I am writing this the day before Barry and I drive to Gibraltar for our intensive Competent Crew and Day Skipper, plus Diesel Engine Maintenance, VHF Radio Handling and Marine First Aid Courses with Rock Sailing.
This is both exciting and scary for me.
Exciting, because I love learning new skills and even though I know this will be challenging, by the end of the 19 days I’ll be able to sail a yacht! How amazing’s that... and pretty handy too considering we’re going to buy one to live on! I do enjoy learning practical skills and applying theory though. Apart from being awesome to be able to do something new, it also adds to my sense of self-confidence, which the little self-doubting me can always do with more of.
Sailing in the blood
My dad was an accomplished sailor. He taught me to row a dingy when I was 8 years old, and I remember in my childhood home we had several trophies, flags and tankards that he’d won for his sailing. He was a member of Lymington Sailing Club as well as one in Scotland and by all accounts was a fairly ambitious sailor. So I’m hoping I inherited those particular genes from him. I guess I’ll find out on the course!
Besides the excitement of heading off to Gibraltar with Baz and living aboard a yacht while we learn all things sailing, there’s a little niggling part of me that always rears its head when I’m about to go somewhere I haven’t been before. This part - and as far as I can tell, it has been with me since I was a teenager - really stresses out in the “What am I going to wear?” department.
Choose the right outfit darling!
I know, it sounds stupid, and I even shake my head at myself in the disbelief that at 57 years of age, it still bothers me what I ought to be wearing. I think the key word in that last sentence is “ought” and probably stems back to when I ‘had’ to always dress ‘appropriately’ so I would be ‘accepted’. Accepted by whom is a question I’ve often asked myself when throwing half of my wardrobe’s content onto the bed, crying: “I’ve got nothing to wear!”
Maybe it’s a female thing. Perhaps though, it stems from my darling mother who married ‘above her class’ and as a station master’s daughter had to fit in with aristocracy, who my dad happened to hang out with.
Now we’re talking England in the 1940s and how you spoke, dressed and acted, marked you very clearly as belonging to a particular social class and whether you would be accepted or rejected by said class. I haven’t lived in Blighty (Britain) since 1990 so I couldn’t tell you if those antiquated rules still apply. I do know that even in Australia where I spent the last 27 years, I turned up at a radio station party years ago, wearing ‘spiritual-hippy’ clothes and the 6ft (183cm) leggy female reps who all wore jeans, in-trend chambray shirts and high heel boots, all looked at me from on high (literally - I’m shorter at 5ft 4in/163cm) and promptly ignored me.
So class snobbery may not always be the motive, but fitting into social groups is something that exists, probably in most places even today. And while I strive for individual self-expression as an artist, there is that self-doubting part of me that likes to feel accepted. What a mind fuck that is.
“You’ve got to follow the Rules!”
But back to my dear old mum. She learned very quickly to fit in and be accepted at a tender age of 22 years old, and I think it was important to her that her children didn’t have to deal with that particular issue. So I remember having ‘important Rules’ drummed into me like: “Only wear one ring on each hand” and “All clothes have to match – and preferably be of Burberry and Jaeger quality”. Except mum usually phrased the Rules negatively, without a lot of constructive content, such as: “You’re not going to wear that are you?”
Often, a subtle shake of the head and frown was all that was needed for me to question how I looked.
Now of course, while mum had many admirable qualities, when I have to choose an outfit to wear to a situation that I haven’t been in before such as sailing, all I have left of mum in my head is: “You’re not going to wear that are you?”
Nothing helpful. Nothing complimentary. Nothing to assure the stress-bucket-sailor part of me who is certain she’s going to be immediately judged, disliked, rejected and made to walk the plank – all based solely on what she’s wearing.
Bizarre, but true. I kid you not, I’ve read the ‘What to Wear’ List from the sailing website and even went out and bought some quick drying synthetic track pants so if I get hit by a big wave, at least I’ll dry out before hitting the deck.
