The Sailing Family

It is amazing to me how quickly families build their traditions. Some families camp, some go to amusement parks, some ride bikes. There are collector families, sporty families and reading families. There are no end of activities that parents drag their children into until suddenly, just in a moment, you become that family. The one whose Facebook wall looks like it could be the poster family for the National Association of _________.

For 15 years, we’ve been The Sailing Family.

We bought our first sailboat, a 24′ Hunter, when my daughter was nine months old. Neither my husband nor I had ever owned a sailboat, but we both love the water and had been in it or around it our whole lives. He’d wooed me from the wheel of a 16′ metallic blue Checkmate with more horsepower than good sense would allow and I fell in love with him in spite of it. We’re both of us creatures of the Great Lakes.

That summer was a learning experience, for all of us. We learned rigging and points of sail. We learned that a pack and play fits perfectly wedged between two bench seats. We learned that it takes two people to come in and out of dock, but that once you’re under sail only one person is needed. We learned the weather we could handle and the weather we couldn’t. Our little one got her sea legs before she could walk steady by hanging onto the lifeline.

Over the years, weekends became a blur of weather checks and phone calls. On every beautiful day the calls would go out to friends and family to see if anyone wanted to join us. We packed away life jackets of every size, ready for the inevitable, “Can my friends all come?” We crafted a standard warning for the parents, ‘When you’re in a sailboat you can’t be on a clock. We’ll be back when we’re back.’

For 15 years I was the family photojournalist documenting the adventures of The Sailing Family. I’ve got pictures of kids (mine and others) at every stage, from handheld infant to teenager, in life jackets of every size and color. Ports we’ve sailed to, troubles we’ve survived. Sunsets and sunrises. Burgees, docks and buoys. A lot of pictures of our first boat and the ‘step-up’ one we bought five years ago when our family outgrew it.

And, my album is done because this week we put that second sailboat on the market.

When we listed it the first time, two years ago, I was raw and hurt. I wasn’t ready to do it; I wasn’t ready to say good-bye to being The Sailing Family. I had no idea what we were if we weren’t sailing people. I didn’t want to just be a ‘sit at home’ family or a ‘watch tv’ family. In my heart we were sailors — I was a sailor. I threw myself into the process to prove it, so that when we got an offer for our asking price we turned it down.

But last summer we started a new family tradition. We stuck with the water, but we went for speed and tested out a couple of wave runners. Going 40 miles an hour on a floating motorcycle is fun and (bonus!) I don’t look bad in a wetsuit. This spring we decided to step up to an open bow jet boat. The kids, who were bored senseless of going nowhere at four miles an hour, couldn’t be happier to be joining the ‘noisy boat’ set. We have visions of water skiing and tubing, and building a whole new set of memories.

So, this time I’m ok. It took me two years, but I’ve realized that we aren’t just The Sailing Family. No single activity or place or thing defines who we are and what holds us together. Sure, we’re still The Boating Family now, but who knows what we’ll be in another fifteen years?

Maybe by then we’ll be The Sailing Family again, with grandkids.

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Middle-aged business exec who had aspirations of being a writer someday. I believe that lifting people up through authentic and vulnerable storytelling creates connection and possibility. My story may not be the most inspiring, but it is the one I know the best and have the right to share.

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