How Do You Handle A Blow & A Broach?

Photo: Jack Cusano, Calgary Sun

“Head Up!… Head Up!… Bring her into the wind!”

I could barely hear the skipper screaming his command above the roar of the ninety km/hr wind and the whine of our diesel engine racing at full throttle just beneath my feet. He was only three meters away from me, on the cabin top, clutching the mast of the ten meter sailboat, and trying to extinguish the unwanted power of the remaining mainsail we could not get down in time. The thirty meter high wall of blowing topsoil, and accompanying plow wind we had seen rushing down the Rocky Mountains from Banff only moments earlier, had now fully enveloped us. Earlier whitecaps on Ghost Lake had been blown away. We were nearly blinded by an angry white froth swirling n the first two meters above the surface.

For the third time, heart in mouth, I obediently pushed the tiller hard to starboard in an effort to drive the bow into the wind, so that we could wrestle the last of the sail down. Responding to the helm, the full length of the fast turning boat and it’s remaining sail were temporarily broadside to the maelstrom.

Once again, the laboring diesel and the five tonne momentum could not conquer the wind. The boat refused to come up. Again, we broached…mast forced flat on the water…two tonnes of lead keel rising like a surfacing submarine…four frightened first time sailing students arching back awkwardly in the partially submerged cockpit staring straight down at a torrent of water. Repeating the first two attempts, the mass of the keel refused to let us, and the boat, go down. Up through the froth the mast rose, the bow turned back to starboard, and we raced downwind. And then…it was over. A fellow student next to me remarked “The first time we popped back up, I knew we would be OK.”

The storm cell raced eastward towards Calgary, where it removed roofs from houses in the Northwest. The Cochrane Fire Department arrived, and launched zodiacs to assist hypothermic boaters who had been driven onto the rocks. A rescue helicopter scanned the water from a low elevation. Soaked, we powered back to the docks, and a prairie sun broke through as if to refute that anything had ever happened.

An hour or so later, I called my wife at work from my nearby RV, and related the thrill/terror events of those forty five minutes seared into my life story. I recall saying “I think I have just seen about the worst the weather and water has to throw at me. I’m buying lead ballast on my future sailboat.” A week later, we repeated the course, with big grins, tacking across the same lake in beautiful sunshine and ideal breezes. I am so glad that I did not shrink away from sailing as a result of that experience. I have gone on to earn more skill accreditations, and we have both enjoyed many stretching adventures and new friendships together on fresh and salt water over the ensuing seventeen years.

So what did I learn from that weekend on the small lake in the Alberta foothills?

  1. A deep desire and strong motivation can overcome fear and adversity?

Events like this are going to happen in business and all through life. You need to survive them first, and then decide how you’re going to deal with the aftermath. It’s one reason, in my opinion, to be pursuing only your greatest passions. You can make the most progress there, while overcoming obstacles with the resilience that comes with motivation and resolve.

  1. Expert people and quality equipment are a good value. Great training and expert support are very inexpensive ways to build skill and personal depth. In sailing, business, and life, I have appreciated the training and mentoring received while the skies were clear. My confidence for dreaming and facing future adventures was reinforced. Good gear that costs a little extra is less likely to let you down when the chips are down. Our present boat, s/v Go With GUST-O is an example of that advice put into practice.
  2. Prepare well. Then push your thrill/terror threshold. Do your homework to the best of your ability, and then, Go With GUSTO! Are you pursuing your true passion? How prepared are you for a blow and a broach? How will you respond? Will your world get smaller, or will you get bigger? Who do you have in your life that is helping you to Go With GUSTO?
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