sailing grace

If you’re more than an infrequent visitor here you will know that I own a 6 metre sailing yacht, based on a traditional America’s Cup yacht. Sorry, that should read I own a model 6 metre sailing yacht, based on a traditional America’s Cup yacht. There is a small (or should I say large) difference.

My yacht (I call her Charis because it means ‘Grace’ although she doesn’t have the name on her hull) is still big by model yacht standards. When fully rigged she is about 7′ (just over 2 metres) from the bottom of the keel to the top of the mast and she is about 5′ long (about 1.5 metres).

In case you don’t know about these things the only controls I have are for the rudder (which way to go) and how far to let out the sails (which controls speed and helps balance the boat in the wind). Sailing Charis by radio control is usually incredibly relaxing. She glides through the water and is incredibly responsive to the gentlest touches of the controls.

When I am sailing her I am trying to see how close I can sail to the wind, how cleanly I can go around a buoy in the lake, how fast I can make her go, and enjoying the sound of the waves lapping against her hull as she serenely slides past me.

But the other day I took Charis to one of my usual sailing lakes and I was unsure about whether even to take her out of the boot of my car. The weather forecast had said that the wind would be gentle, but it was much stronger than the forecast had said. In the end because I had driven for 25 minutes to get there I decided to give it a go. Perhaps the wind would be gentler down on the water.

The wind had been flapping the sails vigorously as I rigged the boat and I was still uneasy as I applied the finishing touches. I checked the boat slowly, making sure that I had everything ‘ship shape’ before picking her up and lowering her gently into the water.

Then, with a gentle shove from me, she slid off from the side of the lake and the wind caught her sails.

And she shot off! The wind was no calmer at the lakeside and Charis heeled over alarmingly as a gust caught her. I had to be very attentive on the controls and either correct with the rudder or let the sails out if she looked like she was going too far over.

Sailing downwind was not too bad as the sails were out fully and the boat was being driven down the lake. But tacking back up the lake was nerve-wracking with the strength of the wind and then sudden stronger gusts that threatened to capsize the boat.

Instead of finding the experience relaxing or exhilirating I found it stressful and could feel myself tensing up. After 5 minutes I decided to call it quits and brought the boat back to the side of the lake, picked her up out of the water and put her back on her stand to de-rig her.

I was disappointed – the experience had not been what I had hoped for. I was annoyed with myself- had I been more experienced I might have been able to cope more, but there was also the question about whether I should have listened to my first instinct and not taken the boat out of the boot.

Reflecting on that experience just now I wondered about coping in stormy seas. I know it wasn’t a stormy sea, but for the scale of boat I have and my level of experience it was too much. We can find ourselves in situations like that. Sometimes it’s because of a decision we have made, sometimes it’s because of circumstances outside our control.

So what do we do? Give up, pack up and go home? (That’s not always possible). Persevere and hope to survive? (Not enjoyable).

I reckon what I should have done is get someone who knew what they were doing to come and help me. Instead of working to the limits of my own experience and confidence I could have drawn on the experience and confidence of someone else*.

One of the blessings of being part of church is that there are usually people there who have experience of life beyond your own. There are people willing to accompany you on life’s journey. Sometimes they will just be there for you as you sail in the rough weather and whisper words of encouragement. Other times they may be able to help you out by temporarily taking the controls or telling you what you could do. And even just knowing that you are part of a supportive community is really a blessing: I have literally just received a text message from a Christian friend asking how I am doing!

Of course it’s not just churches that can offer this sort of thing. We find it in families and in friendships and other organisations and I hope you have that sort of support somewhere. But churches ought to be groups of people who do this instinctively. I would even suggest that if we don’t find it in a church that purports to be a free sample of Jesus (who told us that loving one another is right up there as a priority for life) then there’s something wrong.

Because life isn’t always plain sailing… be blessed, be a blessing

*I did wonder about doing this as there is a model shop in the town where I was sailing but I was unsure whether anyone would have helped from there. Perhaps I should have joined a model sailing club.

remote

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If you look carefully you can see the little crew!

It’s getting into the season where my thoughts start to turn to sailing again. Not the whooshing about on the waves with the wind in your hair (yes I know, “What hair?”) and ducking to avoid the boom type of sailing (it hurts more without hair if you get it wrong). I mean the more sedate and gentle sailing where you stand on the shore and wiggle joysticks on a radio control unit to adjust the settings on a radio controlled yacht out on the water.

 

It is very relaxing and enjoyable as a pastime, but it’s difficult to explain why that is without you experiencing it for yourself. You still have to understand the dynamics of sailing, you are still at the mercy of the wind and waves, yet there is still the satisfaction of controlling the boat: seeing how fast you can go, how close to the wind you can sail, how accurately you can turn and so on.

It’s not all plain sailing however. It becomes more complicated by the presence of other boats on the water. It becomes more difficult in stronger wind conditions and the boat is heeling rather spectacularly. It is more fraught when you know that there are submerged hazards that can snag the boat. And what if the batteries run out?

I have sailed in full sized yachts and I feel greater anxiety with the model than when I am in a boat. I think it is because I am not in the yacht. If I am in a boat there is a greater sense of control, whereas with the model if something goes wrong I may have to wade out and retrieve the stricken vessel. It won’t be the end of the world but it will be embarrassing, uncomfortable and wet.

I wonder if God has the same feeling about us. Not that we are remotely controlled – he created us with the freedom and autonomy to do what we want – but does he feel anxiety about us, his beloved ones, when we are distant, remote, not in direct contact, out of reach?

Except that if we are believers he is also ‘on board’. His Spirit is in us. The autonomy is not diminished, but when we choose to listen to him and accept his help he participates in our life as much as we will allow him to.

So perhaps the problem is not so much that I can be distant, remote or not in direct contact. It’s more a question of the occasional mutiny.

Be blessed, be a blessing