It had been a good regatta for my boat, K3. We sat atop the 25 boat fleet going into the final day, 3 points ahead of the nearest competitor, an out of town boat whose skipper had nicknamed us “the Cubans” (K cubed). Although the winds had been light and shifty, we had the boat dialed into the conditions and had sailed well.
Racing a sailboat in light winds can be grueling. When the wind is really, really light, a sailboat tends to be uncomfortable. The sails flop around, you constantly readjust your weight to squeeze every bit of forward momentum out of the "nothing", and you bob up and down like a fishing bobber, at the mercy of the waves and wakes of passing motor boats.
The final day of this regatta was under way, and the first of the two scheduled races had been cancelled- no wind. The race committee squeezed off the final race in a light little whiff of breeze that wandered across the race course. It quickly faded. Occasionally, a little streak of wind would make itself known by gently wrinkling the surface of the water. Any boat near that streak benefited. We seemed to miss every one of those streaks, and eventually found ourselves buried deep in the fleet, a least 1/4 mile behind the race leader and our nearest competitor in the standings. The 18 boats between us would easily erase our thin 3 point lead.
Rounding the final downwind mark, we turned back upwind for the finish. The entire fleet had gone left, heading parallel to the distant shore, looking for whatever wind they could (or couldn't) find. But, it was the favored side of the course, closest to the finish. The advantage appeared to be all theirs.
We decided to head right, deeeeeeep right, directly toward shore- following the fleet would just cement our place in the cellar. We went so far to the right that the race leader asked his crew. "Where are the Cubans?" His crew had trouble finding us at first. Once he located us he responded to the skipper- "They are gone".
Leaving the fleet and sailing to a far corner of the racecourse is not typically viewed as a smart tactic. Sailing well requires executing in the “ordinary”. Staying on the favored tack, keeping close to the competition, proper sail trim and boat balance become second nature. We were atop the standings because we had done very well in the “ordinary” of the previous day.
Yet, here we were, fully committed to a tactic we didn’t like, doggedly bobbing our way toward the right (actually wrong) corner of the course, farther and farther from the fleet, seemingly headed for dead last finish. Even the 5 boats behind us at the last mark went the other direction! At the rate we were going, we’d have trouble getting back to shore before the visiting boats had their boats packed and were on the road home.
Then, directly ahead of us, and only in our little corner of the lake- the surface of the water wrinkled a little- WIND! Not a lot, but definite ripples on the smooth glassy surface of the water. We waited for it to reach us, hoping that precious breeze wouldn't lift off the surface and leave us in our current state. First came a little whiff of fresh air, not enough to even fill a sail, but enough to feel on your face, and just enough to feel the boat move under us. And then it arrived. We were on the move! The ripples on the water in front of us looked darker, a sure sign of increasing wind. Three knots, then six, and finally a private 8 knot wind, as if out of nowhere, and intended only for us!
Being so far inshore and to the right side, we had to come back to the middle of the course to finish. The rest of the fleet, deep to the left, saw the breeze and was slogging their way back toward us. Looking over my shoulder I thought to myself, "They they might be too late..." We snapped off a crisp tack, all three of us now sitting on the high side of the boat to keep it flat and moving fast in the fresh breeze. Settling onto the new course, it was clear- they WERE too late, we would win!
It had taken a full day of disciplined sailing to work our way to the top of the leader board the day before. That morning, it had taken us less than 1.5 hours of that same disciplined sailing to find ourselves at the rear of the fleet and completely out of contention. And, it took mere minutes in a favorable fresh breeze to retake all the distance that had been lost and win the race (and the regatta) by a very comfortable margin.
So, what does this have to do with the spiritual life, or life in general? Well, everything. Life is a lot like sailboat racing. You can execute well, do the things you should do, when you should do them, and you still find yourself buried, far behind the rest of the pack. Sometimes, you need more than the “ordinary”. Sometimes, life requires a dose of the “extraordinary”.
That morning, we eschewed doubt, despair and hopelessness (foregone conclusions in the ordinary) in favor of the miraculous! We abandoned “common” wisdom and struck out boldly and radically, knowing that redemption and salvation would require something completely outside ourselves, something over which we had no control, and something we certainly could not see in the moment. Had we idolized the “ordinary” that particular morning, we would not have contended for the ”extraordinary” with steadfastness and determination. We would have accepted our circumstance and refused to leave it or look beyond it, forgetting that miracles are possible. And my silly little sailing “miracle” a quarter of a century ago, still inspires, encourages and points me to the greater reality within it- God is bigger than my circumstances. God comes through. Miracles happen.