What Do We Do With the Frightened Sailor?… Palm Beach, Sydney.

If you have been following my blog lately, you’ll know that we are currently on holidays at Palm Beach, Sydney.At least, we were. School and us have gone back and I’m a bit behind with my posts.

Palm Beach has to be pretty close to paradise. If you have ever watched the TV drama series Home & Away, you’ll be familiar with its glorious surf beach with golden sand and the historic lighthouse standing sentry. However, there is another, equally stunning, side to paradise.The Pittwater side with its sparkling, diamond carpet of relatively still water…a calm, tranquil alter-ego just perfect for sailing and other water sports.

We are a sailing family. Well, at least we are trying to be.There is only one thing standing in our way… FEAR! Our daughter is terrified of sailing. Well, it’s not just sailing. It’s kayaking, swimming in the surf and even catching the ferry when there are big waves. This fear is augmented by numerous things living in the water such as stingrays, sharks and oysters. With the prospect of being under sail with the boat keeling over, all these fears magnified and just kept growing and growing. Ultimately, they grew into one of those DIY Monsters, which you mix up yourself in the bathtub, escapes and then goes feral leaving a horrific trail of destruction in its wake.

As Miss is only 8 years old and we can’t just leave her behind, we either had to persuade her to come out on the yacht or someone (and we all know that means me!!) had to stay home. Me loves sailing and didn’t want to be left out. I should also point out that if you think I’m being hard on our daughter, she actually belongs to cubs at Sea Scouts and quite happily kayaks along with them. While this seems like a glaring contradiction, she assures me there are no sharks at cubs. I guess they haven’t signed up

While Miss was refusing to go anywhere near the yacht, sailing conditions were absolutely perfect. The sun was sparkling across Pittwater and the wind was perfect. Absolutely perfect! The rest of us couldn’t wait to get out there. Hoist the mainsail and feel that wind! Wow! It’s exhilarating!

However, nobody should ever under-estimate the power, the force, the mighty grip of fear. I suspect that fear is an even a mightier force than love. It consumes your body, mind and soul taking you captive and stopping you from spreading your wings and flying. Instead, you’re in prison. Locked in the dreaded darkness of the dungeon. There is no light.

To make matters worse, you’re often perfectly conscious about the irrationality of your fear and would dearly like to break free. Yet, you can’t and no amount of rational thought can make you do it either. You remain in fear’s grip, by now it’s willing slave. After all, anything is better than confrontation, although you know full well that is the only way you’ll ever break free.

Trying to clarify her fears, I asked Miss if she was afraid of water. She fervently rejected hydrophobia, saying: “Of course not. “I drink water. It would be good to have a fear of water because then I could drink Coke.” (I don’t think so!!) So now we were moving towards cymophobia, a fear of waves. However, this didn’t incorporate the stingrays, sharks and oysters. While I had attributed her fear of stingrays to Steve Irwin’s untimely death and statistically very unlikely. However, it turns out that even the intrepid natives of South America fear a freshwater stingray called the Potamotrygon even more than the piranha. The piranha is a character who deserves some very healthy respect,  so perhaps I should take our daughter’s concerns a little more seriously… especially as her Dad trod on a stringray recently. Fortunately, he was wearing his boat shoes and was okay.

Miss has also been concerned about being attacked by a shark. I didn’t take that concern too seriously either. What are the chances? At the same time, I don’t go swimming in Pittwater. I know the sharks are out there, including the snap-happy bullshark and I’m not trusting their lousy eyesight. Every now and then, a rogue bullshark has attacked.  In February 2002, Paul McNamara, 35, was forced to clamber onto a buoy and flag down a passing fishing vessel after a bull shark knocked him from his kayak near Cabarita Marina, on the Parramatta River in Sydney. That was a long time ago but I wouldn’t classify a fear of being attacked by a bull shark as an irrational fear… just statistically unlikely. The bull sharks are definitely out there. Indeed, up North they have been caught as far inland as Lismore, 50 kilometres from the coast. You could almost say that no waterway is safe.

My daughter’s fears are perhaps not so irrational after all just statistically unlikely. If you want to have fun and carpe diem seize the day, you have to allow for an element of risk and have a go. The fact that she could kayak happily at scouts, gave me hope that she could go kayaking and maybe even go sailing with us given a bit of healthy encouragement.

Here I am swanning around on the yacht, wishing we were sailing but still making the most of it all.

Here I am swanning around on the yacht, wishing we were sailing but still making the most of it all.

