I’m good with boats and can pretty much get anything waterborne from here to there with relative ease. I wasn’t ever very competitive in dinghies and I didn’t do much big boat racing. Time and chance is probably why. I’ve gotten good (maybe, very good) at other endeavors, but there’s something particularly sweet about developing a youthful passion and spinning it into a life – even one cut short too early.
I didn’t know Geoff Ewenson and I don’t want to trade this column on his passing. But a friend was quick to text me because Geoff was in our peer group and I have a vague memory of maybe sharing a Prof. Dennis Nixon seminar-style class with Geoff at URI in the early 1990s. (Dennis Nixon’s thoughtful instruction being a remarkably common connection to so many of us with any involvement in the sailing world.)
Anyway, good on Geoff for having such a goddamn sailing passion. Good on Geoff for having packed so much of that sailing passion into his life. His voyage ended too early, yet the cacophonous chorus of online tributes and remembrances is a testament to a full-blown life.
Writing a column where you start off talking about someone’s death doesn’t give you a decent pivot to any other topic. You don’t think that when you start writing, but it becomes obvious. Usually, and maybe more so in deference to this column’s title than anything else, I try and cram some maritime legal nugget on the printed page leaving you more learned than when you left. I don’t have any interest in trying to foist nautical knowhow this time and I don’t want to get cute.
I worry sometimes whether I’ve done a good job packing my ditch bag with life experiences? That’s a 3:00 a.m.-style worry that’ll have you slipping into dark spaces only made darker by the rattle of a New England wind. I read something somewhere where someone complained no matter how hard you work or how fine your varnish strokes or wondrous your design, you’ll still leave life’s theatre mumbling, “I should’ve done more or done that,” or what have you. There’s a nice safe harbor to that sort of thinking; you steer a course and you steer it as best you can and that’s your voyage. And like any salty passage, it’s never perfect, but it’s your accomplishment.
Around here, some of the people we help never had or get to have much of a voyage. Getting off the dock in the right way and with the right support has a lot to do with the sailing experience ahead. Yeah, there are those delightful exceptions society likes to spin into the norm, but that’s not usual or typical. Most times, if you break ground in a craft made unseaworthy by your circumstances, you’re not getting very far outside the harbor. I’ve written these sentiments before, but the sailing community should do more to promote pedestrian sailing and the introduction of the sport to youth.
There’s way too much attention paid to the big money racing class. Those cats with their names painted on the booms clutching oversized wheels waiting on the next course direction from their paid crew, boy, they don’t do much to preserve sailing. Imagine (a la John Lennon) all that money being used to buy and start dinghy class sailing across this country. Imagine the lessons you might instill, the experiences shared and the passions ignited.
I watch my daughter now; sometimes in jacket and tie leaning binoculars against the cartop spying her Laser blasting around Newport waters with fall winds making her ponytail a telltale. She’s crazed for her Laser and there’s a happy shine to those days when there’s after-school sailing. Later, with still-rigged Lasers on their dollies and blue-lipped, she and her friend stand looking at the harbor eating Swedish Fish and chattering about angles and vang tension and green water. She’ll sit cross-legged on the sofa at night, unpacking boat speed and sail trim in ways far exceeding whatever skill set I claim. It’s curious seeing passion bloom in your child; as a parent you crank and crank and then there’s a sputter and burst of flame and they’re off.
I hope my daughter packs her passions full in the years ahead. And I hope that like what I know of how Geoff Ewenson lived, her passions (whatever they may be) are her life.
This article is provided for your general information, is not legal opinion and should not be relied upon. Always seek legal counsel to understand your rights and remedies.
Underway and making way (and yeah, this column is shorter than usual ‘cause 2020 is running me ragged).
John K. Fulweiler, Esq. is a Proctor-in-Admiralty representing individuals and small businesses in maritime matters including personal injury claims throughout the East and Gulf Coasts and with his office in Newport, Rhode Island. He can be reached at 1-800-383-MAYDAY (6293) or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit his website at saltwaterlaw.com.