Captain’s School: Conquering Fears

“I figured that was the best reason to do it.  Because I was afraid to.”

This was something a very good friend of mine told me years ago.  (Sonnie, if you’re reading this, thank you!)  She was talking, at first, about starting triathlon training because she was afraid to swim long distances, but she found the principle so inspiring she applied it to many other “obstacles” in her life—becoming a single parent, moving to another state, starting a new job—and she succeeded in all of them.  The theory always stuck with me.  So simple.  So true.  If you’re avoiding doing something you want to do because you are afraid, that is the very best reason to do it.  Conquer your fears!

That’s what I am doing this summer.  As many of you may have seen in the announcement at the end of my most recent YouTube video, I will be joining in the Pensacola a la Habana race this April with SailLibra in order to get more days on the water for a goal I have set for myself this summer.  While the big goal is to get my Captain’s License, the bigger accomplishment I seek to achieve is to get over one very big fear I have had for a while.  One I have had for too long.  It frustrates me, frightens me and makes me want to do just as Sonnie said: Do it because I’m sick of being afraid of it.

What am I afraid of?

Steering the boat.  Not so much when we’re out there in the big blue.  (There are many, hundreds, of reasons why I love offshore sailing, but one is … there’s not many things to run into out there.)  And not so much when we’re on a steady tack and just holding a heading.  But I am terrified of steering our boat in and out of the dock, through tight channels and around shoals and other obstacles.  I have a huge fear of crashing her into pilings, other boats, rocky bottoms, big concrete sea walls.  I’m seeing this all in my mind as I write this, just as I always do when I think about docking our boat.  And, that’s awful!  I want to travel the world by sailboat.  I want to go cruising!  While it’s great that Phillip is an excellent helmsman and I’m a pretty kick-ass First Mate, I shouldn’t let that fear get the best of me.  Something could happen to Phillip.  He could fall overboard.  Become incapacitated.  Or heck, maybe I will want or need to single-hand at some point.  Just to give him a break or because, whatever, life happens.  Some of my very best friends are single-handed female sailors because their husbands passed away immediately and unexpectedly and they inspire me to no end because they still get their boats out and go.  (Bridgette, Pam, I am so proud of you!)  All of that to say, you never know what the future holds and there is no excuse for living in fear.  This is the year I conquer my fears.

So, this summer Video Annie is going to sea school!  We’re focusing on education, training and, most importantly, sticking Annie behind the wheel.  Even when she’s scared.  Even when the boat is nearing the bock.  Even when it’s a difficult situation and she wants to throw her hands up and have someone else take the wheel.  Captains Randy and Ryan with SailLibra have been gracious enough to offer me time on their day charter boats (an Irwin 37 and Beneteau 35) while our Niagara is still down in the Keys.  Phillip and I are planning to bring her home in April and I’ll plan to take the helm the majority of that trip and our many trips this summer.  I am docking our boat dangit!  And then I’m de-docking it (Annie term) and docking it again.  I’m sick of getting this nervous knot in my stomach every time I take the wheel.  I want to look like this behind the wheel.  All kicked back and confident.

“Yeah buddy!” my Dad would say.

While the helm work is the pinnacle for me, Phillip and I also want to increase our training and education.  We have signed up for an STCW class (Standards for Training, Certification and Watchkeeping) in April and I will also begin Captain’s School in May.  After counting my days on the water (I can’t believe I have racked up so many in just over three years!), I only need a few dozen more to be able to apply for my license so I will be gathering Sea Service Forms and all of the other elements necessary to apply.  While I am excited and will be so proud to obtain my Captain’s License, it is all part of a bigger goal to become a more educated, knowledgable and a confident sailor.  I will be way more proud when I pull our beautiful Niagara into the slip and dock her all by myself.  Then de-dock and dock her ten more times in a row not because of luck but because I know how and can do it in all kinds of conditions, comfortably and confidently.  That is a day I will be incredibly proud.

So, my time has come.  I’m going to push myself and bring guys along for the ride.  Watch, learn and grow with us.

Step aside fear!  And give me that helm!

16 thoughts on “Captain’s School: Conquering Fears

  • Annie, so happy for you. Everything you mentioned is me… Fear, fear, fear. My goal in about a month when we get our boat out of the water is to not say to Rob, “it looks like it is going to rain”, maybe we should wait and go sailing later. I need to get over my fear. I know it does sound easier said than done, but we are moving forward in our goals
    and truly life is too darn short.

