First You Have to Row a Little Boat by Richard Bode

First You Have to Row a Little Boat (Reflections on Life and Living)

Since young, Richard wanted to teach his 4 children how to sail and to understand life. Many adults who sail can relate to the book. It is one of the world’s great titles. Rick has been a PR man most of his life. However, he was very exuberant over small things and curious about life. He was orphaned at a young age and divorced at 60 plus. He started to tell Donnie, his lover, over the lessons he learnt while sailing. Rick managed to draw the lessons from sailing and apply it to life. Rick took 6 decades to write the book. The book, when published, didn’t get much attention. The book was published 20 years ago. The book will teach you the importance of doing things well. It is never too late to achieve your dreams. Death eventually finds everyone.

When you’re sailing you can’t just go in a straight line. Sometimes you have to zigzag to get to shore. That’s life. And sometimes, when the wind stops blowing, there’s nothing you can do but wait, and wait patiently, for a breeze to return. – Richard Bode

In my lifetime, I failed to teach my children how to sail. The exigencies of life were to be blamed. I can’t forgive myself. Sailing is a metaphor of life. It brings you closer to the elements and you start to develop a relationship with something you can’t control. You have to pay attention to the tiny changes in weather. Sometimes, fate can deal us a fatal hand. Day-to-day life is like the wind. I realized that my children need to learn from their own experiences. I suspect that certain places have the ability to attract people.

As humans we live with the constant presumption of dominion. We believe that we own the world, that it belongs to us, that we have it under our firm control. But the sailor knows all too well the fallacy of this view. – Richard Bode

Day-to-day life is like the wind in all its infinite variations and moods. The wind is shifting, constantly shifting, blowing northeast, then northeast, then north – just as we, ourselves, are constantly shifting, sometimes happy, sometimes angry, sometimes sad. As the sailor sails his winds, so we must sail our moods. – Richard Bode

The First Thing You have to Do Is Learn to Row a Little Boat. Initially, I thought sailing was easy. Harrison Watts, a professional sailor, had a big influence on me. Unfortunately, he passed away. He was my mentor when I was out at sea. It is easy to pretend to be good at something, but it is much harder to admit ignorance. He instructed me to enter a little boat and row. I was not impressed by the small size of the boat. Under his tutelage, I learnt how to propel the boat using oars. We are ingrained to believe that when we steer left, the car will go left. That is predictable. However, steering a boat is different. We have to constantly adjust to different environments and have to adapt. It is unlike the skills of a duck, who is adept on both land and water. Mastery over yourself is the key.

But in life, real life, we aren’t pitted against one another; we are pitted against ourselves, and our victories are almost always the ones we forge alone. – Richard Bode

A Boy’s Will is the Wind’s Will… I wanted the majestic blue sloop and I wanted it desperately. We gain through affinity. When the passion is so strong, nothing can keep us apart. It was pure elegance. Many of the adults told me not to bother and to find another hobby. I decided that it was a dream that I would not suppress and I actively pursued the boat. Little did I know that I was taking tiny steps to my goal by rowing a boat. Later, a friend allowed me to sail in a dinghy. It was hard to control. Thankfully, my aunt and uncle introduced me to a contractor. After summer, he offered a role to me as an apprentice, where I would fix windblown dwellings. His name was Ed Doubrava. He thought me stuff about the ocean. Later, he gave me an abandoned sailboat. My aunt helped to make the sail. Finally, I managed to sail alone. Suddenly, I came upon an ad in the magazine. The boat I wanted was for sale at $1250. Every little step above was important in meeting my dream. The boat was the essence of everything I knew and it was purely authentic. Materialistic goods aren’t a dream, they are an accessory. A man who owns a boat and keeps using it will find that he owns it for all his days.

