How We Learn, People Who've Inspired Us

The Captain’s Father

I have learned from many sailors over the years, but none so much as the years I spent in the cockpit of my father’s ‘old classic woodies’ on the Great Lakes.

Being the youngest of 5 and having lost my mother to her nursing career, I tagged along behind the Captain (my father) and learned by doing; whether we were trading in old nautical antiques in the flats, scraping and re-packing the seams in the dead of winter or heading off on long legs to Canadian islands.

From an early age, I was expected to take my turn at the helm, climb out on the 8′ bowsprit to un-hank the yankee in a pitching sea, roll down the mains’l jiffy-reefing, climb the mast to reconfigure some tangled halyard and name the constellations on a star-lit night.

I never knew if he appreciated that tiny toe-headed, tom-boy that loved the sea as much as he, for he spent a life time mentoring and coaching as a profession and avocation…even receiving a 50 year honor from the Red Cross Sailing program for his services in Cleveland (as well as 37 years teaching/coaching in the public schools).

I knew how deeply imbedded his lessons were upon instructing my own sailing students from Camp LeJeune Marine Base in tying the four basic sailing knots and fully expecting them to tie them down under 5 seconds (been there when those seconds counted).

They enjoyed my stories of being set at the helm at 8 years old and being expected to hold my course while he went down for a nap, only to hear him bellow from below if my heading was off 5 degrees on either side.

But it was after we rebuilt that small salvaged cat-rigged wooden skiff, that I set out alone.

With his words in my ears, the wind in my face and the waves rolling underneath…. I became a sailor that day… hand squarely on the tiller…the strong easterly winds pulling hard…the direction my own….a skipper in my own right.

He gave me that little old boat as a sweet sixteen gift with a little card, “I hope you enjoy sailing as much as I have” love, Dad.

And for me, that was the BEST a girl could receive!!

Been salvaging boats ever since, restoring their dignity as beautiful swimmers and have encouraged, taught and mentored as many folks to take the helm and seek the wind as one possibly can.

Capt. Suz
The Captain’s Daughter
Bogue Inlet, the Carolina Coast

“A sailor is an artist whose medium is the wind”~ W. Chiles

About Capt. Suzi Wallace

I grew up sailing the Great Lakes, cruising, racing, restoring and eventually began a free-lance career of giving back to the marine industry as a seafaring artisan/designer/illustrator and educator.

I lived aboard and cruised on a 41’ trimaran raising two beautiful ‘sweet pea’ swabs and continue to race beach cats and  classic wooden skiffs but will always love the intimacy and adventure of a small boat set out to sea~

Suz writes about those sweet sails and much more on her blog.

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  • Capt. Suz Wallace’s blog

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2 comments to The Captain’s Father

  • What a beautiful tribute! I’m always a little envious when I read about people who grew up sailing, and it’s particularly true when the mentor is a wise father. I had a wonderful father (whom I miss poignantly on Father’s Day, especially because his birthday, the 21st, often is the same day), and he always supported me in whatever I wanted to put my mind and soul to. So he would have been very proud to see my accomplishments in boating, even though he never had a part in them and I had to find other mentors along the way.

  • I have always expressed to my sailing students the significance of “my” taking the helm of my own small boat, and THAT was truly the beginning of my education. Only one other brother took to sailing like myself, the rest don’t care for it. So although it was a blessing in my life, there was also an “internal” switch that turned me on…that is another story~
    One of my most significant mentors was a sea-lawyer who raced one-design fleet boats at the local yacht club. He contacted my college sailing team looking for crew for the racing season and I signed up,,,our 4 person crew went all the way to the Nationals that year. I learned more about the technical, strategic side of sailing in that one season than in years of cruising. So when my sailing students ask where to go after lessons…I ALWAYS highly suggest, get on board a racing boat and your learning curve will skyrocket!
    I believe in mentors, no matter where they come from. But a little girl will always want her father to be proud of her~

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