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Tacking Towards the Shore

Cheryl Dickow explores how sailing taught her about life.
by Cheryl Dickow | Source: Bezalel Books

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 remember that during the dating phase it is never good to be high maintenance, so 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 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.

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

Although the winds were absolutely relentless.

And apparently those relentless winds 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 is a Catholic author and publisher. Her compnay publishes books for Catholic classrooms, homes and parishes. Her website is and she can be contacted at

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