April 07, 2013

Fear and Respect

by Pam
When he was 3 he walked off the edge of a pier.  He didn’t know how to swim.  As he treaded water, the pier was six inches from his face but he was too paralyzed by fear to reach out or call for help.  A hand reached down and grabbed him and placed him on the pier.  To this day, it stands out as the most terrifying moment of his life.

At age 5 she entered kindergarten school where she was taught to swim.  Everyday they were in the pool in the deep end, unable to touch the bottom and learning to dog paddle, breast stroke, back stroke and swim underwater holding their breath.  They were all water babies.  All through elementary school, she and her family spent every summer at the pool.  Diving boards, deep ends, flips, cannon balls, Marco Polo, you name it.  The water was home in the summer.  Being suddenly launched into the water would not produce fear.  She never really learned to respect the water ... she simply didn't fear it.

When he was 6 he still could not swim and was playing in the water.  One minute he was standing in the water and the next he had stepped off a steep underwater ledge and was frantically treading water.  Again, he was too paralyzed with fear to call out even though there were people within 20 feet of him.  A man noticed and walked to the edge of the drop-off and reached out and pulled him back. 

At age 7 he was taught to swim at an indoor pool in the middle of winter and was told he was a natural.  At age 9 he was introduced to sailing and his first sail was with the Firefly North American champion who handed him the helm and observed that he was a natural.  At age 13 he was single-handing a Flying Junior with three sails up.  It is a moment that stands out in his mind as one of complete freedom, control and exhilaration.  He was hooked.

He already respected the water but in Australia he learned even more respect.  Rules of thumb on when to sail and when not to and when to sail with a buddy and when not to. 

When he was in his 30s, he lived in a stone house on the water in Canada.  As the seasons changed, he watched the mood of the wind and water change.  The wind came out of the east and the waves would crash against the house.  In the late fall, the waves would splash up and freeze on the balcony outside his living room.  Out on the balcony it was treacherous and a slip could mean certain death but 10 feet away was the living room and a warm fire.  The startling contrast taught him even more respect.

Her first sail was in her 30s as crew on a 30 foot keel boat.  Sitting on the bow she felt at peace and at home.  The first several times she was handed the helm she was not a natural.  It was too much boat to handle.  The first time she broached she was on a 30 foot keel boat and was hanging from the shrouds and lifelines submerged to the waist.  There was no panic.  Just the question of whether let go and swim clear or hang on.  Her introduction to sailing was with a combination of good and bad skippers.  She didn’t fear the water but the loose nut at the tiller was always a concern, whether herself or another.  The concept of respect was starting to sink in.

In his 40s he had water front property in Dallas.  When the day ended and his duties as father and husband were winding down for the evening, it was his time.  He kept his Laser fully rigged and flipped on its side in the back yard and a mad dash would have him on the water and sailing in two minutes.  The boat, water and wind were his mistresses and he snuck away to see them as often as he could.  They met 4 or 5 times a week and when they were together it was hard to know where one left off and the other began.  Although, he had running lights to keep from being run over by motor boat traffic, many nights he couldn’t see his own hand in front of his face but he came to know the moods of his mistresses and easily adjusted.  The four were one.  He was home.

Years later, he stands beside her on the docks on a particularly windy day.  The waves are pounding the docks and breaking over the walkway where they stand.  He looks out and the water beckons to him.  She looks out and is filled with intimidation and takes a step back.  They rig one boat, her fear subsides, and together they go sailing. 


  1. Wonderful post. Thank you for this.

    I admire you for attempting a different topic and a different style of writing on your blog... and for pulling it off so well.

  2. I agree with Tillerman. Different and very nice.

  3. Well thanks for the compliment but one thing that scares the shit out of me is that my stupid blog might "inspire" anybody to do anything. Some people even claim to have taken up Laser sailing or sailboat racing because of my blog - and that's a heavy responsibility to lay on anybody.

    My original heavy air fear post was written after a day when four of us should have been sailing but the other three were trying to convince each other (and me) that it was too windy. it got me thinking about negative and positive "self talk" and how a group can talk itself into negative or positive outcomes. In the end, I said I was going sailing whatever they said, and one other joined me and we both had a blast.

    1. I do so enjoy scaring the shit out of grown men! Your post made me realize the contrast in my early experiences vs Doug's and how he ended up where I would have thought I would and vice versa. The key being that he learned respect and I learned not to fear. The first time I overestimated my safety was an eye opener ... I now have to start at square one on learning respect and he is now leap years ahead of me. An interesting lesson for parents to let the kids learn some things the hard way.


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