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  • Karl Walker-Finch

Getting back in the boat




Painted by my supremely talented and sorely missed Grandad, this picture always reminds me of standing on that jetty, soaked and frozen to my bones having capsized.

It’s the sailing club near Liverpool where I used to go with him as we’d sail his Enterprise. I’d be manning the jib and he’d be telling me to duck and move periodically so I didn’t get smashed in the face by the boom as we turned or the wind changed. I use the term “manning” quite liberally, I was about 10 years old.

The very last time I went on the lake with him, I remember feeling like we were in a hurricane. In reality the wind was probably barely strong enough to dislodge the browning foliage from the sycamores around us. We had finished the race and he suggested it’d be a good idea to try a gybe as we headed back to the jetty. A gybe on a windy day is generally a more tricky and dangerous way to turn than to tack, though please don’t ask me to go into any more detail than this because I really don’t know what I’m talking about!

We got ourselves set and at the crucial moment I ducked but forgot to move. The boom swung over my head, Grandad pivoted with all the elegance of his seventy years, the wind caught the sail and my weight on the now lower side of the boat help pull the whole lot over as we capsized into the nippy November water. It was all over very quickly.

We were helped back to the clubhouse and I got some dry clothes and a hot chocolate. I know my Grandad would have loved me to go back out again with him, but he probably didn’t want to pressure me after what happened and so he didn’t ask. I can’t say that I wasn’t put off by the experience but looking back I do sometimes wish I’d got back in the boat.

Knowing him, if my Grandad was that 10 year old who’d just capsized, he’d have probably told everyone we were going straight back out to do it again before even thinking about putting dry clothes on.

I’ve fleetingly blamed others for not encouraging me to give it another go. I’ve certainly blamed myself for not getting over it and on with it. But I can’t say I have any regrets.

Every experience we go through in our lives has the power to shape our future. My fond memories of sailing with Grandad and my feelings about that being our last time sailing together give me the strength, when things don’t go to plan, to get back in the boat.

“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing”

Henry Ford

Just maybe my Grandad went through a similar experience at a tender age and that’s what gave him his tenacity and courage to always get back in the boat.

This painting will always serve as a reminder not just of my Grandad, but of his courage and my trepidation. An important lesson learned and one that will forever be with me.

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