The Saving Grace of Dinghies


Photo illustration by Susan Derges.

I have had a soft spot in my heart for the humble dinghy since boyhood. At age 14 I ordered the plans for building a one-design sailing dinghy called the El Toro. Regrettably I never got the thing built, but I kept the plans for years. This essay on dinghy rowing by Heidi Julavits is sweet, clever, lyrical — a modest gem, like a dinghy.

Dinghies… demand humility, as well as a basic grasp of buoyancy and physics… They become unstable when incompetent, rash or hubristic people get into them…

Learning to row a dinghy requires surrendering to the illogical: You need to first accept the seemingly counterproductive fact that to move the dinghy forward, you have to face backward…

… Rowing provides an opportunity to regularly identify and assess my imbalances, many of them a result of years of unthinking behavior… You must learn to always correct for them…

Mornings are best, before the wind picks up, because the water is glassy and promotes reflection. You can ask yourself hard questions about everything as you watch your past recede… What awaits you, you cannot see. With the help of a rock or a tree, however, you can take aim. You can reassure yourself: This is not your last chance to get it right.

(Heidi Julavits, “Letter of Recommendation: Dinghy Rowing,” NYTimes, 7-3-19)

(c) 2019 JMN

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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