Trouble is, as comforted as I am that I’ve got super fast drying pants, I hate how I look in them. They’re tight where they’re not meant to be, baggy enough to make me look as if I’ve gained 5Kg/10lb, and have a stupid white stripe down the outside making me feel like some fat, frumpy footballer-come-chav!
Give me a pair of jeans any day, and I’m happy. (Oh how I should have plumped for those when I went to the radio station party!) But I’m now following the rules that I read on the What to Wear List that have recommended quick drying clothes. I know, they’re only a suggestion and I do have a tendency to take things extremely literally. And the worst thing if I did wear jeans and got hit by a massive wave would be that I’d have to stay soppy for the rest of the day and contribute to condensation as I dry out down below later on. I just don’t want to look stupid.
“How’s that going for ya?” I hear in my head.
“Not terribly well thanks.”
If I had my way, I’d take my wardrobe, which if you remember has been pared down to two suitcases. That way, I could take jeans and fast drying gear, and choose what felt right when I got on the boat and sussed out what everyone else was wearing. The only drawback with that scenario is that we’re limited to a smallish carryon bag as the boat has limited storage space. Fair enough.
So back to me making a decision.
Baz is more help than he realises
I look to Baz. He’s set. Two tee shirts. Two pairs of shorts. One pair of track pants for evenings. One hooded fleecy jacket. One pair of deck shoes. Travelling down in jeans. No worries.
I do worry.
“I don’t have a hat,” I whined. “We’re supposed to have a hat.”
“We’ll get hats when we get there. We’ll have time after the first day course finishes at 6pm.”
I do a quick Google search.
“Baz, the shops shut at 6pm in Gibraltar.”
Baz rolls his eyes at me and gets back to his laptop where he’s choosing 8 hours of music for the drive to Gibraltar. Gotta love a DJ.
I get up to make a comforting cup of coffee and wonder if the washing machine in the kitchen is washing enough clothes just in case I need to take them. When I return to my laptop, I find Baz has opened up Rock Sailing’s website on it so I can see photos of what everyone is wearing and read what we’ll be doing on a daily basis.
“Chill, you’ll be fine,” he says. “Just wear what you want. No-one will be looking at you.”
I bite back the retort of: “thanks, I know I’m old, but maybe someone will be interested in me,” because I know he didn’t mean it like that.
As I look through the web photos to see that people are wearing a variety of clothing from jeans, to shorts, to light pants, I realise that it isn’t really about what other people think of me, which is what mum tried to instil in me as a social survival skill. It’s more about how I feel inside.
I just want to feel good about myself. I just want to feel ‘right’. I know that if I feel these things, I’ll settle into the course and come out of it with the beginnings of being a good sailor. Maybe it’s not about what I’m wearing after all. Plus, I’ve got jeans, shorts and light (track suit) pants like they’re wearing in the photos.
So it’s not really about the clothes is it?
Perhaps my worry about clothes is the first layer that covers the real issue; one that’s more about feeling confident inside that I have what it takes to learn, remember and apply the skills so I pass the course. It’s about assuaging that self-doubt that my memory will serve me well and that I’ll be able to give correct instruction to the crew as a learning day skipper.
This isn’t about what I wear at all. So what if I look different. And if I do get wet, I’ll put on something else that may or may not be practical. No worries! At least I’ve got awesome non-slip deck shoes. And really, those are probably the most important part of the whole wardrobe. Feeling confident about my non-skidability will free me up to focus completely on the real reason I’m on the boat: to learn to sail.
So for this particular situation, I think I’d do better accessing my dad’s internalised voice than mum’s. He may not tell me how to look my best and be ‘accepted’ by Those of Importance, but he will have an extremely useful attitude to bring to sailing.
Now I feel ready. Sorted. Packed. In my mind at least. And by tonight, I’ll have everything else tucked neatly into my small carryon bag.
Except perhaps a hat.