Since I first got my hands on a tiller and sheet, I’ve known every nook and cranny along the winding spectrum of sailorly self-perception. While sailing vastly different boats, in venues local and exotic, engaging in wide ranging water-borne pursuits with varied company — I’ve had highs and lows, confidence and doubt, and have done my share of wondering about my fit in the world of sailing — how, where, why, and with whom. What sailor hasn’t?

Looking back on it now, if there’s one thing I’m most grateful for — other than my ongoing opportunities to play on boats in the first place — it’s for the people who saw something in me and fueled my passion for sailing.

If I’m honest, I can recall more instances when I felt (or was made to feel) small on a boat — inexperienced, slow and clumsy, like I would never possess the knowledge to belong there. Athletes often talk about the ways losses stick with them more than the victories and, in a sense, that’s true for me in sailing. Yet even though the troubling or self-critical memories tip the scales in quantity, what looms largest in quality are the occasions and relationships when I felt that someone I looked up to genuinely believed in the sailor I was or could be. Those believers, empowerers, and fire-fuelers can be credited with whatever I am today as a sailor.

“Surround yourself with good people” was something my parents often repeated when I was a kid, and it has been a mantra for me in every avenue since; boats are no exception. This advice has given me so much, and I’ve made my own addendum — the best stuff happens when those good people both believe in you and push you.

I couldn’t begin to name and credit each of these important people on my sailing journey. Crucially, they didn’t all take one form or role. One such believing friend knew that I could teach sailing, even though I barely knew port from starboard when he started volunteering his evenings to give me a personal crash course in small boat sailing and sailing instruction. Another insists, in spite of my occasional protests and some evidence to the contrary, that I have “feel” for a boat that some other sailors don’t. Yet another — a professional captain and vastly more experienced sailor — excitedly offered to crew for me (crew for ME?) when I had just started racing keelboats. Comments of support and trust and investment in me, it turns out, were as formative as any competence I was developing on the water. Indeed, those confidence builders paved the way for my competence.

For me and so many others, sailing friends are central to our ongoing desire to commit evenings, weekends, and vacations to this delightful dance with the wind and waves. Not every boat pal needs to be a fire-fueler, but those who are give a gift that transcends friendship.

So, in this Thanksgiving month, I’m incredibly thankful for all of that — for my life in sailing, and especially for those to whose belief in me filled my metaphorical sails and has pulled me back to the water time and again. To reflect on those relationships and all they have afforded me… it’s a sweeter treat than pumpkin pie.

Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving,

Joe Cline
Managing Editor
48° North