A Boy's First Sail

It is a moment in time that all of us, if we were old enough, clearly recall.  This past weekend, I had the opportunity to take my four-year-old nephew, Nicholas, on his first sailing excursion.  As a dutiful Uncle, you want your nieces’ and nephew’s first experience on a sailing vessel to go smoothly.  You don’t want a sudden gale to hit, nor do you want to wallow in the middle of the lake in a dead calm.  Basically you don’t want to be the guy to cause trauma in the minds of the youngsters that you have been entrusted to care for. So with clear skies, a steady breeze from the North, and no ill weather on the radar, we set out!

It’s wonderful to experience the questions you get from a young lad who is sailing for the first time.
 The quietness of the sail as we started out prompts the first query.

“Uncle Willy, where’s the motor?”

I chuckle.
  “Well, it’s up there in the sails – the wind pushes the boat.”

“Oh.” I can see his mind working.
 Pause. Next question…

“How are we going to get back?”

“Well, we’ll just turn the boat around and make it go where we want to go.”


“Uncle Willy, are you too heavy for this boat?”
  Another chuckle, and certainly a legitimate question.  Kids don’t pull any punches, do they?

“Oh, no – we’re fine, this sailboat can handle plenty of weight.”

“Okay – hey, we’re moving fast!”
  And we’re going at a relatively good clip.  Just enough wind for a good ride.  After getting three-quarters across the lake I announce it is time to "come about."

“Uncle Willy, what’s that?”

“It’s when we turn the boat around and head in the opposite direction.”

“Are we going to head there?"
  He turns and points upwind to the other shore.

  Okay duck your head a little and get ready to come about.”  Not that he needed to, sitting in the front alongside the centerboard trunk he has plenty of headroom between himself and the boom.  Ah, to have that luxury once again.

We tack up a few times about half a mile upwind.
  I can see he’s feeling at ease with this whole sailing thing.  Time to put the lad to work.

“Nicholas – would you like to bail some water out of the boat?”

“Okay, Uncle Willy, I can do that.”

“Thanks, Bud.”

I hand him the plastic bailer.
  He makes fine work of the task.  A few minutes go by.

“Uncle Willy, can I stop bailing now?”

“Of course.
  Thanks Nick, you did a great job.”

And he did – there was no water left in the boat.
  We sailed a little longer.  Fifteen minutes later I figured I should get the lad home, so we turned about and headed downwind.

“Hey Nick, do you want to steer the sailboat?”


I get Nick situated on the other side of the tiller to where I am sitting.
  With both our hands on the tiller, we look homeward.  He’s smiling.  So am I.

And so Nicholas joins a fortunate group of people who have sailed this magic boat.


  1. What a nice story, Will! And weren't you smart not to take Nicholas out the first time in a strong gusty wind so that the boat could heel way over. That was the Medina way -- I like your approach much much better!

  2. Dude - you can write. What a magical time - one your nephew will never forget. Summer is here!