Joseph Costello

Joey, Let Go Of The Rope!

The sun smiled down on the small lake as a warm breeze propelled our modest sailboat across the rippled water. My father at the helm, I dragged my fingers through the clear water, enjoying the brilliant day. Nothing could go wrong with him piloting the vessel. As my father skillfully steered the boat, heading towards the twinkling center of the lake, he turned to me and said, “Do you want to try this, Joey?”
Up until that point, sailing seemed relatively easy to me. My father was able to position the boat at just the right angle so as to catch the perfect amount of wind. He could then turn us so smoothly that, in the process, we lost almost no momentum. At seven years old, I was naive to the fact that his sailing skills had been acquired over twenty-five years of experience. I believed that as long as a person wore a life-jacket and firmly held the main line and the splintering rudder in each hand, he could sail.

So, I replied enthusiastically, “Yeah!”

My father slowed us down, and we came to a complete stop in the center of the lake. As I traded places with my father, I noticed how far we were from the shore and how deep the center of the lake was. Taking my seat, I grasped the main line and grabbed hold of the rudder. My oversized, neon-orange life jacket restricted the movement of my arms, but I was still eager to undertake this task. I patiently waited for the boat to go and speed off, but it moved not an inch. I looked pathetically at my father for guidance. He smiled and said, “Pull the main line in tight.” As I did so, the boat gradually gained speed.

Before I knew it, we were swiftly sailing across the water. It was great. The wind blew through my hair as I peered down into the dark depths of the lake. I felt like a master, I was sailing like a professional in no time at all.  Sailing along, I suddenly realized that my end of the boat was slowly lifting out of the water. My happiness turned to terror, for I was powerless to fix this pending catastrophe. At the rate that we were going, we would be capsized in a matter of moments.

I searched around for a solution and fell upon my father’s beaming face. He calmly said, “Joey, isn’t this fun?” My horrified expression told him otherwise. Laughing at my sad state, he instructed me to simply “Let go of the rope.”

I couldn’t move; my muscles locked up, freezing my body in a state of panic. I could think only of how horrible dying at the bottom of my grandparent’s lake would be. Lost in my morbid thoughts, the boat leaned ever closer to doom. In a last effort to regain control of the boat, I clenched the rope tighter.

My father said again, “Joey, let go of the rope!” in a more urgent tone.

Brendan, my older brother who had been enjoying the ride quietly up until this point, cried out, “We’re all going to die!”
That did not help the fear that had been building inside. And with a burst of energy, I gave the rope a tug sending Brendan off the front of the boat and into the water. All that I could think was that I had a tipping boat, that my only brother was in the water ten feet away and that I had no way of fixing either of those dilemmas.
As I think back upon this experience with my brother and father, the details become hazy. My brother remembers himself somehow deftly maneuvering the boat around, slowing it while greatly risking his own life. This happened all while my father and I sat in awe cheering him on, too petrified to do anything ourselves. I don’t agree with his story. My father remembers the scenario like this: we tipped slightly, and then we were fine. He apparently did not view this experience in the same magnitude as I viewed it because it most likely was among the least traumatizing experiences of his life.

Anyway, my brother was in the water, and the boat was tipping and my father was repeatedly saying, “Joey let go of the rope” with increasing intensity.

The irony of the whole situation is that with a huge gust of wind and the boat at almost a ninety degree angle to the water, I let go of the rope in fear that I was about to fall into the abyssal depths and not because my father instructed me to.

With that, the boat righted itself and we swayed from side to side. Taking control of the vessel, my father smoothly turned us to pick up my brother who was bobbing like a buoy, arms crossed, scowling at me.
Although I was a little disappointed in my sailing ability that day, I will always cherish that my father gave me, a little boy, the responsibility of sailing a boat, making me feel like a grown-up. If there is any moral to the story, I think it would be that there is a time to hold onto and a time to “let, go of the rope”.  If an experienced and knowledgeable person gives you advice, however, it is generally a good idea to follow it. This is a lesson that extends far beyond sailing.


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