Tacking Towards the Shore

Many, many years ago — before my husband and I were married — we were invited to go sailing with some of his work friends. It was his boss’ boat and his boss was the “sailor.”

I had never been sailing before and although prone to a bit of motion sickness, I was interested in putting my best foot forward.

In other words I didn’t want to appear high maintenance at that point in the dating game.

So I reluctantly agreed to go sailing on Lake Saint Claire — on what turned out to be the windiest, most dangerous day to take a sail boat out on the waters. In fact, what should have been my first clue to what the day would hold was the realization that no other boats were on the lake.

But  I let my observation pass and stepped on board what was to become — and I can confidently say this with the passage of no less than 26 years — my last sail boat excursion ever.

Looking back on that day a couple of things stand out for me.

First, I recall that things were flying all over the cabin on the one occasion that I thought it might be better “down there” than on the deck. I was wrong. If the motion-sickness didn’t do me in, surely a flying dish or pan would have.

The second thing that has really stuck with me all these years was the way that the shore was so close and yet we couldn’t get to it without a lot of maneuvering. In sailing terms this is apparently called “tacking” although at the time I just assumed it was the less than stellar skills of the guy steering the boat.

About an hour into the trip — at which point I believe we were about 20 feet out — the genius running the show decided we needed to head back to shore.

Hallelujah! Even I could swim to shore it was so close, and so my spirits buoyed.

Although the winds were absolutely relentless and made our safe return to shore a difficult — and at times seemingly impossible — task.

With the shore in sight, tacking was, to my mind, a back and forth weaving instead of just sailing straight ahead.  I’m sure that had we tried the easy, straight ahead approach, we may have jeopardized being capsized or something.  I can’t say I waited around to ask for more information once we finally made land; but what has stayed with me is the irony of how applicable tacking is to so much in life.

The goal is just an arm’s length away and yet we can’t reach it without some maneuvering — without some understanding of how best to approach that goal.

Oftentimes our goals are for our personal growth. Maybe we want to be more patient, less impetuous. Or we may want to love an unlovable neighbor or mentor a difficult co-worker. Just like reaching shore, these are all commendable goals but aren’t that easy to take on without the right set of tools — whether that be prayer, a daily examination of conscience or a trip to confession.

As Catholic Christians, heaven is our ultimate goal; but an earthly journey precedes that final destination. We have been given the graces and mercy necessary for the journey — for the tacking — and yet we sometimes find ourselves frustrated because it seems like the endeavor is far more difficult than it ought to be.

But, just like that sailing maneuver, if we try to reach our eternal goal without the correct understanding of our faith and how to use the everyday tools — such as the Sacraments — we may very well capsize ourselves before our final destination.

Turns out, tacking is a lot more valuable than I had ever realized!

Cheryl Dickow


Cheryl Dickow is a Catholic wife, mother, author and speaker. Cheryl’s newest book is Wrapped Up: God’s Ten Gifts for Womenwhich is co-authored with Teresa Tomeo and is published by Servant (a division of Franciscan Media); there is also a companion journal that accompanies the book and an audio version intended for women’s studies or for individual reflection. Cheryl’s titles also include the woman’s inspirational fiction book Elizabeth: A Holy Land Pilgrimage. Elizabeth is available in paperback or Kindle format. Her company is Bezalel Books where her goal is to publish great Catholic books for families and classrooms that entertain while uplifting the Catholic faith and is located at www.BezalelBooks.com. To invite Cheryl to speak at your event, write her at Cheryl@BezalelBooks.com.

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  • terrygeorge

    oh had to comment on this. i have very limited experience sailing but love it. tacking is a way of sailing against the wind or upwind. (its a geometry thing where you put your sail at an angle to the wind and your keel at an angle to the water so that the wind pushes you sideways instead of straight downwind and the keel pushes back upwind as you go through the water). if you had tried to sail straight upwind toward the shore you would have been pushed away from it instead.

    another allegory from your story to the catholic faith: a wise sailor knows when it is not a good idea to try to put into the water at all just as a wise christian knows to avoid certain activities. And if you go against wisdom you make a ton of work for yourself to try to get out of the situation you’ve gotten yourself into.