As our boat came to a grueling halt, the only image in my mind was the luffing of the sails in the fading wind and the thunderstorm to the south that was growing closer by the minute.
Ever since I was young, I've loved the ocean, and I've spent most of my life trying to find the best ways to enjoy it. Sailing became one of those ways. Growing up, I only sailed in lakes and rivers, but during the summer of 2019, I was given the opportunity to sail on the Maine Coast in an Outward Bound program. Over those two weeks, 11 other teens and I lived together on The First Mate, a 30-foot long pulling boat. We learned many skills necessary to becoming adept sailors, and all that training culminated on the second-to-last day of the program when our instructors gave us no help. That day it was up to the captain to dictate every aspect of our 25-mile journey. All duties on the boat were dictated by a rotating schedule, and the independent day happened also to be my turn as captain.
While I enjoyed my time as head navigator since the job allowed me to call the shots and direct the boat without having the responsibility of actually telling my shipmates what to do, my fear of public speaking got the best of me as a captain. I wasn’t able to properly direct the boat. I second-guessed every decision I made, right or wrong. Due to my desire to do everything myself, I had not taught my assistant how to do her job when I was the navigator; consequently, while I was directing the boat I had to teach my navigator how to navigate along our hastily planned course. I could’ve had a crewmate help her learn, but my desire to do everything myself and my aversion to making executive decisions caused far more problems than it solved.
I decided to stick with the original course I planned and sailed through the strait between Mosquito Island and the mainland, where there should’ve been a wind tunnel. Problem was, the wind direction changed, and since I wasn’t focused on the sails or my crew, I didn’t notice until we were already stuck. I panicked. My thoughts were racing as I tried to find a way to fix the situation I had gotten us into. The fix, of course, was totally simple. I just needed to get the crew to raise the mizzen sail and adjust course, but because of my panic, I selected crewmates who had never raised the mizzen before to do the job. After about a minute of fumbling around, a crewmate of mine, Matt DeLano, looked me in the eyes and said “Tate, you’re the captain. Tell us what we need to do. You need to decide what to do.” To this day that quote has stuck with me. After that, Matt and I worked together to direct the crew, and we got out of irons (meaning we were moving again) and reached our anchorage before the storm hit.
For most of my life, I thought of myself as someone who was better off alone. I loathed group projects, and I would opt to work on my own if given the opportunity. I attributed that to thinking I could do better than anyone else, but this experience taught me the real reason why. I didn’t know how to lead or work as a team, and no amount of forced team-building exercises as a middle schooler could have taught me that, no experience other than real world struggle and failure could have.