Sailing out of My Comfort Zone
Island Voices, November 2023

Sailing out of My Comfort Zone

By Suzanna Leigh

Only staying active will make you want to live a hundred years.
Japanese proverb

Why am I so terrified to take the helm today? We are coming into Fairhaven to tie the boat to a mooring line between two big yellow bouys. In all my decades of sailing, I’ve never tied up to a mooring line before; we always tie to a buoy or a dock, or we anchor out. However, this is cheaper than renting a slip at a marina and more secure than anchoring while we leave the boat for a few days.

James is on the foredeck, ready to grab one of the rings on the mooring line, to tie up to. The plan is to go beyond the mooring buoys and circle back, so that the boat is parallel to the mooring line and the bow points into the prevailing wind. Today, though, the wind is at right angles to the mooring line, and will push the bow away from it. I don’t know the bottom here. How close can I get to the shore before going aground? Is that Coast Guard boat at the dock to my left, the one with the engine running, going to pull out into my path? What about that little sailing skiff that is headed across my bow?

Our first attempt fails. When I cut our speed so that we don’t shoot past our target, the wind pushes the bow away before James can grab the ring with the boat hook. The second attempt fails. The third gets us almost, but not quite, there.

The fourth attempt. I have to go further toward shore before making my turn, but OH GOD! Am I going to hit that man in a row boat? I don’t. Now the bow appears to be even with the mooring line and I think I should turn parallel to it, but James says, “Keep going. A little further.”

Just when it seems as though I am about to run over the mooring line, James says, “Turn now!” and “Stall!” I push the tiller over to turn the boat and shift into reverse just long enough to stop us.

And he’s got it! He has hold of the ring we need to tie the boat to. I put the outboard in neutral and go forward to help him thread the bowline through the ring – but I can’t reach it! My arms aren’t long enough.

I hold the ring with the boat hook while James passes the bowline through the ring. Now the trick is to keep the boat parallel to the mooring line so that we can attach a stern line to another ring. Somehow, we manage that.

We put the boat to rights, cleaning, putting on the sail cover, putting away the jibs, packing anything we need to take with us: two bags of garbage, James’ big black duffel, perishable foods, my purse, and my backpack with all the important things. My dark blue backpack has my journal, sketchbook, paints, watercolor paper, and meds. I don the old life jacket, the one we wouldn’t cry over if it gets stolen. I climb down into the kayak and James hands me everything we are taking with us. He padlocks the hatch, and climbs in behind me.

James paddles us to shore where we unload the kayak and pull it up above the high tide line, to rest with several other dingies. We stash the old life jackets and the paddle under the Kayak, hoping these will be safe here until James returns in a couple of days.

We find a nearby dumpster for the garbage and walk up to Fairhaven carrying everything else. We stop for lunch at Colophon Cafe, but my stomach is … raw. Queasy. All I can handle is a glass of ice tea and an English muffin. I still feel … logy. We started off from Chuckanut Bay before I was quite awake and I never did get my usual slow wake-up time. Is that why taking the helm terrified me so? Is that why I feel shaky still?

What did I learn from this? If accepting new challenges helps to keep us young, as studies show, I must have added five years to my life today!

What we need is not a peaceful existence, but a challenge we can strive to meet by applying all the skills at our disposal.

Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles, Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life

For more of Suzanna Leigh’s writing and art please visit her substack, Drinking Color.

October 17, 2023

About Author

suzanna Suzanna Leigh is a long time island resident, writer, and artist. "I used to visit my parents, who moved to Vashon in 1969, when my father retired from the Air Force. One time when I came to visit, as a single mother with a four year old son, I stayed. I grew up an 'Air Force brat', living all over the nation and in Europe, but Vashon is the first place that felt like home.