When I taught sailing at a boys’ summer camp back in the 50s and 60s—though a counselor, I wasn’t much more than a boy myself—I would emphasize the triangle. As we remember from geometry, triangles all have three angels adding up to 180 degrees. My point was, there are three things, or angles, we need to attend to in sailing: speed, safety, and direction. If you increase any one, you take away from the other two. So, you can go very fast, say, but maybe not in the direction you want to go and with less regard for safety. Or you can go slowly, perhaps in the right direction, with considerable safety. You’ve got to get your balance just right to get safely to where you want to go in relatively good time.
Unlike motor boats, you can’t go wherever you want. Since sailboats work by creating a vacuum behind the sail(s), you can never sail directly into the wind. The wind must come from roughly the other 300 degrees so that it can hit one side of the sail(s). The centerboard or keel then converts sideways energy into that which drives the boat forward. Of course, you can run before the wind, or run free. No need for your centerboard or keel then. On smaller sailboats, you can even draw your centerboard up so that there is less resistance to the water and you can go faster.
So let’s say you want to head to the very place where the wind is coming from. What then? Good question. The answer is, you tack, that is, you zigzag back and forth across the wind until you eventually get there. And what happens if the wind dies down? You keep someone who can sail in the boat while you go swimming. Or, if you have a motor, you use it. If not, you take to your oars. You may also find yourself using “sailor’s language,” which is not called that for nothing. Or you pray for the wind to return. There are few atheists in sailboats.
I have found sailing a good metaphor for living. There are changes and challenges more often than we may like. But we get what we get. No sense taking your boat out on a windless day or when it’s storming. But if you are out, choose how you balance speed, safety, and direction. Remember that in life as in sailing, “What’s your angle?” is a fundamental question. Choosing the right one could determine success or failure, even life or death.