Sailing in the Desert

March 10, 2011
The sun is bright. The water is clean and blue. If I get my shadow to cut the glare on the surface, I can see down through 50 feet of water. There is nothing but a foot of plexiglass between me and 23,000 square miles of Lake Huron.

“It is mostly sunny with a temperature of 75. There is no precipitation. Southwest winds 5 to 10 miles per hour. Becoming northeast around 5 miles an hour in the afternoon. Waves 1 to 2 feet. A small craft advisory is in effect beginning Friday evening,” spews the short wave radio from the bag I have tied to the base of the mast. I am on a sailboat. This is my father’s 14 foot Sunfish and when the radio announces the small craft advisory for this weekend, they refer to boats twice the size of the one I sit in. Taking such a tiny boat out on Lake Huron is a bold move, but the weather now is calm and beautiful, so the risks are minimal. I brought a kayak paddle with me in case the wind dies and I get stuck.

Sailing alone is work intensive and complicated. One hand is permanently fixed on the rudder, which I push to the right when I want to turn left and vice versa. This is a mental stumbling block which I must continually work against. In my left hand I hold the sheet (or to the less nautical minded, the line or rope), which controls the sail. I am forever adjusting this. I tighten it to catch more wind which heels the windward side of the boat up and sends me flying through the surf, or I loosen the sheet to spill the wind and slow back down. All the time, the physics which govern how the craft reacts to the wind, water, rudder position, and sails are running through my mind and driving my decisions. The trials of sailing, the exertion, makes it worth while. I feel a great sense of pride when I tie the Sunfish to the dock at the end of a long day.

Moving 2,000 miles away from home to attend college in another state was a bold move. I have a paddle here, just as I did on the Sunfish. I call this paddle Uncle Barnaby and Aunt Carla. They live nearby and take me in every couple weeks. But essentially, I am sailing alone. Maintaining my relationships with loved ones over such a distance is like keeping a sailboat on course. It requires tireless attention and unending patience. The rudder is my contact with my parents and little sister. They keep me on a steady path forward with their love and advice. The sheet is my connection with my friends, never leaving my hand. Hearing from them, or not, determines whether I will be zipping along or drifting. The mechanics of how the sail boat works are all the methods I employ to stay in touch with my loved ones, from my cell phone to the U.S. Postal service.

As I move through the deep waters of college life, I miss the solid and comforting shoreline that is my home. Most of the time I am floating rather than drowning and I generally love my independent life here. Despite the excitement of being on a journey alone, though, I am in a constant struggle to keep my favorite people from slipping away like wind from my sail.

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allissa22 said...
Mar. 23, 2011 at 5:59 pm
this is a truely amazing piece of work!! i liked it a lot!
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