Friendships are a little like sailing a boat. The vessel we get at birth is equipped for waterborne adventures with the basics: rudder, mast and sail. But we have to learn what the different parts are for and how to use them. Being told how to raise a sail and steer a course helps, but actually doing it is what counts.

When rigging a boat, like a kid learning how to walk, feeling confident about the process makes it more likely that learning and success will follow. Being tied up securely to a dock or firmly anchored to a buoy before getting underway is scary and confusing when facing into the wind as it rattles halyards and flaps the sails as they’re run up the mast. There are consequences for not paying attention to the world around you. Learning comes in steps in all cases, with a boat and with friends. If you don’t pay attention, the boat WILL teach, as does life.

As the sailboat gets underway, the wind, like a buddy on an adventure, provides oomph for the journey. Most of the energy is positive, other times a problem, still other moments a hindrance.

You can’t depend on the wind alone to set a course; it’s there to help, but the captain’s in charge.

The flow of air comes for the most part from the port or starboard side of a boat. The boat needs to be steered in a way that takes advantage of the wind’s force. When the direction needs to change, coming about and taking the draft of air on a different tack (changing the course of a boat by turning its head into and through the wind), presents a moment of hesitation before the boat leans into the wind and accelerates on a new route.

Headwinds anywhere are difficult to manage. Tacking repeatedly to accommodate strong gusts is exhausting and time-consuming. The captain has to decide if it’s worth the effort. Perhaps not even trying or waiting for another day would produce better results. Other times there is no choice, and the gales must be engaged with the hope that all will be well in the end.

Then there is the downwind tack when heading back to port. This is a quiet time in between gusts to relish the curve of the sail and the water split and sprayed from the bow, a period of reflection on what it means to be in a relationship, with a boat or a person. The pleasure of safe harbor is anticipated by the delight in running up a spinnaker that gives the vessel an extra push, not unlike the hope in seeing someone longed for.

Set sail. Enjoy the stiff breezes as they come with friends that power our journeys and give us safe haven when day is done.

Doug Lewandowski is a retired counselor, educator and licensed psychologist. Write to him at