Into the wind

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dartSailing is my switch, my release, my heaven. A good day on the water is all I need to get back my wings, to expand my range of vision, to put things back into perspective. It’s marvelous to be suspended between the water and the air, feeling the tug of the updrift and the slap of the waves, reading the sky and the water, deep in conversation with the elements.

I’ve always loved boats. One of my earliest memories is in a boat all by myself: I must be 2 or 3, and I’m on Drummond Island sitting in our canoe quite early one morning before the rest of the family has woken up, and I’ve pulled my life-vest on over my legs, like a pair of pants. I don’t think I’ve got it on right, but who cares, someone will help me. The world is a friendly place, right? So hey, I’m ready to go. Where is everyone?

It was out of the question for me to learn how to sail when I was at school and then at college. Courses and renting a boat were luxuries I simply could not afford. But then I met Helmut, and everything changed. He had learned sailing as a teenager involved in church youth work, so sailing was more or less normal for him – or rather, it was the one big luxury that was worth working towards. Our first vacation together was sailing in Holland, where we rented a little yacht, sailing in tandem with friends (Hi Uli and Katharina!). We had just pulled out into one of the Meers, and those Dutch sailors were flitting by on all sides, and I had just learned about who has the right of way, when he smiled at me, handed over the tiller and said, „Your turn. I’ll go and make us some tea,“ and disappeared below deck. Yikes! But of course that’s the way to do it. He was an excellent teacher.


I’ve learned so much from sailing – some of the most important lessons of life, actually.

  1. The first and most important one is that everything is in motion, the situation is constantly changing, and you need to be completely open and aware, here and now, to recognize what is going on.
  2. The second lesson is that you don’t necessarily need to actually do anything as long as you are on top of things. Too much action is not good. The elements are carrying you, and your boat will let you know what you need to do when the time is right.
  3. I learned to sail using my whole body rather than just my hands. It’s so much easier to pull your weight and be in control when you can give everything you’ve got.
  4. I’ve also recognized that I can almost always find an easier way to do things, a way that suits my strength and abilities.
  5. Other lessons have to do with the other people on board. There’s that issue of giving and following commands, right? Well, at first I found that a bit difficult to take, so I coined the phrase „On board, Helmut is always right.“ I soon recognized that the issue was not who was right, but that once you’ve decided on a mavoeuvre, there can be no discussion, let alone criticism, until the manoeuvre has been completed. Afterwards you celebrate it or discuss how to improve on it – but it’s absolutely deadly if you are not totally together during the manoeuvre itself. Good lesson, right?

We’ve been out in all kinds of weather. In one particularly heavy storm you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. As Helmut went to the bow of the heaving ship to take down the jib, with the waves coming up across the deck and filling up the cockpit like a bathtub, I recognized that I would never be able to rescue him if he went overboard. Thinking back, I know that we let the situation get out of hand. When we were out in a similar storm last year, we handled it cooly and with aplomb, and it was a wonderful challenge. But that first time, boy, I was honestly ready to meet my maker.

When we still lived in Konstanz, Ralph kindly let Helmut borrow his yacht for trips on the Bodensee. The charming harbors around the lake come rushing back to me, with the remembered scent of water and apples and fish making me just a little homesick.

Then, a few years ago, Harry, a dear friend of Helmut’s from way back, gave him his catamaran to use on the Ammersee. Life changed for us completely that summer. Since then I’ve learned to steer this wild thing on twin hulls that lifts out of the water and takes you flying across the lake. It takes quite a bit of strength to sail the cat on a close reach, so I can’t go out alone unless the winds are light. But this boat is really the ultimate partner toy, anyway. We take turns at the tiller and hiking out, and I tell you, nothing makes me happier than catching the wind and hearing my sweetheart whooping with joy behind me.


I took a sailing course to get a basic license, and I can really recommend that if you want to get into sailing. The best part for me was learning about the physics of the boat. I did my course with ABC Wassersport. Last August I had the pleasure of sailing with ABC in Croatia with Werner, a wonderful, inspiring captain who has sailed around the world, built airports, and most importantly, knows where to find the best cuisine in every port. I was the English teacher on his boat doing „English on Board“. There we were, seven people who had never met before, thrown together on a ship for a week. I can tell you, we had a blast. It was one of the most positive experiences I have had in many years. We’re going out again this year, and I’m really excited to be on Silke’s ship this time around. It will be great to sail with a woman captain. I’m sure you have realized by now how liberating sailing is for a woman. Oh, by the way, I hear that Werner’s boat still has a few open berths.

ropesSo have I wet your appetite? Enough talk for now, because I can hear and feel the breeze, so it’s time to shut down my computer and head out into the wind.

  • I sail with ABC Wassersport in Munich. Check them out :-). Thanks to Jo for getting me involved, and to ABC for having me back.
  • There are so many sites to practise your sailing language and skills. Start with Sail Safe by the National Maritime Museum.
  • You may already have seen these fun sailing interactives by National Geographic in my links.

Learning the ropes – Vokabeln an Bord

switch – Schalter
release – Entlastung
heaven – Himmel
range of vision – Blickfeld
marvelous – wunderbar
suspended – schwebend
the tug of the updrift – der Zug des Auftriebs
the slap of the waves – das Klatschen der Wellen
life-vest – Rettungsveste
out of the question – kommt nicht in Frage
renting – mieten
pull out into – rausfahren
Dutch – holländisch
to go flitting by – vorbeiflitzen
the right of way – Vorfahrt
tiller – Pinne
below deck – unter Deck
Yikes! – Hilfe!
aware – bewusst
recognize – erkennen
be on top of things – verstehen, was Sache ist
pull your weight – sein Gewicht heben, d.h. für sich verantwortlich sein
command – Befehl
difficult to take – schwer zu ertragen
to coin a phrase – einen Begriff prägen
let alone – geschweige denn
bow – Bug
heaving ship – stampfendes Boot
jib – Fock (Vorsegel)
rescue – retten
overboard – überbord
let the situation get out of hand – die Situation außer Kontrolle geraten lasen
handle it cooly and with aplomb – es ruhig und gekonnt regeln
ready to meet my maker – bereit, meinen Schöpfer zu treffen
harbor – Hafen
come rushing back to me – ist plötzlich wieder präsent
scent – Duft
make me homesick – macht mir Heimweh
steer – steuern
twin hulls – zwei Rümpfe
sail on a close reach – hart am Wind segeln
to hike out – ausreiten
to whoop – jubeln, vor Freude schreien
cuisine – (Regional-)Küche
port – Hafen
have a blast – einen Riesenspaß haben
liberating – befreiend
berth – Schlafplatz an Bord
wet your appetite – Appetit machen
breeze – Brise
head out – rausgehen

Learning English tip of the week

You learn language by speaking and doing simultaneously. That’s what makes “English on Board” so effective. While you are doing something challenging, the adrenaline will block your speech center. You need to relax and then do it again, repeating the activity and the words together to anchor them firmly.

The picture shows a Dart 16. We sail a Dart 18, but the picture was just so right. The other pictures are by Michael Bührke and Polonius from


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