‘Sailing a reach’

“When you get to the end of your rope tie a knot and hang on”

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

This has been a weird week.

And it’s only Thursday so who knows what else might get thrown in my general direction before the weekend.

There’s been lots of introspection and trying to work things out/find next directions- much of which has been done through this little forum of mine here at colemining (thank you for your patience if you’re still following along).

I’m trying.  Really.  To keep it together.  To tie a knot.


It’s a lovely, sunny, breezy day here in this burg by the Great Lake, so between all the ropes and knots and winds, this most recent bout of wishing I was anywhere but here has me out on an imaginary sailboat, enjoying the day, instead of once again way too locked up in my brain.

I love sailing.  It’s been too long since I’ve been out on a boat, feeling the tension between controlling the tiller and the sails yet knowing that no matter how closely you watch and try to read your surroundings, the wind and the water are still in charge.  It’s about being in control- to a point, and going with the breeze- or choosing to drop the sail- when control slips through your hands like a recalcitrant jib sheet.

I’ve ended up in the drink far too many times to forget that seeming to be in control and being in control in actuality are two very different things.  Sailing is full of such lessons.

A whipping knot is a whipcord binding that is tied around the end of a rope to prevent its natural tendency to fray.  The sailmaker’s whipping is one of the most durable whipping knots, threading the twine diagonally through the rope and wrapping and reef knotting the end to secure the whole shebang.

Looks pretty well-wrapped, doesn’t it?

Since I’m feeling somewhat less than well-wrapped at the moment, and given the propensity of the ends of ropes to fray, in order to keep on holding on, per FDR’s advice, I’m feeling in definite need of a secure whipping (minds out of the gutter, people.  Keep with the context) just now.

There’s this song.

(‘of course there is a song’, you’re saying to yourself if you’ve come to know me at all).

It’s about running away and facing reality, and holding on and letting go.  And the comfort to be found in sailing and the ultimate consolation of music.  All at the same time.

It’s beautiful (like all CSN(Y) creations).

From Crosby, Stills and Nash’s 1982 album, Daylight Again, ‘Southern Cross’ describes an existential struggle and the wisdom that can be found under the constellation ‘Crux’, the Southern Cross, in the seas near French Polynesia.

In addition to being the Latin word for ‘cross’, a crux can be both the central, critical point and a puzzling or seemingly insoluble matter.

The Maori name for the Southern Cross is Te Punga– the anchor.  Stephen Stills sings that his ‘love is an anchor‘- both a good thing- for its stability, and not so great in light of his inability to let go of the past and move forward.

Fitting locale to try to figure things out, no?

Stephen based the song on one by Rick and Michael Curtis that needed some tweaking and focus.  He combined their original template with the long sailing trip he took after a major change in his life and transformed it into a story about using the power of the stars, water and winds to heal wounds and grant perspective.

The Curtis Brothers’ original song was called ‘Seven League Boots’, a nod to a motif used in European folkloric traditions, including the stories of Charles Perrault, whose use of pre-existing folk tales formed the foundation of fairy tales as a literary genre, and included such stories as Cinderella (Cendrillon) and Bluebeard (La Barbe bleu).

Seven league boots allow the wearer to stride said seven leagues with each step taken, and generally were given to the heroes of the stories by a magical intermediary seeking to help ensure the completion of an important task.

Jack the Giant Killer and Goethe’s Mephistopheles (in Faust), for example, use the boots to accelerate the action to the climax of their particular goals.

To sail ‘a reach’ is to sail approximately perpendicular to the wind and ‘a following sea’ describes wave direction that matches the direction the boat is traveling.  It is used interchangeably with the points of sail below a beam reach and suggests good winds and smooth sailing.

I find myself at a true crux right now- in both senses of the word.  No supernatural intercessor has shown up to hand me a pair of seven league boots, and I am, sadly, without access to a sailboat at the moment or the ability to visit Papaeete any time soon.

But, as Stephen notes, there is always something that I can rely on when the thinking and the analyzing and the planning next tacks have become too much, and coherence and optimism have left the building.

‘I have my ship, and all her flags are a’ flying, she is all that I have left, and music is her name.’

I will spend my evening in her company (perhaps with a Corona in hand in memory of good times with my sailing peeps) and be grateful for her continuing presence as my sailmaker’s whipping, until I’m ready to once again go looking for an ideal reach and calmly following sea.

‘In the Southern Cross’.