When we kill the dream within us, we kill ourselves, even though the blood continues to flow within our veins. – Richard Bode

We see people scurrying compulsively, buying compulsively, as if they hoped through the expenditure of money, the acquisition of goods, to deaden a pain they don’t even know they have. – Richard Bode

Rather than suppress those dreams, he should be ordered to obey them, for they are the true harbingers of his future self. They tell him who he is and what he wants and in which direction he should tend. – Richard Bode

I Listen to the Wind…and the Wind Tells me What to Do. A sailboat sails at an angle to the wind. By accident, I scrapped the Nimrod and damaged its hull. Later, he simply sawed away my tiller into half. He commented that it was too long. He taught me to climb the wind instead. The captain of the Nimrod was teaching me how to sail. The thing was that the wind was unpredictable and often deceived me. I had to learn to read the subtleties better. When the wind blows, always climb the sail. To be free at home in the sea, it meant being free of moral judgment. If you never learn to climb the wind, you will not being able to go faster. The journey is more important, the wind is like your journey and it will guide you. Enjoy the journey to the fullest.

Who Made This Boat? I wondered why my boat came from. She had a long history behind her existence. Who figured out the relationship between breeze, boat and sail so impressively? I wanted to identify that one individual in history that invented it. It was a difficult search but I always believed that I could locate a particular soul. I wanted to trace the family tree. There was a constant striving force, like an elan. I understood my boat was a work of art, like a sculpture. The science and the arts all have their place in society. There is no need for the two to compete for greater importance in society. I feel that they can co-exist and should not be viewed separately. Both are important in society. While sailing, I thought about our forefathers and those before us. The boat was part of their collective genius. I saw the truth about creation.

We stand on the shoulders of giants: Archimedes, Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Einstein, to name a few. But for each individual of stature, there are untold others who, for better or worse, helped piece together our civilization – and whose names we will never know. – Richard Bode

The Shortest Distance between Two Points Is a Zigzag Line. I invited a pretty girl I knew to sail with me. She was Martha Coogan. Although Martha accepted my invitation, she was more interested in my boat than me. She didn’t get to get wet. She couldn’t accept why didn’t go straight to a place she wanted to go. Later, she dated a guy who owned a speedboat. On a speedboat, you do not have to bother about the elements etc. I resigned to a sigh. Sometimes, life is not about using an artificial source and then drifting about for no reason in particular. Never go against the god of wind. Humans need to master reality and it isn’t as easy as running in a straight line. Develop an inner clock and know when to stay longer and know when it’s time to go. Handle each tack well and the boat will continue its course and not lose momentum.

Recognize the obstacles that stand between ourselves and where we want to go, and then to maneuver with patience and fortitude, making the most of each leg of our journey, until we reach our landfall. – Richard Bode

In Irons. I had a lot of difficulty sailing through a narrow canal in the past. The aim was to make progress on each tack. However, the wind was unstable and the canal was narrow. Momentum is a double edged sword. Although a sailboat relies on wind, if the bow crosses the breeze, that is a danger zone. One day, I lost control of my sailboat and crashed into a mooring post. The people on the shore came to give me advice on how to rectify the situation. Experience is the best teacher of all. Every tack is a transition. Although I hated my job and my college, I was glad that I stayed the course for a bit. I managed to attain sufficient savings and decent grades from the two. If every job you take is kind of ‘forced’, then you are ‘in irons’. Personal autonomy is very important.

We may make a decision to go our own way, which is the only true way, but if we’re caught without wind in our sails we’ll find ourselves captive, doing the bidding of those we detest. And the tragedy is this: We may never give the gift which is ourselves to those we love or find out who we truly are. – Richard Bode

Going with the Wind. One day, I sailed to Fire Island to have a swim. Then on the way back, I accidentally conducted the ‘accidental jibe’. This is when the stern crosses the wind and the wind will gather behind the sail and cause it to shoot across the deck. This would not be my only jibe. The problem was that I was not concentrating, causing the boom to almost hit me. Being a free-lance writer is a precarious lifestyle, where the amount you earn is unpredictable from day to day. Do not be complacent in life. Sudden death is one of life’s calamities. You must use the wind and not let the wind use you. The captain guided me and suggested that I buy a whisker pole. Sailing is all about compensating, but not overcompensating. I kept a painting and it reminded me to watch the sail, watch the wind, and keep clear of the jibe.

