A few months ago, Francesca wrote about the lessons she learned during the pandemic while working on a sailboat named Dove. This post was originally published in Italian and English on Francesca nei mari del Sud.
Test passed! Dove is back on the open water.
Time is passing way too quickly this year. According to my plans in January, right now I should have been in Italy enjoying the Mediterranean summer. And instead…! Over the last few months, I kept track of days by the progresses I was making on Dove, a sailboat I’ve been restoring in Fiji.
Weekdays moved slowly. I wouldn’t have much time to spend on board after work (it gets dark early). Sometimes, the rain would ruin plans, or the battery of the drill would abandon me and I’d have to call it for the day. But slowly, I managed to tick all the items off the “list of indispensable jobs” to do in order to go sailing safely.
This weekend, I went for a test sail in Suva Bay. Success! I was super happy, proud, and relieved after so much work. The relationship that Dove and I established “ashore” will now have to evolve to include listening and getting to know her reactions in the water–until I can maneuver her with my eyes closed. These first sails have somehow represented the closure of a chapter and, since my last post, this boat (which is now also half mine!) has taught me many other lessons.
1. Always ask for help and advice from those who have more experience… but have the confidence to do things by yourself
Although I consider myself a proud person, I have never had problems asking for help or for an opinion from those who I think have more experience than me in something. I love learning new things and having other perspectives on how to solve a problem.
On board Dove, several issues arose along the way, some that worried me more, others less and I reached out to many sailing friends whose opinion I trust (I have many, I realized!) to get their point of view.
Normally, I am someone who approaches new things with enthusiasm and indeed a bit of attitude, as a challenge. But I have always had an awe (only) for sailing-related things, which makes me humble, or perhaps not confident enough in doing something new, because I want it to be perfect. Yet, every time I did sailing-related things for the first time, being afraid of not being able to give my best, I noticed how actually I had all the skills to do them and do them well. When I worked as a skipper on Bella at the age of 22, when I maneuvered alone inside the port for the first time, when I started teaching at Glènans, etc.
This time, what worried me most was a small resin job that needed to be done around a stanchion’s four holes, before drilling it back in. The story went on for three weeks, first waiting for a friend to have time to do it with me, then waiting for a professional to do it for me. But after days and days of “sorry… tomorrow, tomorrow” and the mounting frustration for not being able to move forward with the rest of the work, I said to myself ” you know what? F it! I’ll do it myself.”
At that point, I had a vast culture of all types of resin and working techniques with fiberglass–thanks to the many friends consulted and to what I read online. I did a job that I am very satisfied with.
In short, the lesson is that it’s nice to trust other people’ opinion, but it’s very important to have confidence in ourselves. We are able to do much more than what we think/fear.
2. Making mistakes* is REALLY the only way to learn
This lesson is nothing new, but REALLY it is only from the mistakes (at least, from the practical ones) that we can deeply learn. We shouldn’t be afraid of failing, because we can always start over and do things better. I think that precisely this fear of failure has slowed me down, in some moments, to dare to do some works alone (see the resin job).
On Dove there haven’t been many mistakes (don’t worry, Ryan), but the ones I made, I solved them well and I learned a lot. I can handle these tasks even better if there is ever a next time. I think that too often society pushes people to a successful model in which failure is banned, as if it was a point of no return to be ashamed of. Instead, really, mistakes are what makes those who want to improve, grow .
(* they are rarely irreparable)
3. Our priorities are not those of others
Over the past few months Dove has been my priority. My daily thoughts revolved around how to complete some jobs, how to solve problems, how to advance and finish all the small steps necessary to bring her back sailing, safely. And, as I said, I was never afraid to ask for advice from friends whom I thought knew more about a certain topic, often finding myself waiting impatiently for an answer that, I thought, would allow me to move on.
But at some point I realized with great clarity and amazement (for not having understood it before!) that Dove was only my priority. I could not expect people to answer me straight away, precisely and in detail, given that they were busy with other things. Those who did help me, did so out of kindness and affection.
4. Objective: balance
These months of work have been a swing of emotions, with peaks of enthusiasm (when I drilled back in the bow pulpit, when I did the resin job, when I put the stanchions and lifeline back, when I finished painting the deck, etc. ) and abysses of anxiety (did I do something wrong? Where/how do I install the solar panel? Will a lot of water get in from the crack in the cockpit on this night of hellish rain? Etc.) which left me emotionally exhausted.
One night, when I woke up at 2 am and I started thinking about the crack in the cockpit, I realized that I had to take a deep breath and start aiming to find a balance. Otherwise, the enthusiasm would turn into preoccupation. I’ve always had difficulty taming my intense enthusiasm, and now with Dove I’m trying not to let it overwhelm me. I am trying to build an embankment around this passion.
Inside, the enthusiasm flows. Outside, the rest of life keeps happening. They are equally important.
5. Do not be demoralized by those who ask “So, when will you sail?”
When I started working on this project in March, more and more people started asking me “So, when will you sail?”
Most of those asking saw a hull floating and assumed that it was enough to sail away to some remote island–the dream sailboats are often associated with.
None of those who asked, however, had a real idea of what a sailing boat entails and what it takes to make her sail (otherwise they would not have asked). I found myself increasingly frustrated having to respond with the list of jobs that were still missing, even if they did not understand them. I felt like I had to justify myself, as if I wasn’t the first one who wanted to go out to sea as soon as possible!
In the past three months, every day that I was onboard I took a step forward or backwards, but I always had a very specific goal. To be honest, I would have preferred that those who asked me “so, when will you sail?” would have asked “do you need any help to finish and go sailing?” instead (thanks to those who did it). Two very different mindsets. The lesson I learned from this frustration was, in addition to exercising my, sometimes scarce, patience, was not to let myself be demoralized by passers-by who don’t know what they are talking about, but to stay focused on my goals, and be positive.
What sweetened this bitterness a little bit was the kindness with which many who work and “live” the Yacht Club have often given me a hand. Although my relationship with Dove has been quite “lonely,” both for the inevitable social distancing imposed by COVID first, but also because, as I wrote, Dove was only MY priority, the Yacht Club “microcosm” never made me feel alone, but indeed, often pampered.
Whether it was an advice, an encouragement, an helping hand to unscrew a particularly tight bolt or to tighten a shroud, many have helped me keep on going with a smile on my face.