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I’ve never been a fan of large bodies of water. I associate them with the low-budget horror movies you watch on a Saturday night when you are lacking in purpose, where enormous octopuses, flesh-eating piranhas, monstrous sharks and the occasional corpse rule the murky depths of lakes, seas and oceans.
Naturally when my father suggested going on a sailing trip for the entirety of three whole, very long days my reaction, filled with protest and resentment for my dad’s choice of holiday, could be expected, yet his mind was made up. From that day forth I focused on coming to terms with the fact that I was going to have to spend three days and two nights cooped up on a small sailing boat, in the midst of treacherous waters. My mind became plagued with visions of shipwrecks and accidentally making acquaintances with a shark to whom I was merely lunch. Furthermore, I was afraid the discomfort I was going to be subjected to on a trip like this would prove to overwhelming for a teenager like me, who had been born and raised in a big, bustling city. I mean, who isn’t terrified of the prospect of not having a shower for three days. All attempts at changing my father’s mind, to whom sailing was a fond memory from his childhood, failed and I was left with only a week, after which I was certain this sailing-holiday was going to lead me to an early grave. The days passed, and the night before we were bound to set off, I found myself hugging my pillow, positively petrified of the days to come.
After a night of troublesome sleep, I woke up to the harsh sound of my alarm clock ringing at the ungodly hour of 6 o’clock. My Dad had stressed the importance of getting an early start to the day and so there I was packed and ready to embark on my worst nightmare. The car trip alone was terrifying, but I managed to drown my fear out with soothing music and lighthearted conversations with Dad. When we arrived at the sea, I peered out the window with curiosity. In the afternoon sun the water glistened and small waves lapped against the shore making a foreign but somehow comforting sound. My awe was short-lived when we were bustled to the wharf and introduced to our boat. Her name was “Liberty”, a rather provocative name in relation to the way I was feeling at that moment and she was everything I hoped she wouldn’t be. She was about seven meters in length and a mere three in width. The cabin was cramped, poky and desperately needed refurbishing. The so-called beds were about a meter wide and not nearly long enough, but the fact that everything felt a little damp disgusted me the most. Despite my discomfort I grit my teeth and did my best to settle in.
After the crash-course the gentleman from the marina gave us, he untied the boat from the docks and we we’re off. I watched the mainland disappear into the horizon whilst we motored out into the unknown. My dad instructed me to take control of the rudder and steer into the wind while he hoisted the main sail, yet once it was up it seemed to flap uselessly in the strong breeze. The orders to steer away from the wind came next…
The sails caught a gust and bellowed out with a triumphant clap. Euphoria filled me and my preconceptions vanished leaving only astonishment. As we sped across the water, the waves parting at Liberty’s bow, I was left feeling alleviated of the fear that had been weighing me down and instead was filled with a sense of freedom and peace. The wind pulling at the sail was palpable and thrilling. The smell of salt water filled my nostrils as I inhaled the fresh, cold afternoon air and the sound of seagulls and water rushing was all I could hear. After a few tacks my hands were sore with rope burns and my arms ached from the constant tugging at the many ropes that were scattered about the deck like snakes in a pit, but these small discomforts seemed irrelevant in comparison to the joy I was feeling at that moment. The wind ruffled my hair and made it hard for me to open my eyes beyond a squint as the boat rocked up and down. I admired the huge expanse of water, the waves reminding me of rolling hills, with nothing but fascination and it seemed to me as if the water and the air had cleansed me of the juvenile fear that had possessed me prior to this moment. The only emotions that filled me whilst we were sailing that sunny afternoon were feelings of satisfaction and delight.
When we reached the overnight anchorage I was exhausted but satisfied. My father and I sat outside and watched the sun set. Shades of yellow, orange, red and purple flecked the horizon making it look like an unreal painting. When the sun had gone down the stars revealed themselves, shining brighter than I had ever experienced before and the Milky Way was so clear, it looked as if a toddler had spilled a glass of milk across the night sky. My Dad pointed out vivid star constellations that seemed as if they belonged in a children’s “Connect the Dots” drawing book and you could feel the white light of the crescent moon reflecting off the dark water, slight ripples contorting the reflection, making the surface seem like a broken mirror. It was almost magical and it made me forget my discomfort as I crawled into my bed and allowed myself to slip into a peaceful sleep.
The next three days passed as in a dream and before I knew it, we were back at the marina where we started, yet I was not the same as at the beginning of this holiday. I had found something out in the vastness of the ocean that had changed me for the better. My prejudice toward oceans, seas and lakes had gone and my fear of what supposedly lurked in them had as well. Sailing is and remains one of my favourite activities in the world.

by Ryan Smith, 15, John F. Kennedy School, Berlin, Germany


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