growing up in New England instilled lifelong loves of crisp, tart apples, cranberries, maple syrup, lobster and salt water taffy. but of all New England’s bounty, what i treasured most was being on its vast expanses of water. whether ocean or lake, i found peace there. and sometimes even adventure.
as a wiry, young girl scout, i spent a month of every summer in central New Hampshire on formidable Lake Winnipesaukee. i was a strong distance swimmer. a capable canoeist. but a novice sailor. camp staff took care to pair seasoned sailors with those of us who had limited skill and experience. my maiden voyages in small craft like Sunfish and Sailfish were exhilarating. longing to get out on the water, fellow counselor-in-training Jane and i decided to take a boat out for a few hours. the weather looked clear, the wind just right. Jane’s skills, unlike mine, well honed. (i was still sorting out a clove hitch from a sheet bend and a sheepshank; yeah, still doing that.) as the camp’s shore grew distant, we enjoyed the sun, our afternoon off from tending to campers and a smooth sail.
late-summer afternoons can bring volatile shifts in the weather. before we knew it, the sky grew dark, and the wind picked up. the water became choppy. as we bobbed around, i turned to expert skipper Jane for direction. but Jane, much to my chagrin, sat paralyzed at the stern, gripping the tiller, blubbering. and that’s when i realized it was up to me to get us back to camp.
let’s take down the sail, i shouted. Jane, did you hear me? Jane, can you get a grip? apparently not. i lowered the sail myself; Jane remained glued to the deck. sliding off the port bow, i grabbed the line and began to swim toward shore, Jane and Sunfish in tow. holding the line and swimming through the white caps with only one arm proved exhausting. i counted in my head, establishing a rhythm that kept me focused and moving forward. every now and then i’d yell out to Jane, how are doing? can you see the dock? after a time—and a lot of sniffles—Jane regained composure and began to root me on. we’re getting closer, you’re doing great, we’re almost there!
eventually, we were there. concerned counselors, knowing we had logged a boat out and not returned on schedule, had come down to the waterfront looking for us. we were scooped up in blankets and whisked to the dining hall, where warm drinks awaited. stories of our adventure buzzed around camp that night. all i cared about was crawling into my sleeping bag and crashing. our counselors watched over us until we did just that.
a few more summers in New Hampshire came and went. i contentedly spent my days on the water, paddling. but i continued to admire those blessed with the sailing gene. still do.
in memory of two skilled, stalwart, New England sailors who made a difference: Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Senator Ted Kennedy. may the wind be ever at your backs and the sunset crimson.