When I grew up, I wanted to be one of two people, a pizza maker or a garbage man. Those were my two favorite career choices I saw in my future when I was a little sprout. And then the world told me, go to college, get a degree- you're nothing without a degree. And I did. TWICE.

The first go round was a bit of a stutter step, a year at the Coast Guard Academy and four at UCONN. I spent way more time drunk and sleeping than using the opportunity for something useful. I really didnt want to be there and did everything for the wrong reason. And when I went to Boston U, I think my reasons may have been even worse, I loved the Red Sox. Higher Ed was wasted on me in a big way. And so that is why I chose a life teaching sailing.

They say those who can do, and those who can't teach, and maybe they are right. Im not the best sailor who ever took the helm and quite frankly it's not the sailing I love. It has always been the teaching I love. I can remember my first time sailing with the Sea Scouts in Stratford, CT. I thought it was slow, nauseating and otherwise the most boring experience one could have. But something about the wind and waves had always called to me and I suspected it ought to have been a career choice of mine from the very start.

Teaching sailing can be one of the most rewarding experiences known to man. There is something very satisfying about giving a fellow human the opportunity to take command of a boat and give them the knowledge to be able to go anywhere in the world where their braveness may take them. It's a secret gift that life may hold that so many of the upper crust have known for so long  and it is one of the reason they succeed at life, and it is also why the deck is stacked against so many of the low income.

It was my earlier station in life that afforded me a chance to go sailing, but it was my gratitude I realized when that life began to erode later in life that compelled me to try to share the gift of sailing with others. I riled quite a few feathers with that tack in my 30's, but I got the chance to teach so many more thousands and share the lives of so many people, both young and old, at so many various stages in life that I can hardly say my troubles for trying to broaden the horizons of sailors from all walks of life, was in any way valueless. I loved teaching sailing, but teaching is by virtue a thankless profession.

When you try to impart knowledge on a student who lacks an understanding of a subject, they fail to value what you are teaching. Its goes the same for calculus, piano, horseback riding or Shakespeare. Many a young mind has grumbled, "Why the hell do I have to read MacBeth? I dont understand the words, I'm not going to be a playwright and I don't live in Elizabethan England?" And they would be right to complain. You can't value what you don't know. And first time students of any subject, do not know enough in anyway to enjoy the learning experience, and so they don't value it at first. By the time a student grows to master a subject they learn to love it and place a premium value on it. But that takes a long time.

Teaching sailing takes a lifetime and that is why so many have tried it, but so few are good at it. And what's worse, so many more can sail, then have the ability to teach sailing. It's true, pretty much anyone can sail if they want to, but not everyone should be a sailing instructor.

Most people know him- we call him "Ahab". He is the loud, angry, frightened skipper who berates his crew, crashes his boat and otherwise makes the experience of sailing a miserable one. He unfortunately gets more teaching time than anyone else, because he thinks he knows it all and has a unique ability to share his knowledge with others without ever taking on the burden of certification or license. This is most decidedly unfortunate as there are millions of people who have sailed with Ahab who will never get in a boat ever again. And that is a shame.

But when you employ bad teachers, you get bad results. And sailing as an industry is dying because sailing as a sport has been mismanaged from the perspective of education.

A Good sailing instructor is not hard to make. A thorough knowledge of the subject, a bunch of time behind the wheel and an even temper and good nature in times of terror. That is what separates the good instructors from the great. Great Instructors are not made, they are born. A great instructor will willingly risk his life, the boat, his career and his crew to give a student a chance to do for themselves what others would never allow them to do, and never break his smile while doing it. They  don't take the helm, they talk to it. They don't run the boat, they teach others to run the boat. A Great sailing instructor never takes the helm, but never loses sight of where the boat is headed. And it is this leap of faith, that to my knowledge, only zealots, Pilots, Surgeons and Sailing Instructors possess. You got to have a little crazy to be great. And I think I have lost my crazy.

As a younger man, I think my crazy carried me over a lot of barriers. But it also careened me into a few as well. I lived to tell the tale and have the scars to prove it. I wouldn't advise you to try it, but then again I don't think it is my job to stop you from making mistakes. Take chances and live well. But while the years have been wonderful, the time has come to let those experiences go and move on.

I have taught so many over the years,in Buzzards Bay, in Long Island Sound, Chesapeake Bay, Pamlico Sound and most recently on the Mighty Atlantic. The faces are so many I can't remember them all, but I do remember there were so many smiles. There was a flood of summer memories every summer and they have built into a Museum in my mind of things that ought never be forgotten. The swimming, the fishing, the jokes, the tears, the rain, the sun, the heat, the wind, the happiness. It all made a glorious tapestry of a life for me and I will remember those experiences fondly. But I'm not going anywhere, just moving on.

The time has come for me to walk away from sailing instruction and set my sights on a new course. To be honest, I think I want to walk away from teaching as a whole. Its no better in the schools or colleges than is is on the docks, but the suntan and the scenery is so much better. And the pay is just as miserable. So why forego one disappointment for another right?

Its a sad truth to admit when your career has nothing left to offer you, but it's a very exciting time when you decide to find a new one. I'm not sure what my next career will be when I grow up, but I can bet it will be one that builds on the foundation of the many friends I have made in my formative years and I do hope to see you all once again. God Speed and Fair Winds.

 

 

Published by Christopher Richard