The Sargent family posts in this blog tend to range fairly widely. This one will be no exception. There’s not been a lot of sailing activity for us, what with the normal winter range of illnesses for primary school children, and adults alike; those horrible things work and training for work; and then the weather. So not a lot of actual sailing to write about...
This winter we didn’t even manage to get the kids out on the Teras for some dry training.
There were a few occasions when we thought about it, but normally, when we opened the door a gale blew us straight back inside again! Thankfully the kids have stayed enthused through the winter, and are fired up for the new season. Last weekend saw Johnny out for a 10 minute sail by himself. That was something he’d been a little hesitant about at the end of last season. So I thought I’d write about some of the things we attribute that to, whether by accident or design. And also to reflect on why it matters.
Our season didn’t end until the first weekend in November. We had a great last family and friends session at our club, in a stiff F4-5, which gusted to a bit more. We’ve worked really hard to make sure the kids have the right kit and that we don’t take them too far out of the comfort envelope. When, for whatever reason, they are, then we explain to them how and why it’s happened. And we try to always have the flask of hot drink and comforting snack to hand. The restorative power of a Kitkat never ceases to amaze me! And of course the memories are all of the good times in the sun!
One of the best things we did last season was to buy a set of family hoodies, with the 2000 logo on the front, and our 2000’s name, Zoomy, on the back. The kids, no, all of us actually, really enjoyed wearing the team gear together at events, and around and about our home town. And of course they were great for that moment after sailing when we needed some warmth to snuggle in to. That advantage extended in to the winter: it’s been wonderful to see the slightly wistful look in their eye, and hear them say, “when can we go Zooming again” pretty much whenever they put them on. Usually it’s been followed by a proper glint, when they ask, “and when can we sail our Teras”.
That sense of belonging has been really important. Zoomy is part of the family. She bought the kids Christmas presents. The kids gave her the new fittings she required (which is good because that way I got a different present!). So when we knew that Clare was going to have to work at the Dinghy Show we thought we had all better go, and I volunteered to do a couple of hours on the 2000 stand. I hadn’t been to the show since I was 18, but I thought it wouldn’t have changed much: too hot for hoodies. Cue some Team Zoomy 2000 polo shirts (with new logo). Kids delighted, and able to put up with waiting while Daddy chatted on the stand, feeling part of the wider 2000 team (also complete with 2000 logos), and feeling very willing to help other children find the chocolates located in the storage bins!
We had a great day at the show. I think the highlights for the kids were the Holt Blow boat race (lot’s of design theory there!), the trapeze and sailing simulator, and the cadet stand which was being staffed by some very keen and helpful children. We all tried on some great Rooster gear, and I think they’re just about big enough for a SuperTherm. Toasty!
We were nicely set up for a good day by meeting up with an old 300 sailing friend in the car park, to buy his Optimist. The kids are going to be joining a training session in the Mill Pond, waist deep water, reserved for Optimists with cut-down boards. What amazed us was the speed with which Johnny, with this first boat, and then Gwen, with another, became attached to the Optimists. They have not named their Teras in 18 months: they took about 15 minutes to settle on names this time. Johnny’s will be “Red” because it’s, well, red (but also after the ‘Angry Bird’), while Gwen’s is “Sea Holly” named after a sea-shore flower of a similar blue colour. That attachment has really helped their enthusiasm. The boats are not as smart or as fast, but colour and character make a big difference in establishing a connection.
Gwen is determined to make a flag for her boat, inspired by “Swallows and Amazons”, which has absolutely grabbed her since Christmas. She’s part way through the third book, and writing her own version (9 chapters so far). I think it’s fair to say that it’s these stories, as much as anything we have done as a family, which have cemented sailing among Gwen’s interests. It highlights the importance of role models, fictional or real. Our club played a master stroke by rolling out a current Tera world champion at the welcome event for juniors: both Gwen and Johnny were very impressed.
It’s “Swallows and Amazons” that got me thinking about what we as parents get out of involving the kids in sailing, other than the obvious, both selfish, and at the same time altruistic, one of sharing the sport we love with them. There are few sports that a whole family can do together, sharing the same boat, or in a group of boats. I re-read the book: Arthur Ransome was for me where sailing began. I think I enjoyed it just as much thirty odd years on as I did first time. There are those who criticise the book as out of date: in particular there is feminist criticism of the fact that Susan takes charge of all the domestic arrangements. In the Sargent household we recognise that as the second oldest she is inevitably first mate, and that the role of the first mate includes ensuring that ship and crew are ready for the Captain’s command.
Of course it is today hard to imagine a family of four children, including one as young as seven being allowed to camp alone on an island in the middle of Ullswater, and particularly their being permitted to continue after confessing to sailing at night. There are fewer opportunities than I recall in my young life for our children to make decisions about risk and reward and to be in charge of those decisions, learning by the process. But on the boat they are exposed to them and contribute to the decision making process. I was very proud of them when they decided to continue racing despite beginning to feel cold: with a hot chocolate inside them on coming ashore it was worth it in the context of a third place, and a source of immense pride that adults had given up. Equally when Gwen was single-handing in her RS Tera she filled me with pride by sailing back to me as the breeze got up and asking for a reef so she could carry on. The same goes for racing with the kids. We have much more dialogue about tactics and strategy when the kids are on board, including the question of risk and reward. They are beginning to get the idea of staying between the opposition and the mark (sometimes better than Clare and I).
And we needn’t have worried about not practising over the winter. Johnny gave a shrug and said “sort of” when asked if he could sail as he climbed on the simulator at the Show. But he grabbed the tiller and mainsheet, set himself up in the dagger grip, and confidently slid his feet under the toe straps. Proud Dad (and sister) moment!