    • I’m totally with you Liz! I’ve been living with it for too long and I’m sick of being afraid of it. I don’t care if it’s raining, I’m docking the boat anyway! Ha! And, you’re totally right it may be more easily said than done because as my bow is nearing a piling I know I might crack a little, but I’m at least saying I’m going to try to be brave and try. And maybe I’ll bump some things (maybe a lot of things) and the world won’t end and my fear will lessen. That’s the hope. You inspire me too Liz! We can conquer these fears together!

  • I docked for the first time under sail last week. My biggest fear was doing just that! I love that you are doing this!!! Your an inspiration !!!

    • Great minds! I did too! Docked by myself last week. A few times and I bumped a few things and the world didn’t end. Thank you for writing in! Bumps or no bumps, I’m doing it!

  • Just remember Annie. If you go slow, You hit slow. Lol. Have you decided on six pack or tonnage license? The test that is super tricky is the rules of the road. Bunch of legal jargon and lawyers talk. Take the class. It is much easier that way. So exited for you. Next time we go out on 5oclock you can drive.

    • It’s our very own Brandon! Here at HaveWind! What an honor. Hey B. Thanks for the kind words (and sage advice) although I hope there won’t be tooooo much hitting. I guess if there is, we know a great hull repair guy ; ). I have heard the rules of road part is very tricky so I’ll definitely focus on that. And, I’m definitely taking the class. 10 days straight in Orange Beach. I’m going to get the six-pack. I’m excited and eager to feel more comfortable actually handling the boat. Next time on 5 O’Clock I’ll be doing this all by myself!! : D

  • Well one suggestion would be to beg, borrow or rent a sailing dinghy – something like a wayfarer for example, that has at least a main and jib, but no engine, and spend some time sailing and docking it in tight spaces using just the power of the wind and sails. Once you are comfortable doing this, the bigger boat will present fewer challenges, because you will have learned how the wind can be your friend in these situations, and you will not be depending on the engine to get you out of trouble. Once you have this confidence, it should be easy to scale up. Sure, a Niagara 35 is no dinghy, and less manoeverable in tight spaces, but the secret is to take your time and use the wind to your best advantage. When docking upwind – you can approach faster and let the wind be your brakes. Downwind stop farther away and let the wind carry you in. And finally remember you always have to maintainsome boatspeed to keep water moving over the rudder so you have the capacity to steer. Happy landings!

    • Ahhhhh … all very good pieces of advice. I hadn’t thought a lot about intentionally docking under sail but that’s probably excellent advice as we have all had the very unfortunate occurrence of the engine going out before reaching the dock, so I should know how to do that as well. And it will probably make docking under motor power seem like a piece of cake, right? That’s great advice. Thank you! (And hopefully no crash landings ; )

  • So happy to hear that I will not have to have “the talk” with you 🙂 I sensed that you were not into taking the helm when we have sailed together. But remember that a healthy dose of fear when at sea (and especially at the dock) is a good thing. Neptune demands respect 🙂 Mark Twain said it best…. Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear–NOT absence of fear. Looking forward to sailing again soon with you as as a fellow Captain! Cheers!

    • Man, coming from a Captain herself, this speaks volumes. Yes, I have been afraid and I’ll readily admit it. And I’ve been complacent because Phillip is so good at it and always does it but that’s no excuse. It’s time to get in there. Good thing I avoided “the talk.” I’ll bet you’re pretty stern when you give it! Ha! Thank you Lorrie. Means a lot to me to have someone like you to look up to.

  • Hi Annie Good luck with your school. I have been sailing for 14 yrs and still get the knot in stomach when docking on my boat When out I’m fine. I know I can dock but still get nervous. Engine would not start when it was blowing hard and I was able to bring her in under sail with no problem other then my nerves.. So I think I know what your talking about. Enjoy all your videos and thanks for sharing

    • Thank you Dennis! I definitely get sweaty and jittery. My heart races when the boat approaches the dock and I’m hoping to continue to ease that fear. It’s all about just getting over that “scary” hump by just freaking doing it already. Thanks for following and sharing your thoughts here.

  • Annie: An outstanding post. I love the replies, as well. Docking is a mechanical process. Break it into discrete elements and you master it.

    Two quick stories. My dad would always stop off a dock and discuss the docking with mom. Mom would then go and deploy the kids as required. (OK, You don’t have kids. She’d have set fenders and lines as required. Mom is a great image, none the less.) then we would go in. Years without a mishap and we lived aboard. In the run-up to our dating phase, Elizabeth said, “I can’t dock the boat (37 footer) there. Now she dock our own boat anywhere and everywhere.

    Now you know why cruisers like to anchor out!

    Best, Norm

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