Letting Him Go

Merry sailing off - 3

At 16, my son is beginning to think that boating is actually ok. Sure, a motor boat or jet ski would be more exciting, but our fleet includes no gas-powered craft – nor is it likely to – so lately, sailing is an acceptable, even desirable, way for him to spend an afternoon… if there’s wind. (Rowing is still drudgery, to be undertaken only in order to maneuver from the dock to open water.)  

Last spring Merry even got his own boat: a tubby Maine peapod with a sailing rig. Its black hull reminded us of a sleek marine mammal, so he named it Porpoise. Just small enough for the two of us to heave onto the roof rack, Porpoise now accompanies us down to the river sometimes, with Row Bird in tow behind.

Merry doesn’t take Porpoise out often (not compared to his boat-obsessed father, anyway), but he gets out there. And when he does, I sense a focus in him that’s rare during his life ashore. I can’t see his eyes, because he insists on wearing cool-guy, reflective sunglasses, but I can tell that he’s feeling in the moment, in charge of his own destiny.

Version 3

Out there with him, I also get caught up in the moment. When the wind fills the mainsail, and the sheets tighten, my focus moves to the water ahead, anticipating the stray log or kayaker who may appear in my path– that is, until I remember that I’m here for Merry as much as for myself, and I notice that the smaller Porpoise has been left pretty far behind.

Part of me wants to let him go, not only so I can speed along, uninhibited, but because I want my son to feel the power of the wind, to learn to counter a swift current, to figure out how to respond to right-of-way situations. Instead, I usually circle back around, a little guilty for having forgotten about him, even momentarily.

Merry sailing off - 1

But Merry is growing up fast. I know that eventually, he’ll be experienced enough, and strong enough, to be able to handle Porpoise under almost any conditions. Maybe even better than me. I just hope I’ll recognize that time when it comes, and allow myself to let him go.


7 thoughts on “Letting Him Go

  1. Wonderful return post! Welcome back! Congratulations on passing along great skills and traditions to the next generation.

    Are there any racing groups in the area for his age group? We had a sailing club at my high school, with 6 regattas over the course of the year. Great fun and a wonderful way to hone skills.

  2. It is good to see you back at your post. This is a thoughtful piece and a good follow-up to the Small Boats Monthly article. I particularly like the photo of the two boats. Thanks for sharing.

  3. If he ever feels the need for speed, get him into Kite Surfing or the new Kite Foiling for even more speed. Even Sir Richard Branson himself, kite surfs. It only takes about 5 hours for a non-sailor to learn. Merry already knows how to sail in the river so he would pick it up really fast. As you might already know, Hood River is the one of the world’s best places to KiteSurf. At the very least he’ll have two options that would get him out on the water more often when the weather permits.

    P.S. I really like the design of the Peapod with sail rigging. I think I’ll check the inventor at the Center of Wooden Boat if we have anything like that I could take out sailing. I love how the tiller arm is offset. Oh and you named the boat perfectly. It does look like a Porpoise!

  4. I love this process of watching our kids grow up. You are a wise father to anticipate the pain of letting them go. And it’s also true that when we do a good job of letting them go at the right times, they want to be with us all the more and we get to keep them with us in new and better kinds of relationships. That’s a sweet little boat!

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