We did a number of activities yesterday. First, several of the girls wanted to go to Blarney Castle and kiss the stone. I was not moved to spend €10 to walk up 100+ stairs, lie on my back overhanging a drop off, and put my lips anywhere hundreds of thousands of others have. No judgment…Just not my thing. I’m happy to report they felt the experience was worth the expense! (Note to self: Own a tourist attraction–very lucrative.) While they were kissing the stone, the rest of us went to the Largest Irish store in the World … I still needed to buy souvenirs, so I thought for sure this was the ideal place.

I saw my crystal, of course– Waterford’s signature Lismore–and resisted the urge to buy a salt and pepper shaker set and about a dozen other pieces. I wanted to buy some table linens for my mom, but there were mountains to sort through in a variety of patterns. Even to my surprise, I sent almost a half hour looking through Irish music compilation CDs looking for the perfect combination of my must-have songs. Would you believe I ended up walking out empty-handed?! My only explanation is i felt overwhelmed mainly because I overthought every item (how expensive?, how heavy/bulky?, how breakable?, is it perfect?) I gave up, went to the restaurant for a latte and scone, a little disheartened by the experience, a little delighted by the scone.

After we all gathered up, we went back to the Naval base and enjoyed both a tour of a ship and a meeting with a female Protestant reverend/minister/priest/rector from the Church of Ireland. This rounded out our experience having spoken with Fr. Michael of the Catholic church on Inis Mor, and was pretty enlightening. Only in the last 25 years have women been able to become priests in the Church of Ireland. The girls asked a lot of good questions, and we enjoyed our speaker until she had to leave at 2pm. Little did we know what was coming next…

When Cmdr Roberts told us he would try to get us on a boat, I had no idea it would a sailboat (well, three to accommodate the size of our group), nor did I expect that as soon as we left the pier, I would have the ship’s wheel in my hands, getting my first lesson in sailing.

The breeze in Cork harbor was plentiful, but not overwhelming, the day progressively warmer and sunnier. Owen, the captain of the ship, grinned widely and asked who was ready to sail. I looked at the girls. They looked at me. Owen called me out, and instead of bowing out gracefully, I stood up, unsteady with the waves, and took the wheel in my hands like I was choking the life out of it. Now we all had on high quality life jackets with what could best be described as an automatically inflating harness with crotch straps, but I didn’t want to test it out. At first it was so unnerving…definitely out of my element…I knew anyone looking at my face could tell I was somewhere between overly nervous and slightly panicked. Especially when I turned the wheel to hard and the boom swung around. Crewman Paul ducked deftly without incident. He knew it was coming (whereas I didn’t see that coming AT ALL). I freaked out a little, he shrugged. With experience comes relaxation.

At one point two of the Navy guys and two of the girls were up at the front, as I navigated the harbor. I had two more girls near the back with me. While I was confident in Owen and Paul, I had none in myself… I felt the weight of their lives and the expense of the probably 34-36′ sailboat. Deep down I knew Owen would take over if anything went awry, but there were times I wanted him standing right next to me. I realized he was moving further away from me the better I performed.

Paul and Owen kept trading numbers, measured in meters and knots (sp?), and I kept thinking to myself that if one of those numbers turned out to be a bad thing, I would never know. Sailing has its own language, so I probably would not understand words any better than the numbers. None of that seems like a big deal until the boat is heeling (sp?), or leaning to one side, at an uncomfortable and somewhat frightening angle…then you really wish you knew more. At first, Owen or Paul one said it’s like driving a car — right is right and left is left. Later they would both say it’s not like driving a car on a road–you are always interacting with the forces of wind and water.

Before long, though, I started to relax enough to feel the boat, the water and the wind…I found the rhythm between them…and realized I wasn’t sailing; I was dancing. And it was my turn to lead. When I encountered a new challenge (now sail between that buoy and that other boat!), a little anxiety crept up in my throat. First, the other boat in question was the Air … a €750,000 a week rental yacht…and Owen grinned while he said “make your point the back of that boat” as we approached it almost perpendicularly. I laughed nervously and said, ” I can’t afford to replace it if I hit it.”

In my mind, I remembered the lessons of the water…perspective is distorted. Items in your mirror are further than they appear…but I found it hard to trust. As I sailed past the Air, I gained more confidence and found my groove again. I was so thrilled because I started to understand what the fuss is about. Sailing is…positively exhilarating. But all of the excitement and (totally unnecessary) tension in my arms and shoulders and the (somewhat necessary) tension in my thighs and calves, fatigued me a bit. A couple of the students took turns at the helm. When we docked, I enjoyed a refreshing beverage hanging out with the sailors. Splendid company! I’m going to order a nautical chart of Cork harbor to hang on the wall.

Best. Day. Ever.

Thanks to all who made that possible!