In Cold Water

For the first time in my life, I have a proper hobby. When I moved back to Ireland there was one thing I simply had to try. This is what I look like in my dreams these days.


It’s Laser sailing and it’s the most fun I’ve had since I took up English teaching. Well nearly. I’m on a little learning journey which has led me to the bizarre situation where I find myself competing against 30 or so veritable marine gods every Sunday morning in races up and down a stretch of choppy, cold water best left to cormorants and shags.

The good thing about this is I have learned a few things about sailing. The learning curve is steep. In fact it’s so steep that I frequently end up traveling through the air next to the boat, limbs flailing before I plunge into the water, in Dublin Bay, in November. The thing I’ve learned most about though is learning itself.

Most of the following thoughts apply to language learning as much as laser sailing. As a disclaimer I would caution anyone planning to take up Laser sailing to ignore this whole post and go and get some proper lessons. Same would apply to language learners.

1. You’re going to look really bad a lot of the time and you’d better get over that right away. Spend 25 years eating too much and doing no exercise and you’re not going to impress anyone in a wetsuit. Fortunately there’s nobody you have to impress. This is a voyage of self-discovery and if you don’t like what you see then you might have thought twice about some of those hundreds of, nay thousands of (tens of thousands of???) pints of Guinness you guzzled in a misguided attempt to check that it was all Guinness to the bottom of every keg.

2. Console yourself in the thought that your efforts will be entertaining to others. Especially to tourists who have come out to feed the seals. Actually, a middle-aged man in a wetsuit looks remarkably like some of the plumper seals on the East Coast of Ireland. You may feel in two minds about being recorded on iPhones as you flounder about, repeatedly capsizing in the mouth of the harbour.. The happy truth of the matter however is that nobody really cares and neither should you. Life’s short. Get on with it

3. The help and support of friends is, well, helpful and supportive. I’d have done none of this if it wasn’t for Robin. Thanks for lending me the boat, showing me how to rig it and taking me out the first time. Thanks for sitting with me endless evenings as I asked the same questions about windward-leeward courses and still went round the wrong way Thanks for encouraging me to do something that I wouldn’t have had the confidence to do by myself and thanks for saying nice things about my pathetic efforts. And thanks to Yuko for minding the kids every Sunday morning while Daddy’s off in his seal outfit.

4. You might have to be rescued sometimes and that’s fine. Nothing to be ashamed of at all. Particular thanks here to the guy who stopped his car, (yes I did say car) and asked if I needed help as I was being washed up against the railings at Strand Road. Further thanks for him for dropping in at the Dinghy Club on his way home and suggesting the manager come and get me in the rescue boat (for which, thanks).

5. It gets easier. Having said that, in my first competitive outing after practicing for the whole summer, I failed to complete either race due to being, shall we say, horizontally challenged. The second day was better but I could hardly see the 25 boats they were so far in front of me. So much for learning from the other guys. Specs on the horizon, they were

6. Study up! I have enjoyed reading the advice of an Olympic champion in his illustrated guide to Laser sailing and marvel at the photos of his taut, poised form, perfectly balanced as his boat skims over the waves. Books do help…

7. …but you improve most but just getting out there and doing it. I would qualify this by saying that this is particularly true in the case of language studies.

8. Boats work better the right way up. It’s a design thing.

9. Pride actually does come before a fall.

10. Participation IS winning. Or as close as you’re likely to get, mate.

11. Be brave. When you fall off your pony, just get back on. If your pony is made of fiber-glass, turn it the right way up and get back on. If you’re in a fruit shop and they give you grapefruits instead of oranges, try again. If they give you a pony, or a small fiber-glass dinghy get the book out again. Or draw a picture. But then you’ll probably still get grapefruits. Whatever. Go to another shop. Get a life. Or some grapefruits.

12. You are special. Believe that and you’ll believe anything. You’re not. At least the Irish Sea doesn’t think so.