Point of View
The name No Worries perfectly summarized his approach to life, and it gave us enough space to make and learn from our errors too.
The model boat I built with my dad didn’t weigh much, but it carried our hearts. Competing against other father-and-daughter teams, it was our chance to show up the rivals. Dad joked about painting it like a watermelon seed—our slippery red, green and black boat would shoot across the small fishing pond to victory—but then it got serious. This was no laughing matter. We polished the foam hull, painted it a pristine white, attached yellow plastic sails to a dowel mast, and precisely applied green and black pinstripes to my sailboat submission. While we didn’t end up winning, my first taste of wind and sails left me hungry for more.
I became hooked on a sailing-book series called Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome, featuring the nautical exploits of six kids and two boats in the Lake District of northwest England. I dreamed of sailing dinghies and camping overnight on mysterious islands. At a practical level, I wanted to learn how to sail. At the time, my family spent summers in the small coastal town of Port Ludlow, Washington, primarily a resort community for retirees and families. By day, I waited tables and my sisters worked as lifeguards at the community pool, but in the afternoons and our days off, we were looking for new adventures.
On the Port Ludlow Boat Marina message board, I found a small notice offering sailing lessons, so I called and made an appointment. The sailor was an elderly gentleman named Dave Harris, who arrived attired in a classic canvas Tilley hat and safari khakis. I think he was totally surprised to see three teenage girls trotting down the dock for sailing lessons on his beautiful Australian-made Alien 21 sailboat, No Worries, but he never missed a beat. He welcomed us, and over the subsequent weeks of sailing, I don’t remember him ever requesting payment for a session.
After the first few lessons, which involved a mix of learning knots and rules on land, and practicing maneuvers on the sea, my parents sneaked down to watch Mr. Harris in action. They hadn’t officially met him yet, and were a bit horrified to see him step off his very expensive sailboat and onto the dock, and allow us to practice sailing the boat into port by ourselves. I misjudged the boat speed and wind, ramming the boat into the dock, but Mr. Harris took it in stride. The name No Worries perfectly summarized his approach to life, and it gave us enough space to make and learn from our errors too.
I wasn’t the only dedicated reader of Swallows and Amazons. My youngest sister, Emily, became hooked too. She became Mr. Harris’ sailboat-racing partner because her lightweight, compact size was a perfect counterbalance to his heavy, large frame. Mr. Harris even bequeathed Emily his daughter’s sailing gloves. We were graduating to the next level of sailing.
When my Dad returned with a tiny damaged dinghy rescued from the rafters of a Renton, Washington, airplane hangar, Emily was ready. Inspired by Swallows and Amazons, she meticulously refinished it as her own: a tiny Cheoy Lee rescue boat that in better days had hung from the davits of a much larger Cheoy Lee yacht. Undeterred by a tarnished past, Emily polished the brass, sanded and stained the teak wood, and finally inscribed her boat name on the bow: Kingfisher. For a while, she was content to spend the afternoons bobbing in the bathtub-size sailboat in the harbor, pulling alongside the tidal islands just like the Swallows and Amazons characters exploring Wild Cat Island, looking for treasure.
But bobbing was not my dad’s style. A man of action, he made a no-barter, all-cash offer for a Harbor 20 on the showroom floor during the Seattle Boat Show. My parents christened the boat Summer Sun. After that, summer sailing outings transitioned from bobbing to rocketing through the water, racing to Foulweather Bluff and back to a soundtrack of waves splashing against the hull, while cargo ships and submarines navigated Hood Channel in the distance. We were now in the big leagues.
There were other sailboats and sailing outings through the years, exploring places accessible only by boat in the San Juan Islands, Croatia and Greece. A dinghy uses the same physics to race as a boat in the America’s Cup. While the dimensions and destinations might change, the principles remain the same. Sailboats still carry my heart, with friends and family on board, toward adventures at the speed of the wind and sail.