and feeling of being alive that pursing this dream brings.