Friday, March 07, 2014

Community Sailing Program: Day 1 - Expectations & Attitudes

Our first classroom day came and went.  Both Sharon and I came into this first evening class with charged emotions and expectations as well as mountains of baggage from both our very distant, and very recent pasts.  This post is to review my experience of the first classroom evening while also looking back on how my feelings differed from those around me.

  My partner Sharon and I are taking a small learn to sail class with a our local community sailboat club.  In my last post, Small Steps to New Adventures, I reviewed the motivations which have driven both of us to start getting serious about sailing.

Sharon recounts her dream of sailing around the world with me; visiting foreign ports of call for whatever duration she pleases, all the while keeping the mental safety of her home base close at hand.  Similarly, I see the opportunity to wander freely, spend much more time with Sharon, and challenge the social, societal, and relational norms which have built up in my head.

Both of these thought groups hold in common the values of freedom, independence, and personal connection which lie at the foundations of our lives and shared relationship.  This is quite a bit of personal expectations to bring to a small, non-profit, volunteer run sailing class operated out of a mall's community room and a tiny lake.

The first day's class started at 6:30 in the evening and ran for a little more than two hours.  Our two volunteer trainers were both multi year members of the sailing club, very friendly, and very outgoing.  There were four people in our small class.  In addition to Sharon and myself, one man was taking the class because he had just bought a boat only two weeks before in Maryland and wanted the basic skills to sail it down the coast to Florida.  The other man has a young daughter who is very excited about sailing so he is taking the course so that he can be more supportive of her activity in the sport.

On this first day we were each handed a US Sailing learning guidebook for basic small craft sailing skills.  The class itself consisted of watching short three minute training videos, after each of which we would have a discussion about the topic presented, its relevance, and how it related to the boats we would sail.  The instructors also had a model sailboat to use as reference in learning terminology, as well as rope and cleats for us to practice knot tying.

The class was very straight forward, and as may be expected, not professional in the least.  The trainers were full of passion, and eager to share their excitement regarding their sport, and their club.

In my personal experience was very positive.  I had been waiting weeks to start this adventure so I doused my experience of the class in a heavy coating of personal symbology: the first steps of a grand adventure.

I later found out that this experience was not universal.  Sharon had indeed not had much of a happy experience at all.  I saw the class as a big symbolic step so I forgave the uncomfortable chairs, poor quality presentation, and overly traditional classroom format.  Sharon instead really took her cue from the disconnected nature of the learning experience.

The information was presented very formally, teacher to student.  This was not a warm one on one mentor to mentee experience.  The students were treated as individuals as one would expect in a government school.  There was no acknowledgement of the value of group or peer to peer learning.  Finally it was made known that we would be each learning on our own when on the water.  The boats only hold two people each; a student and an instructor.

This method of learning, where students are separated, and instructors are not seen as peers, really flies in the face of the value of connection held so important by both of us.

We came to the sailing class to start a new chapter of our lives.  We came to claim a foot hold in a very aggressive climb to connection, independence, reevaluation, and deep personal development.  This class on the other hand is simply a bunch of normal people sharing their passion for sailing.

As we both proceed in this course, it will be interesting to continue to reflect on our personal goals, and hold the honest humility to realize that our commitment to our values is very unique indeed, and outside the scope of most all of the activities in which we will participate.

Our first day of sailing is tomorrow!  I can't wait to share that experience with you as well as check in again with Sharon to see how our experiences continue to differ.

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