Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Home Alone, Too

One thing I'll note about my post below, about sailing the SF Bay. It is indeed technical sailing; there is the risk of collision above all, with other boats or land, but the adage: if you can sail SF Bay you can sail anywhere is simply not true. Sea swell is usually easy to manage, but the thing I do not want to ever have to do is ride out a storm at sea. Boats, even relatively small sail boats, can do that, and experts vary on which of the handful of methods of riding out a gale or storm is best...but it is the waves, not the wind, that can flip a keelboat over. Specifically, breaking waves, steep waves that the boat loses control of going down (or up) the face...any boat can capsize in bad enough wave activity. The bigger ones are just safer because of size (paraphrasing Nigel Calder in his monumental book).

The thing about ocean sailing is that, unless one is in a storm or some bad swell, the waves and swell are generally easy to manage (though seasickness is an issue for many, including me). While the Bay, because of its wind and traffic, can be pretty technical almost any day! Especially in the summer. And heck, I still think docking in a marina under power is harder than anything I've had to do while on the water.

So, that said, a quick share.

My wife is out of town for a few days for a conference related to her profession. She is actually only an hour plus from here, but with our son still not driving by himself, I sort of had to stay and hold down the fort. And the first night she is away I never sleep well. I went to bed at five, had to take our son to school around 8:30...went back to sleep. A lousy, lousy day. Drank too much (limoncello is a lot stronger than it tastes, as I work my way thorough our first bottle) was in second life WAY too much last night as our son slept...had fun there, sure, but really needed the sleep. Work meetings begin day after tomorrow, and the Friday meeting will likely have some pretty significant issues, even votes, on things I have worked on for a long, long time. That is part of my stress. But why I just don't let myself feel whatever feelings I am dodging when S is gone the first night of every trip, I don't know. I would never drink and play sl to escape any other kind of trauma (let's hope). I mean, a bad day at work may deserve a good martini when I get home, but nothing like last night. Somehow, the feelings I have when she is absent are so subtle I don't notice them except as I find myself acting out, on my computer at 3 a.m., feeling wide awake.

Damn, I am tired today.

Also, I have totally let exercise slip these last few months. I have worked out some, but not enough and surely not enough cardio at all. It's hard, living as far as we do. Sure, I could hike, but that is hard (how funny, after all those years I hiked, I have nearly stopped while living in the mountains); I could go the gym, but that is nearly 30 mins. each season goes by, S and I know more and more we need to go down the hill. At least half the distance to my work, 30 mins. or less, and we'd be close to all the shopping we would need, really. Close to a gym. A Costco! Hah! The Sierra experience has been great, but as I have often said here, lonely. I have gotten better at managing the lonely piece, but I know I am a social person and do best in a social community. Also, not in a parish all too often much like the one in the hilarious Vicar of Dibley. If we moved, we would surely change churches.

And I am considering changing colleges, even, out of my district to get near the coast (oh, this is my deepest wish and prayer). We left the coast in so cal, but would settle happily for anything near enough the nor cal waters to get the breezes and cooler summers. To do that, I'm going to have to get another job at a different school; S will likewise have to establish a practice in a new area, and things have opened up for her so well since she graduated in May, she is scared to do the move, I know. Though one summer in the inferno of the central valley might motivate us both to do more. We will see. We won't move this year because our son cannot yet drive alone. But next year, when he will be a senior with a license and car...we could. Surely, the year after when he goes to college.

That is all gang. Feel crappy. Can't get motivated to clean or do laundry, my usual occupations. Haven't even had lunch yet. I'll feel better tomorrow; the campus meetings (they begin tomorrow, I note, not the day after) will center my head in the world of the real.

Love to all. My Thanks to all who read. This blog will never die, and may one day truly rise again :)


Monday, August 04, 2008

Sailing Bay and the Sea-Father

More than twenty years ago, I sat in a small bleacher in one of the gymnasiums at CSULB, first day orientation for a sailing class; just curiosity. The instructor, maybe in his fifties, went into his spiel: "All the stuff you see and hear and read about the myth of sailing boats...the blue blazer and white trousers, the captain's hat, the ascot, dinners at the yacht club...the skipper quietly smoking a pipe while staring out to see...the first thing we have to do is clear all that up; I want you to know that all that stuff is totally and completely true."

