It took me about 8 hours over the course of 3 days to finally get up and sail on a windsurfing board. When I did, I could practically hear the whip of everyone’s necks from shore, careening to watch me take off unexpectedly.
It felt AMAZING! I just kept going and going and going, until… I realized the wind was dying, and well… I didn’t know what the hell to do next! I found myself alone, windsurfing in the middle of a bay in the Caribbean off the coast of Martinique; but, the wind was dying and my lesson had only taught me how to stand and hold the damn sail, not how to actually sail.
I’d always had a love and healthy fear of water. My very first encounter with boating was in Fairfield Beach, CT, where my dear friend Kitty had a summer home. We spent many summers and long weekends going to this special spot. I was about 13 that first summer. I also had another dear friend, Evelyn, who had a summer home on Lake Oscawana, NY. We sailed her little sunfish and motor boated through what seemed to be endless summers. Evie kindly reminded me that I had issues ducking for the boom those first couple times, and even managed to slide off while we were sailing along, which is pretty easy to do on a sunfish. Then for three glorious summers, a job I had, housed me in a log cabin on a lake in Northwestern MA near the White Mountains. Those were magical summers where cool MA nights were enjoyed by swimming in the warm lake and getting out to sit by the nightly fire to dry off.
This love and measurable fear of water is precisely why I got my PADI certification eventually. I thought then perhaps I’d pursue the love and overcome the fear. But other than on vacations and summer weekends throughout life, I didn’t live on the water and life unfolded very differently.
Truth is, growing up in NYC suburbia between the L.I. sound and the Hudson River, I was a city chick. In conversations with my dear soul sister Sarah, we’d philosophize and daydream about living life like a vacation to learn more about life. That’s as far as it went; and so we’d continue to live life planning out our next vacation somewhere on the water. Our proper upbringings were much too filled with sensibility and a strong dose of diligent work ethic to imagine otherwise, plus, NYC had lots of distractions for us 20-somethings when not working. Even so, my personal dream remained to travel the world and learn the language of each country as I went along.
Nonetheless, growing up with pool play, Fairfield Beach, lake life, and long-distant beach vacations, made me fall in love with the Mediterranean and Caribbean seas as a kid.
They were so clear compared to the lakes and also calm compared to the Atlantic, which really helped the fear factor.
But my strongest connection to sailing started when I was about 22 off the coast of Martinique. At that point in life, I had taken a “real” job, and made more money than most of my friends. This was easy to do since they were all in grad school. I still had no idea what I wanted to do and dabbled in all sorts of things. Since I very much loved my undergrad major, Philosophy of Law, I logically chose to pursue law and started clerking at a Wall Street law firm. Ha! I soon learned practice and theory were oh so very different worlds. But the plus side… I could, for the first time, afford on my own what I always wanted to do: travel. I had already backpacked and hostel-hopped across Europe on my mom’s generous dime after college. That’s why this time I wanted something a little more. Plus, because I was working 70 hour weeks prior to trials, I needed to get away. So, an all inclusive in Club Med, Martinique was where I found myself. The highlight? ALL water sports and lessons included.
Dead in the water and the shoreline in the distant horizon, I figured, it was time to jump in and start swimming back. Unfortunately, at the time I did not realize I was about a foot above a reef, the same color as the sand. There wasn’t much of a splash; it was more of a thud. Jumping off, I bloodied my knees and cut my feet, adding injury to the insult of not knowing how the hell to get back to shore. I pathetically started to make my way, board in tow, when I saw a little dinghy coming to my rescue.
That’s when the instructor, my hero only for a few short minutes, told me, “you need to tack…” to get back to shore. Yeah, thanks bub. A little late now. When we got back to shore, he kindly drew the zig-zagging pattern in the sand and told me how hard this tacking business was and blah, blah, how I’d have to come back tomorrow to learn and practice but it takes years, blah, blah.
The thrill of catching the wind that day and being out there on that board with no one around left a lasting imprint. Also, tacking was nothing I’d learn about first hand for another 20+ years. With bandaged knees and pride, I returned to my NY job in the middle of a freezing NY winter and it soon again became just a dream, certainly not a way of life. Until now.