Becalmed. I always thought I could rely on the wind to guide me all the time. Good winds will die as well. There was once when the winds died and my sailboat was still out at sea. I was too used to motion and it didn’t feel good at all. I realized that I was powerless then. There was a black heron perched on my mast. The bird was silent and it was used to solitude. It was then that I realized that I had to be patient and simply wait. A boat offered to tow me but I refused. An hour later, the wind changed directions and blew again. When I was much older, I had to undergo hip surgery. I was in a cast for 6 weeks and couldn’t stand upright. It was at that time when a night heron appeared again. I learnt that interior life can be rewarding when you keep completely still. For a long part of my life, I was a corporate writer and lost sight of what I wanted to do. Sometimes, only when you are very still, you will realize what your inner desires are.

Unfounded Fears. The first time I saw Miss Ocean Beach, we nearly we on a collision course. It was a lesson learnt and now I took pains to make sure that I was on the lookout. There was a point when I tried to steer away from a trawler. However doing so caused my sailboat to hit a log. It then started leaking and taking in water. The trawler towed my boat to safety. The ship’s carpenter fixed my boat up in no time. However, I feared sailing now after the accident. It dawned on me that I was worrying about the future too much. It doesn’t help to react too violently sometimes. It helps to assess the danger first before reacting. The sea and the waves didn’t have a grand design and were indifferent. This contradicted what I learnt in school. Life was indeed very chaotic and unpredictable. Even Science couldn’t explain everything. You have to impose your own order to life. You need to distinguish real from apparent danger. Don’t let fear govern your life. Don’t plan too much or you will see life slip by. If you plan too much, you lose the spirit of adventure. Don’t keep trying to find reasons for everything. Never forget to live in the present. Avoid living life in fear of things.

Fogbound. One day, I saw thunderclouds out at sea. I feared my sails would shred. I often dreamt of my dad in my sleep. He had a brilliant artistic passion and intensity. Later, the sky was filled with fog and I couldn’t see clearly. I couldn’t tell which direction I was heading anymore. I thought that steering randomly was a good idea. It turns out that it wasn’t. The captain advised me to stay put and not move about. I knew that if I sat still and examined the elements carefully, I would be able to know where to go. It was then I realized that if the boat remains stationary, it would point in the direction of the wind. I realized that I always needed to listen to that inner voice talking. Sometimes if you lead too comfortable a life, you will realize that you are unable to react to crisis well. The ability to see the obvious can be very powerful indeed. Undergoing a divorce shook me real badly. I pity those who have no direction in life and don’t know what they want or are looking for.

Of Knots, Loops, Bends and Hitches. The simplest knots are the strongest. They also look artistically pleasing. It was the clove hitch. I bought a book on how to tie simple knots. A good knot can be taught from one generation to the next. I also learnt how to tie the square knot. The knot never let me down. It was a union of male and female. A knot which can’t be untied often leads to misery. Being able to tie knots fills me with a great sense of accomplishment. Knowing the basic knots help and it can indeed be very impressive.

A Forgiving Boat. There was once when I was stuck in a sandbar after miscalculating the waves. A friend advised me to drop the centerboard immediately when I started sailing. I could make better headway now. In shallow water, the centerboard would hit the bottom, indicating that the sand bar was near. I explored a house on an island although there was a sign that said no trespassing. I was hesitant to enter but I knew that I was so because I always accepted other laws. The centerboard was like forgiveness. I knew I sought to forgive others, to appreciate friendship and accept their shortcoming. Sometimes, even boats can be forgiving in nature.

A Lazy Sailor at Heart. My aunt kept insisting that she wanted to sail even though I wasn’t keen on letting her do it. She admitted she was a good swimmer in the past. I was intrigued by the stories she told. She said that she was at one with God. She that was what atonement meant. That sentence stirred me and I kept thinking about it. Every wind had its own character. Soon, I learn to be in tune with the wind. It was then that I realized that I didn’t want to roam about too much and that I was a lazy sailor. If you travel too much, sometimes you miss what’s with you. People are all too busy nowadays and can’t spare a moment of contemplation. The dailiness of life is what we miss. I have learnt to appreciate the nuances of nature when I’m out at sea.