We all laughed. It was quite a few years later before my first time on a small sailboat, a very funny story I wrote about here a couple years back. But I did not really sail or learn to sail until about four years ago when my wife said a group was going from her work, mostly nurses, that one of the ICU nurses was a skipper, and that we could sail on San Francisco Bay for the day for about sixty or seventy bucks a piece, maybe less. That was expensive, and a bit of a drive, but we decided to try it. I talked to the skipper on the phone; I was told to call the ICU and ask for "Captain Diego." I did, and to my surprise, someone got on the line and gave me directions to a sailing club in the Berkeley marina. I was told when I got there to just go to the desk, and again, ask for Captain Diego. I thought that was half joke, but my wife and I found the club...a large building (as sailing clubs go) at the end of a dry dock boat yard and when we approached the two young (and very sailing myth looking) guys at the desk and asked for Captain Diego, they sent us right to his boat.

I have told other stories about sailing here, and sailing with the man I came to know, and still call, skipper. Nobody wore a blue blazer or white trousers on any of those sails, I'd note. None of the sailing class orientation myth was part of these sails or even part of my experience at other sailing clubs, except when jokes are made (though when I arrived the first time after dark, I found my skipper at the Berkeley marina entrance, wearing a black watch cap and a dark blue wool pea coat, talking about the wind direction as though he were savoring a wine).

The fact is, on those early sails I was too dumb to be scared, even when things were getting a bit scary. I found sailing absolutely entrancing. Sleeping on the boat (when there were not many of us...with six snoring guys, it's much less romantic). The interior wood and designs of the boats themselves. Pounding upwind, close hauled, in the slot between the Gate and Berkeley in 30 knots of wind, practicing man overboard drills with a lifejacket in conditions nearly that bad, the jib sheets banging on the dodger, or plastic boat windshield, so hard it broke. As I have said here before, a dozen or so days on the Bay led me to sailing classes in Santa Cruz, my own "skipper" license (just to charter boats; we're not talking Coast Guard Captain for sailboats here; such a thing exists, and it takes a year on the water and very tough exams). I did my first two days of skippering with two friends from work in Santa Cruz in 06. Then, I began grappling, and a guy who now describes himself as professional cage fighter (four and one) snapped some tendon in my back when we weren't even sparring, just drilling. The next time I tried to sail, the pain was just too much.

Now, the pain is much less. It is not all better; I do not know if it will ever be all better, but it gets better, very slowly, month by month. Enough that I took the step of joining my own sailing club, out of Sausalito, on the recommendation of my Santa Cruz sailing colleague (and because their monthly dues are the cheapest I found...and the people who work in the tiny square building so far very cool). It is more down to earth (and I did mention cheaper) than my skipper's club (he left the country to work with Doctors Without Borders for two years and quit his club). Since I joined, I have done one club day sail with a skipper on board, retaken my own bareboat class, or final class in the series to get one's charter license (two nights at anchor in the Bay, night sailing...things we did not do in SC). Called the next weekend to bring my wife on a club sail and ended up being the skipper myself on a boat I did not know with only one other person who knew even the basics of sailing; then, yesterday, another day sail with my colleague from work. I want to tell the story of my first skipper day in detail; it was quite something (I realized, coming back into Sausalito, that I had never piloted into the club slips before and had no idea where they were).

What I am going to write about first though is the emotional. For the early days of sailing with James (Captain Diego, a self moniker quite silly for a man of his Buddhist sincerity) are in my past now. You see, I have skippered. I can skipper. And the difference between going along for a boat ride in the Bay, aware of one or two or three things that are actually going on with the boat and wind, and skippering, or even being on a boat with the knowledge of a skipper...these are very different. I feel I have lost a father. That is it. I am not ready to go from son to father. There. Touch that and feel it.

