Keep Your Mast Pointed to the Sky

Learning to stay upright in any conditions is the second life lesson college sailor Abby Freeman discovered through the sport of sailing.

Sailing World

Abby Freeman Laser sailing on Lake Erie

Following the Corinthian Spirit, the second invaluable lesson my father taught me through the sport of sailing is to keep your mast pointed to the sky. This seems like a simple concept to grasp, unless you learned to race on a full rig Laser while only weighing 100 pounds as I did. As you might imagine, "keep your mast pointed to the sky" was a line I heard regularly. All summer long, I would meet my dad for lunch after sail camp, soaking wet and exhausted, only to be greeted with, "How many times did you capsize today? Well, you know you're supposed to keep the mast pointed to the sky, right?" My response was always somewhere along the lines of: "Well maybe if you would buy me a radial rig this would stop being a swimming camp and start being a sailing camp!"

My pleas fell on seemingly deaf ears, so every season I struggled on the full rig passed down to me from my older siblings. But once I hit the age of 15, I discovered the value of the sail controls on a Laser. Slowly but surely I climbed the internal ranks of my home club sail camp, capsizing less, working harder, and sailing faster. My last year eligible racing juniors, I was able to borrow a friend’s radial rig and went on to win my sail camp’s internal regatta. Realistically, this doesn’t mean much today, but I was the only one of my siblings to win that trophy, so I was pretty pleased.

I will never forget calling my dad on the telephone to tell him I had won the series only to hear, “See what you can do when you keep your mast pointed to the sky?” It may be a simple concept but it certainly spoke volumes to me at that moment. A light bulb came on, and a gear clicked into place. This whole time, my dad was just telling me to do what I need to do to stay upright. The first step to success is keeping yourself in check, taking the necessary measures, and knowing your personal limits in order to keep the mast pointed skyward. How simple, and yet how profound of a lesson I had finally mastered in the sport.

All of a sudden, “keep your mast pointed to the sky” transformed from my dad’s cliché into a feat. It’s now a mantra I will use the rest of my life. Every heavy-wind day, lumpy sea, and sail-luffing puff, challenged me and made me a more knowledgeable and better experienced sailor—just as every challenge I had faced and overcame in my life has made me a stronger and more well-rounded individual.

A simple epiphany as this one has had an invaluable impact on my life. What more do parents want to teach their children than how to stay upright and survive every challenge life throws at them? And that’s exactly what my dad was teaching me; challenges will come, so figure out a way to take the puffs as they come and adjust my sails to keep my mast pointed to the sky. The fantastic part of this lesson was that I learned and mastered it in a sailboat first; I know how to keep my mast pointed to the sky when I’m sailing, so I certainly can stay upright through whatever challenge I face ashore—all it takes is a little depowering.