Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there, including the Three Sailing Dads celebrated in this article

Of all the likely phrases you may hear shouted at you over the loud music of a college party, “Your dad is so cool!” is definitely not one of the first that comes to mind. Nonetheless, that was what one sailor affectionately yelled to me over the chaos and laughter in a full basement of people one Saturday night.

I can’t say he’s wrong, but I think my response was equally confusing for him.

“Which one?”

Anyone with a sailor for a father knows what a challenge they can be. There are the endless trips to West Marine and back to the boat that “will only take 10 minutes.” The weekend cruises that are never relaxing because, “That boat is trying to race us!” (from a mile away). And the persistent calls to come look at the newest Craigslist deal that is, yet again, irresistible. 

Now imagine for a second that you have not one Sailor Dad, not two, but three. 


One, a self taught sailor with a love for old maritime stories about John Paul Jones, Ernest Shackleton, and the golden age of sail. In real life and for the purposes of this article, he is Original Dad.

One, from the competitive California coast community of sailing. A team racing champion whose one goal on water, land, and air, seems to be finding a way to go faster. To me, he is Coach Dad.

And one who learned to sail out of love. As he put it one day while attempting to set marks in an aluminum skiff slamming against choppy waves in high wind, “I am from Idaho! This is not natural!” Despite his inland origins, he’s one of the better crews I’ve seen and has taught me more about life and sailing than I ever expected someone could. He’s tougher to name, but let’s call him Protector Dad (you’ll see why later).

Original Dad

So how, you may ask, does one acquire three sailing dads?

Well, as with any collection, I started out with one.

My dad has had me on the water nearly since day one. Dressed in my little wool sweaters, overalls, and gumboots, I’ve accompanied him on countless races, weekend sails, and boat projects. Despite being what some friends and family consider a smaller female clone of my father, there was one thing that made us argue all the time: the fact that I used to despise sailing with every ounce of my tiny child being. 

As a young child, Julia was not sold on sailing.
As a young child, Julia was not sold on sailing.

So to dads that are reading this now—if your kid hates the sport you love so much, don’t worry. It can change! 

After all the rainy afternoons spent holding things with pliers below deck while Dad added more epoxy and screwed-in railing or new tracks above me, having all the flecks and boat bits falling into my eyes, only to be rewarded for my labor with a weekend of terrifying tippiness as the boat heeled and water washed the decks—I was not sold on the sport. At all. 

But living with a single dad meant I was his go-to helper and crew. Exploring the islands to which we sailed or poking at critters growing on the dock were my favorite; but the getting there and the vessel next to the sea stars and nudibranchs were sore subjects. 

The author with her Original Dad, Scott.
The author with her Original Dad, Scott.

Despite this early attitude towards sailing, things have changed to say the least. As the kid who vehemently opposed taking a junior Learn to Sail class, I never thought that one day I’d be teaching them. So what did it take? As most single parents will probably tell you, it takes a village. And my tiny village and parental support team came in the form of my high school sailing coach (Coach Dad) and his husband (Protector Dad). 

Coach Dad

Coach Dad half-asses nothing. I don’t think anyone on this planet has a more impressive resume than he does. A brilliant sailor, team racing champion, college athlete, and Navy pilot. The term “power couple” doesn’t even begin to describe him and his husband, Protector Dad, who runs a family shelter.  As a high school kid and into my life as a young adult, I became more because I had an example of what more was. 

When they took over the high school sailing team, I had adults who expected something from me. If I stayed out of trouble, kept my grades up, stayed in shape—then I could sail. They gave a new definition to what sailing was in my life. 

Suddenly the sport became something positive to me and I embraced it. In high school, I’d come home after practice and Original Dad would get out a small whiteboard we kept at the dinner table to talk about rules violations he’d seen during practice. Each weekend, he’d drive me and some of my fellow teammates to whatever regatta was going on, and pack enough gear and snacks for every sailor on the team to be warm and fed. Before I knew it, I was more okay with spending time working on boats, the weekend PHRF races, and all those Craigslist finds. It took one dad to get me to sail, and all three dads to get me to love it. 

Protector Dad (left) and Coach Dad (right), Dustin Johnson and Trevor Di Marco.

My love of speed and competitiveness on the water are things I know Coach Dad instilled in me, but I hope I picked up even half of his grace and sportsmanship when off the water as well. Being a high schooler who was given the opportunity to sail on high speed boats with my coach, I always felt proud following Coach and Protector Dads into the yacht club after races. But watching how polite they were to their competitors set an example that I hope to someday teach my students and sailors. 

Into college, they’ve all supported my sailing and rest of my life (a very blurry line) in different ways. Coaching clinics, putting names on our team boats, convincing me not to drop out… I think I’d be pretty lost without any one of them. 

Last fall, when my team’s match race skipper dropped out and the replacement couldn’t find a passport—that left me, who’d never even touched a J/24, at the helm. Coach Dad drove up to Bellingham to give a crash course in how to sail one. He’s always there to answer those obscure questions about boat speed or rules, as well as the panicked and embarrassing text asking how to deal with big waves after my first day racing in southern California (they’re a blast once you get the rhythm of them). 

Protector Dad

I think that, for a single parent trying to raise a high schooler, there are a lot of reasons the extra parenting support can be beneficial. Parts of the job can then be delegated. One such job of parenting—scaring away boyfriends—definitely fell to someone uniquely qualified. As it turns out, the best man for the job isn’t biologically related to me. Enter Protector Dad.

Any date I try to bring around for introduction to my parents will probably get a handshake and a beer with some polite conversation from Original Dad, as he kindly sends them off to the ultimate test: sailing with the other two…

So if some brave soul can take meeting my dad AND demonstrate a perfect spinnaker set for Coach Dad, he must then face the final challenge: interrogation by Protector Dad. Mind you, this is not Coach Dad (who is also Navy Dad), no no—he’s the cool dad I get compliments for at parties. His wonderful husband, Protector Dad, is capable of a level of intimidation by interrogation that one of my more courageous exes admitted was the scariest thing sailing has ever thrown his way. Not heavy seas during R2AK, not sailing high speed boats at the Gorge, but facing one man ready to question why he thought he was worthy of his adopted daughter. 

Happy Fathers Day!

So to the kids out there thinking the Three Dad System is right for you, just remember, there’s a chance if you tell one about your cute new sailing partner, one or more dad may try to friend this person on facebook for some questioning. 

To all the dads out there who want their kids to love sailing as much as they do, give it time. Even if your kid is seasick and crying, vowing to never set foot on a boat again—someday you might have a little stack of postcards from all her away regattas. 

And lastly, to my Dads—all three of you—I couldn’t have asked for a better set of sailors or people in my life. Thank you for putting up with the smell of neoprene covering every air vent in the house, for the painful years of watching me make the same mistakes on the race course and in life, and for convincing me that sailing harder was a better choice than dropping out of school. 

Happy Father’s Day.