I will say my instructor for my bareboat class at Sausalito could slip into the sea-father role very well. I would love to sail with him again in any capacity, but it is not likely I will do so much, if ever (my first day skippering, again, with my wife and two strangers aboard, I had trouble backing out...I don't have much experience in marinas under power and was getting stuck, backing slowly towards boats behind me: my new sea-father happened to be in a boat with a class right behind me...he told me what to do, and I motored out). I have come to know that part of my love of sailing was working under a skipper with so much more knowledge than matter what happened, and in the SF Bay, shit happens every time one sails, I knew sea-father, either James or my latest instructor (whose name I withold for his privacy) would get us out of it. Tanker traffic, fog, squall lines, 35 or 40 knot winds, a broken boat, a person overboard (very, very rare, that last one...the rest, normal to varying degree)...whatever it was, skipper would know. Skipper could get us all home alive.

Now, I am turning skipper.

Yesterday we had twelve people on a large and well maintained boat. We had moderate winds for the summer in SF Bay (20-25 knots) a typical strong flood, or incoming current, only two tankers come by in the lanes when were were around, and a very competent captain, my friend (too much of a friend, maybe, to be a sea-father, though time will tell...he sails constantly, and there moments he was at least older brother). Besides myself, the newbie wonder, there were two other skippers on board, on very experienced in chartering all over the world. And I enjoyed myself. But I find now that when sailing I am facing fears in a new way. My appetite for adventure has dipped a bit past 40 maybe (read, fear has increased a pinch in some areas) and if there is one thing sailing the Bay is not, it is not the myth I began this post with. Well, that is there, at the expensive yacht clubs, on boats that go out 3 or 4 times a year. But the true sailors and racers on the Bay know the truth: it is one of the world's most challenging places to sail. The famous saying is if you can sail the Bay, you can sail anywhere in the world. I do not believe that. The Bay does not get sea swell or breaking waves of any height (though it can get choppy, and waves can break there, they are not large); try Point Conception, or any other of many places around the world that are just downright dangerous.

Still, all in all, the Bay has everything else that makes sailing challenging: for starts, hammering wind in the summer as the valley heats up to 100 degrees and the air lifts inland and the sea air, and often sea fog, is sucked right through the venturi of the Gate. Again, 20 knots is an easy average; 25 common in the afternoon, even 30 and more. I have been out in 35 when you have to yell to be heard. The Bay has many days like that, and wind like that without the kinds of seas one would get offshore in that kind of wind are what makes the Bay a world famous sailing destination. There are also shipping lines running all over the Bay, going to Richmond, Oakland, Alameda, Benicia...tankers and freight ships that cannot stop except in miles. They and their rugs run round the clock, every day of the week. And there is very much boat traffic of the smaller kind: fishing fleets, the ferries that crisscross the bay like rabbits in a field, and often scores of sailboats, with full scale races common. Oh, and lots of land to run into: Angel Island, Tiburon, SF itself, and many points and even a few smaller rocks. And the tide rises and falls, ripping current moves in and out of the Gate. It is possible to be stuck under the Gate (happened to my first skipper, not me) in a decent sized boat (say 36 feet) sailing full speed and not moving at all because the water under the boat is tearing out to sea at 5 knots. Better than getting sucked out to sea and dying as happened to a couple of windsurfers a few years ago. Lastly, the water is cold. As cold as water off the coast of Washington or the fifties generally. A body can last in water like that an hour or two, less or more, depending on several factors. But the fact is, if you go over in the Bay, and your recovery mismanaged or delayed, you can die.

So you see, friends, when I first went out sailing, I did not know about any of this. All in all, the Bay is safe as many things are done to assure the safety of those who play on its water. The Coast Guard runs a helicopter out of SF Airport and has cutters and small rescue boats which seem to appear hauling ass out of nowhere every time something goes really wrong. I carry a radio, a gps, wear a top of the line life jacket with a strobe inside it and a built in harness so I can clip in if I need to (haven't had to yet, now that I have it...will, though). But a sea-boy, someone just discovering the love of the wind and water...knows none or little of this. He has the sea-father to guide him, watch over him, explain and instruct.

I could spend months at sea, maybe a year or two, with a sea-father. That, I know, is not likely. I will have other trips I go on with instructors or those much more experienced than me; one or two may have the charisma to hold me the way James and my recent instructor do. They are each more than just sailors, and of course older. But to spit out a metaphor not fresh since Tennyson, I have crossed that bar. I know too much; and only time and experience will free me of the fear I feel just below the surface now every time I go out...fears amplified, quite literally, a hundred times when I am myself the skipper. There is no way past it but experience.