In hindsight, we should have left her with Grandma but being the eternal optimist, I’d hoped that once she got out there, she would get over it. We also hoped that a bit of exposure and a good experience might lay the groundwork for next time. This meant we adopted a gently, very gently approach. Use the motor. Keep the boat vertical. No leaning over.After all, avoidance does nothing to reduce our fears. If we keep going round and round our fear like a constant roundabout, we’ll never build those all-important neuro-pathways to help us get across, overcome it and finally develop resilience. So we wanted her to try. Have a go.However, we coul’ve taken her out another day when the wind was lousy and we had to use the motor. This probably wasn’t the day to mess around with Miss.

I must say too that my Dad is very good at working through such fears and he’s had many years of patience practice. I remember the little chats we used to have when he’d remove a splinter ever so gently from my finger while I was hysterically freaking out about the great, big, ginormous needle. Or, when Dad took me for driving lessons. I wasn’t a natural and was also a nervous wreck but Dad kept his cool. Whenever I was afraid of driving anywhere and sometimes this fear really was very intense, he would logically ask me if my driver’s licence preventing me from driving anywhere. Of course not. I was free to drive anywhere and everywhere and his encouragement has helped me work through so much fear.  He had also helped me learn how to ride a bike. That was yet another real test of endurance. Of course, we didn’t know at the time that all my troubles were more than anxiety or clumsiness but Dad had helped me through.So after going through all this with me, I had every faith in Dad. If anyone could ease Miss through her fears of sailing, he could do it.

Although I have overcome or reduced much of my own fear through slow but steady exposure, you can’t push, drag and force somebody else to overcome theirs. They need to take their time. Be ready. That’s all very well if they are just putting themselves out and narrowing their own horizons. However, when you want to do something as part of a group or family and the rest of you are trying to carpe diem seize the day and they’re refusing to join in, it can be inconvenient at best and catastrophically depressing at worst. All your grand plans are ruined, lying around your ankles like an old pair of undies with worn out elastic…dead!

Our son loves sailing and being oout on the yacht.

Our son loves sailing and being out on the yacht.

However, given my own swag of irrational fears, you could say it’s poetic justice. Now, I am the one being held back instead of the one freaking out with anxiety and panic and avoidance. That well might be the case but why did she have to pick sailing? Why couldn’t she have shared my fear of false teeth? None of us have false teeth and we could’ve all been out there sailing enjoying the brilliant conditions not worrying about anybody’s teeth falling out. I know. I know. Life wasn’t meant to be fair but I love sailing and it’s a very rare treat. It hurt to come so close and yet so far.

Anyway, despite her protest, we managed to get Miss out on the yacht but we promised not to go under sail. Instead, we were puttering around Pittwater like a geriatric. I’m sure I’ve paddled faster in the kayak and I don’t paddle all that quicklyWe were actually on a yacht with just the right amount of wind and yet…! That’s what compromise is all about. Compromise means nobody is happy. Our daughter didn’t want to be on the boat at all and the rest of us wanted to be out sailing. Boo who!!

Mister operating the tiller on the punt from the marina. He did an excellent job.

Mister operating the tiller on the punt from the marina. He did an excellent job.

On the bright side, our son enjoyed operating the tiller and he even had a turn driving the punt which drove us to and from the yacht. He did an excellent job. But it wasn’t sailing.

Our daughter farewelling the sailors with both feet firmly planted on terra firma.

Our daughter fare welling the sailors with both feet firmly planted on terra firma.

Mister and Geoff had a chance to revisit sailing in the Laser, a small sailing skiff, over the weekend. Unfortunately, the wind was all over the shop but Mister was improving and getting the hang of things. It was great just to see father and son out there bonding, connecting and enjoying the great outdoors under sail.

Geoff and Mister finally get out to sail. I missed out but I did get to go out in the kayak.

Geoff and Mister finally get out to sail. I missed out but I did get to go out in the kayak.

At the rate Mister is growing and the way he is taking to sailing,  I’m pretty sure that with a bit of extra spinach, we’ll have our very own Popeye the Sailor Man. You never know. The spinach might even work on our daughter. It might just give her the strength to overcome her fear and find a love of sailing like the rest of us. Who knows? We might actually be able to raise the sail one day. I did get one positive sign.

Miss pretending to be out in the kayak. It's a beginning.

Miss pretending to be out in the kayak. It’s a beginning.

While Geoff and Mister were out sailing, she climbed into the kayak which was tied up to the boat ramp and said: “I’m pretending to kayak”. That was quite a step forward. Small steps…small steps…

Perhaps, the journey of a thousand miles has just begun.

As you can see, I remain the eternal optimist!

xx Rowena

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