27 comments on “‘Sailing a reach’

  1. Cole, you describe your momentary place so poignantly, it hurts my heart. I know we have divergent points of view, but I’ll offer mine anyway. You said, “knowing that no matter how closely you watch and try to read your surroundings, the wind and the water are still in charge.” No accident to me that you chose a song about a cross, southern or otherwise. As you remind yourself this evening that you are in the passenger seat, take a deep breath and try to just trust the ride with Him as the Driver. He does have a marvelous plan for you. You know He said it wouldn’t be without troubles; just that He’d be with us every step along the way. Let it go, give it up, surrender – if only for just one night. What do you have to lose? Praying with you.

    • colemining says:

      Thank you for your thoughts and perspective- and for reading. I respect your beliefs, of course, but while I am well aware that no one person can expect to control all things, it is my belief that each of us, as individuals, and those other humans with whom we share this planet, are the source of all the guidance we need.
      I will be letting it go, for tonight, to collect my reserves, and then it will be back to work bringing what change and light I can into my own life, and (hopefully) the lives of others.

  2. Ste J says:

    I love the way your mind works linking all these things together…it was a real journey. Polynesia and Corona…it’s the perfect combination, except for Cagney and Lacey of course.

  3. […] already referenced this song this month, so I won’t talk about it again.  But it will be heard.  More than […]

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  5. […] We laughed for a long time about the repetitive nature of the clue.  Guid made us laugh a whole lot- on that cookout and so many other times over the years.  He was my first sailing teacher- he taught me to love the sport for itself and for the lessons that controlling a small boat on a big lake can teach you.  Lessons I spoke about here. […]

  6. Sailing songs offer such good metaphors, as does sailing itself.

    “. . . she is all that I have left and music is her name” is one of my favorite lyrics. Here’s another, about letting go and such:

    “It’s downhill all the way to the ocean/so, of course, the river always wants to flow/the river’s been here longer/it’s older and stronger and knows where to go. . .”

    (There’s always a song with me, too.)

    • colemining says:

      Hey HC- will have to check out this David Wilcox guy (we have our own David Wilcox, here in Canada)- I’m not familiar with his music but will definitely have a look. Thanks for the hook up- and for reading! One of the best things about being human? There’s ALWAYS a song!

      • Since my comment was so long, I’ve abbreviated it to this: Yes, I’m aware that of Canada’s DW. 🙂

        Glad to have taken the time to visit and follow and now that I know you’re a music lover, I’m looking forward even more to reading what you’re thinking.

      • colemining says:

        ‘Our’ DW played my high school way back in the day and I actually worked with his daughter at one point. He’s quite the strange fish- but ‘Do the Bearcat’ was a staple at camp dances a couple of decades ago.

        Some days a great song is all that gets me through. Songs are stories- and I LOVE our stories. Very happy to have you along for the ride, HC!

  7. […] know I love Stevie Stills. I write about him a fair bit. Back when he was with a band called Buffalo Springfield he penned a little […]

  8. Many years late to this blog— but what is time…Just back (real, and literally) from Papeete, Tuamotus, Marquesas, Cooks… High seas, sea anchor kept us safely on course…Southern Cross was guiding and sparkling. Music is truly the wind in my sails and the following seas…and the lost love may just be our youth. We may be in some burg on the shore of a Great Lake, hating it, with no sailboat heading us south at the moment…but open ocean, sailing memories and music now are our following seas.

    • colemining says:

      Thank you for the visit- and for your thoughts on this old post of mine. The unseasonable snowfall is making those memories of sailing a little harder to come by, but I appreciate you reminding me that the hope is never far away.

  9. bethbyrnes says:

    Cole, you hit on three of my favorite subjects, including music, CS&N, and Southern Cross. The minute I got my first iPod, I put Southern Cross on it. I have everything they ever did and have memorized all of it. I love them!

    I am not a great sailor and have had some scary experiences on sail boats when I was asked to crew. So I have to appreciate that some people are perfect for it. One of these days, I will put up the shadow to this post of my clumsy and amusing (now, not then), brushes with mortality on my first boyfriend’s 27′ boat. It will make some people laugh, others shake their head in pity for me and still others cry.

    Meanwhile, I need nights with music and think I will put my ear buds in and revisit Southern Cross.

    Hugs from the land of the inexplicable insanity … the lower 50.

    • colemining says:

      I love all these visits to this old post- especially since I’m having to take FDR’s advice and hang on REAL tight this week (work issues compounding. Need to come to some real decisions soon). ‘Southern Cross’ remains one of my all-time faves. I have it on vinyl, on CD and, of course, electronically on the iPod.

      Some day we’ll have to exchange sailing stories. I’m a pretty solid sailor- but the sea’s a hard mistress (or, in my case usually, the lake) and the unpredictability of the wind and water can lead to all kinds of (mis)adventures. Especially since I really love the really little boats (Lasers, and the like).

      Hugs back to you- from the irritatingly snow-covered (it’s freakin APRIL!) City by the Lake. xo

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