This would be much easier, I know, in Southern California, or off Catalina (very calm places to sail most of the year...up here, sailors will chuckle when they meet someone who has sailed, say, out of San Diego for years but never even set a reef or shortened sail). Well, it might be easier. Because what is happening now on that Bay is that I am facing my Core Fear. Left alone to figure out the chaos of my childhood most of the time, with a mother who freaked the apocalyptic fuck out every time the slightest thing was wrong and a father with many of his own fears, I have quite an apprehensive nature. This causes me to prepare, sure, but the only thing I've found that works with fear is to face it, to do whatever it is that scares the shit out of me. I do not have to rush myself into skippering (there is no compensation at all for taking the extra emotional and financial risks) but I am surely going to be doing it again, and eventually, doing it more often than not. And I will continue to sail the extreme waters of the Bay, I know: at 11:00, in front of the Gate, freezing wind and fog and dark gray cover rolling utterly black green sea with bare white caps 2:00 behind Tiburon, hella sun and plenty of room to dogdge the tankers (and their large navigation buoys) 5 or 6, when the Valley is really hot, wicked chop and 30 knots of solid wind with gusts to 35. Boats, many of them large and powered, moving around all the time. Yep, that's the Bay. Never the same.


Behind all of this is something else. I miss Sharon. These are the kinds of things would talk to her about (my ex therapist). I would share these stories, these feeings, these fears, and we would talk them through. Is it Kubler Ross (sp) who has the famous (and I hear, unproven) 5 stages of grief? If so, I am moving from denial, where I genuinely was...I did not feel her loss yet, to anger (don't know if that's next on the list, but it is for me). And sorrow. And of course fear. I am not losing myself in clinical obsessions so I am holding off finding another therapist. But I still am fairly intense, emotionally, sometimes quite intense, and I must find a way to manage that! Exercise is infrequent. Talking, writing like I am writing now, not frequent enough. Sharon was my sea-mother, in a way. Of course we never sailed, but she always helped me to think in rational terms...she would say that over time, these fears will diminish; that if I got in trouble the coast guard would come, that fatal accidents inside the Bay are very rare (I don't know the last one). That I am growing as person; that she is proud of me, maybe she would say that, or I would sense it anyway. That this is something S and I can do together. That even with the fear, there is much pleasure I derive, and something else: utter distance from the other stressors in my life. In that way, it's like scuba. Being on the Bay is so consuming (and by now, dear friends, you know it is not the tropical thing at all: girls in bikinis, a blender below making mai tais, bare feet on teak decks and steel drums and tans....most of us sail encased in rubber or something like it...but what I am doing can lead to the tropical adventure! and will). Sharon would tell me all that. And after 50 minutes, I would feel more centered, less terrified at some deep level.

Well, that is what I am doing here. You, all who read, are my silent sea-parents. At least, listening, even if you have never sailed.

Sailing, for me, is still recreation, but it's also very difficult personal growth work and that is just how it is right now. The day I skippered on my little 32 foot boat with a crew who could not really sail, I actually did not eat or drink anything for the seven hours we were on the boat. I was too focused on every little thing. S has known me 12 years and said she has never seen me like that before. So, you see, though I take so much from sailing, love so much about it...the wind, the adventure, the friendships, the boats, sleeping below...all of that; I am still scared spitless. I am learning to ski on a black diamond slope. Hah. And now guiding other beginners myself! That analogy works, for wind is to sailing what straight down (vertical slope) is to skiiing or snowboarding.

Thanks, all, for listening. I am logging off, let's say. I have this crazy belief that I could be a good writer, but good writers rewrite and strive for craft and access this part of their brain, the creative part...all I'm doing here is sharing. So, whatever good writing I might be capable of (or not) this is not it; this is just sharing (without even rereading for edits). But my sincere thanks to all who read are few, I know (I should get a counter, though) and some of you I barely know; some of you I know more; one or two I care about much. But I appreciate every single person who has gotten this far in my narrative.

And hey, if you're ever in Nor know, shoot me an email. Because I'll take you on a day sail. And I am grinning, and serious as I say it.

Much love.