I once met a man who said he visited every exotic place from the Grand Canyon to the Great Wall, but when I questioned him closely I discovered he hadn’t seen the songbirds in his own backyard. – Richard Bode

Like a Boat Without a Rudder. I sailed too far downwind one day. After a jibe, I realized the rudder came off. I felt seasick then and it was miserable. Thankfully, a captain to rescue me. The sailboat looked pathetic without the rudder. Oscar was helping me fix my sailboat. Later, the rudder was replaced. It was then that I realized not all places are safe and that I should venture out too far. I would only go to those places that provided meaning to my life. Carry the purpose of life wherever you go. In future, I took pains not to lose the rudder ever again.

A Boat is a She/ A Boat is a He. One day, I stole the wind from another boat’s sails. She was pissed and called me a SOB. To make it up to her, she wanted me to take her for a ride in my boat. When on my boat, she decided that she was going to sail it instead. She was a competent sailor and did everything that I would also normally do. She suggested that we send the boat to a race. I agreed. We separated from the pack and sailed in the hope of receiving more wind. Although there were faster boats, we were competing against ourselves. In the end, we finished a very respectable third. A boat could react as a man or a woman, depending on who is controlling and steering it. Do not stereotype others. Never call a boat ‘it’.

True and Apparent Wind. One day, Carlton bought a fiberglass daysailer. It was an in-thing and he predicted that it will outlast the wood hull. However, he wasn’t used to and I could tell that he exploiting me. Carlton bought me to his house as he wanted to sail. It was a luxurious boat. His chauffeur came to pick me up. He was extremely rich. Later, his parent greeted me but simply walked off after that. Carlton wanted me to accompany him on the boat. His dad wanted to put down Carlton in front of me. Carlton was also overbearing in nature. I kept barking instructions to Carlton in the boat. Later, the boat capsized and Carlton nearly drowned because he couldn’t swim. Thankfully we were rescued in the end. His father always kept a close eye on him when he sailed. Boats with fiberglass dominated the industry. It was a long time before I could step into a fiberglass boat after my bad experiences. Carlton thought that he would deserve good respect for his boat and not the way he sailed. Up to today, I still believe that Carlton’s dad controls his son. Too much parent approval is not good. The onus is on the child to break this bind.

In Praise of Sailing Masters. I was now watching my son sail. I realized that I wanted him to learn for himself. He was jibing too often and disaster might strike someday. My son wanted me to leave him alone. I always focused on my son and hoped he didn’t make a mistake. It was then that I realized that perhaps I should back off sometimes and not keep bugging him. After I lost my parents, I picked up others along the way and learnt from the best in the business. I chose my masters. They were all good men of character. We all need masters but we don’t need people lecturing us. All we need is people who will demonstrate how it’s being done. If you want to write, you must learn from the very best. If you want to be a good sailor, you need to know one that can master the wind, sea, sail at his fingertips.

We need to find those special people who contain the lore of the race and can pass on to us what we yearn to know. They may be individuals we meet personally in the classroom or the shipyard or the office down the hall. – Richard Bode

When to Sell a Sloop? When I was in my 20s, the sloop was leaking and I was very busy with my work as well. Then someone gave me a call and said my boat had sank and only the mast was above water. My friend replaced the rotten plank. It was at that time that my son was born. The boat was ready to sail again. I spent a lot of money to upkeep an old boat. After I realized that I needed to move houses, I was ready to sell my boat. There was a sentimental value to it and part of me didn’t want to let it go. Finally I decided that I need to sell it. Sometimes, you need to shed the past so that you can begin anew.

Be with what is so that what is to be may become. – Soren Kierkegaard

Winds of Memory. After my parents died, I moved closer to the sea and learnt to appreciate it better. I have a brilliant memory and can recall many incidents. I remember very vividly what happened to me when I was a kid. The people I can recall all had some influence on me. To me, the past should never be forgotten and should be treasured. Some people don’t want to talk about painful memories of the past. If you forget your past, in a way, you forget who you are.



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