This afternoon I stood at the end of a dock with four or five other parents, while we watched our teenagers race sailboats for their school team. We have the gear: binoculars and cameras and windbreakers, because even though we are not in the middle of the ocean like our children are, when the wind picks up it shoots right through your basic fleece jacket.
As we watch, we complain about how the team is behind or not talking to each other or had a bad start. We get excited when one of our boats is in first or second place and comment to one another about how they made a great tack and that’s what put them ahead. We blah blah blah blah blah.
Many of the other parents are sailors so they probably know what they’re talking about. When my husband comes to watch, he knows what he’s talking about. Me? I’m saying some of the right words but I definitely don’t know what I’m talking about.
I should. My daughter began racing sailboats when she was eight or nine years old. She’ll be seventeen in a couple of weeks. Every summer, she races in several 3- and 4-day regattas, mostly regional although occasionally farther away from home. I have traveled with her to many of those races. I have gone out on motor boats to watch the races. I have half-listened while patient people have explained to me about starts, and marks, and sailing downwind. And I’ve watched her race, although most of the time, it’s hard to keep track of your kid’s boat amidst all the other boats. Thank goodness for sail numbers. And binoculars.
I suppose over the years I’ve learned enough to sound smart about sailing to newbies or non-sailors but around anybody that knows the sport, my lack of comprehension becomes clear pretty quickly.
Why is it that I can watch my child play soccer or ice hockey, both sports I did not play as a child, and I catch on pretty quickly but when it comes to sailing, I can’t get past the basics?
The difference may be that I have played sports that require a ball or a puck that two teams are trying to get into the goal on opposite sides of the field or court. I don’t have any personal reference points with sailing.
At the big regattas, thirty or so boats move around the start line, sailing their boats in patterns so that when the start horn goes off, they are in the best possible position to get over the start line and push ahead of the other boats. They head to a mark in the distance and once they get around it, another line of thirty or so boats begin. Once the second group gets to the first mark and the first group is nearing the second mark, the third group begins.
By the time all of the boats are racing, I am overwhelmed. And once I’m overwhelmed, I can’t process information well.
Today’s race was a small one. Six boats. Three ours. Three opponents.
So I talk the talk. And keep my mouth shut when anybody says anything above my pay grade. I know I should ask questions, really try to understand, but I don’t. Not anymore. It’s a little bit of a pride thing. After all these years, I should know more. I don’t want them to know how I still don’t fully get it.
What I do get is that my daughter understands her sport inside and out. She and my husband will talk about strategies and use terminology that I can’t even pretend to understand. I sometimes spy on her when she’s discussing a race with other sailors. When my daughter speaks, her voice has authority. She gets it. And this makes me proud.
My limited knowledge about sailing has less to do with stupidity than impatience. At least I think that’s true.
Chances are my daughter will race in college and beyond. If I want to be able to talk with her about her life when she no longer lives with us, I probably should become more familiar with one of the main things she loves to do.
Maybe this is the summer I will pay a little more attention. Maybe this is the summer I will finally learn all the things about sailing that I should already know, but don’t.
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