I Have a Different Kind of PTSD

When I was six, my grandfather convinced me to go sailing with him. Not just sailing, but racing. It was his

This is a photo of the author at the wheel of a 30-foot sailboat on a lake.

passion and he wanted to share it with me. He sailed long skinny boats called Two-Tens and raced every weekend in the summer on the North Shore of Massachusetts.

My grandfather sensed my hesitation to go with him. The whole thing would take up more than half the day, and I was unsure about being any farther from land than a swim away and also about tipping over.

“It’ll be fun,” he told me. “I promise this boat will never flip. It can’t. It is physically impossible.”

So I agreed. And the night before, I lay in bed looking out at the harbor envisioning my first sailing race like this: I’d practice my jokes on the adults during long, quiet, boring stretches, ask them questions about their children or grandchildren, snack on grapes and crackers and maybe drink a soda. I would dip my bare feet in the water let them drag in the cool water. It would be fun.

Here’s what actually happened. The adults (very competitive sailors as it turned out) screamed at me to get out of the way, to duck my head while we were tacking, to pull, pull, pull on the main line or the mainsail or something and to hurry, hurry, hurry to switch sides from starboard to port or port to starboard. There were no quiet stretches. There was only yelling and unpredictable movements and people stepping over me and sometimes on me. I felt like I was in the midst of a disaster and the men were speaking a language I didn’t understand. I was terrified and spent as much time as possible curled up on a pile of life jackets in the tiny, damp space under the bow.

People standing on pier holding fish by the gills

With my grandfather, grandmother and mother the summer after the disastrous sailing outing. I had become afraid of everything to do with the ocean. Even fish!

The wind picked up. Whitecaps appeared on the waves. More yelling. A gust rocked the boat hard and then, CRACK! The mast broke in half and came crashing down on the boat. That’s when I really lost it. I cried the rest of the time as we were towed back to the yacht yard where the boat would be fixed.

Ever since then, I have never wanted to step into a sailboat or any boat for that matter. I have Post Traumatic Sailing Disorder. The ocean scares me.

However, in the novel I’m currently revising, my main character also has a fear of the water and of sailing, for different and probably more compelling reasons. I knew in writing this book that eventually I’d have to get on a sailboat as part of my research because there are several pivotal sailing scenes.

So last weekend, for the first time in about 30 years, I went sailing. Captain Buck of Island Bound Adventures

on Lake Grapevine was a master teacher. “I will never yell,” he said, when I told him about my last experience. He made me take the wheel and gently ribbed my steering as we ended up going in circles a few times. When the boat heeled over to one side as the wind picked up, my entire body tensed as I assumed we’d all end up in the lake. But Captain Buck enthusiastically said, “Now we’re sailing!”

I can’t say that I got over my PTSD with that one outing, but it made me more open to trying again. Speeding across the lake during sunset with only the wind pushing us was peaceful and awe-inspiring, and, even at times, boring. It was a vastly different experience than my last one. Perhaps in my next sailing photo, I will be smiling.

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13 thoughts on “I Have a Different Kind of PTSD

  1. I’m with you, boats are not fun! A ‘friend’ took me out on his tiny sailing boat and thought it would be hilarious to constantly pretend to capsize. I’m still not laughing… Good luck on the book!

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  2. Way to stand up to your fears! Writing fiction is good for the soul, it seems. Your hands-on boating research is a fantastic example of the emotional healing process inherent to fiction writing. Kudos! By the way, I love your writing voice!

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  3. Hmmm, my dad raced two tens on the North Shore and always came in last. I remember waiting for him hearing that a boat had broken it’s mast! Thanks for bringing back long ago summer memories! ( EPYC by any chance? )

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