Our friends at 12 Meter Charters let us charter one of their classic racing boats for an afternoon in Newport, an afternoon that taught me some unexpected lessons.
Newport, once known as the sailing capital of the world, still holds onto that reputation. The host of the America’s Cup for many years until it was finally lost to the Royal Perth Yacht Club in the 1980s, solidified Newport’s place in the canon of seafaring men and women.
The 12-metre class was historically the class of boats raced in the America’s Cup but since 1990 much has changed. The addition of new classes has allowed for faster speeds. Boats whose speed can far surpass the speeds of the classic 12-metres now dominate the racing scene. What I learned on Newport Bay that afternoon is that while much has changed in sailing, the lessons of the sea remain ever the same.
It started out as a sunny and glorious day. We headed out on the launch boat, weaving through yachts and sailboats to arrive at The Heritage, one of the classic 12-metres that was a contender in the 1970 America’s Cup. The afternoon was filled with optimism as the captain and crew hoisted the sails and we headed out of the harbor towards the bay.
One must always remember that when on the sea, the tides can change at any time, something part time sailing enthusiasts like myself can tend to forget. When the sun is shining, it often seems like it will go on shining until day’s end without interruption or peril.
Not unlike man, the sea and sky are fickle. When the clouds roll in and the water grows choppy, it can seem a great surprise. And there we were in the middle of the bay, leagues from the calm of the harbor, and there was nothing to do but sail through it. That is the thing about sailing, you must weather whatever changes come your way to get safely to your next destination.
We made our way under the Newport Bridge. Looking up it seemed that the top of our mast was not too far away from the bottom of the bridge and if it were just a few feet taller we would hit the bridge and surely capsize to our deaths. But the captain and crew reassured us, it was simply a matter of perspective.
And finally, we sailed back into the crowded harbor. We made it! But of course we did, we sailed on and didn't let the choppy seas or cloudy skies bog us down.
And just as we reached the mooring, the sun peaked out from underneath the clouds. And it was then that we witnessed the lifting of light and a beautiful sunset. It wasn’t what I had expected when we first boarded the The Heritage, but it was quite the eventful afternoon.
We learn a lot about life and ourselves on the sea. No matter how sunny it may seem, a storm can always rumble in; to always surround yourself with a good captain and crew; that the journey matters not only in how you weather the changing tides but who will weather them with you, and if you stay your own course, you will find light again.
For any part time sailing enthusiast, I advise a day at the helm to learn more than just how to hoist the sails.
“for whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
it's always ourselves we find in the sea.”