Since my children became adults, my approach to parenting has been very much hands-off.  That might seem blindingly obvious, but there are parents out there who still “help” their children lead their lives well into their twenties and beyond. I’ve written before about the potential damage that can do.

To be fair, in my own case, I know I’d be given (have been, if the truth be known) short shrift if I offered my opinion anyway. And, frankly, I’m proud of the fact that my son and daughter have their own minds.  True, they’re going to make mistakes, but haven’t we all?  And don’t we learn more readily from those than from someone explaining something to us… as I was reminded only a few weeks ago.

A lot of you will know that I love being on (or in) the water.  My focus in recent years has been sailing, but in September I had my first holiday on a cabin cruiser on the Norfolk Broads.

It’s tempting to write a series of posts about my experiences that week but – like holiday snaps – they’d be of more interest to me than you, so I’ll restrict myself to the following story.

A couple of days into the trip, I was still feeling apprehensive when it came to mooring up. The instruction given at the start was largely theoretical, and the main thing I was having difficulty getting my head around was using the tide properly. So far, we’d been lucky in getting assistance from other boaters, but I was conscious I couldn’t rely on that all week.

Following a three-hour putter upriver from Beccles, we found a long stretch of almost empty moorings.  Plenty of space for manoeuvring and parking up (not sure I’ve got the jargon right yet).

In theory, I needed to approach the berth against the tide, the idea being that, as the prow angles in, the flow of the river pushes the stern in as well. We’d also already worked out that the tide should be going out. As Felixstowe was the nearest coastal town and it was behind us, it seemed logical that the tide must already be against us. So I reduced speed and headed in.

As the nose gently bumped against the side, my partner jumped ashore with the painter and tied up. This should have meant the stern would be gently drifting in for her to grab the line at the back. Instead, it eased back out into the river.  Conscious of the audience of much more experienced boaters nearby (when you’re being watched, you always assume they’re experts, don’t you?), I turned the wheel hard over, sure I’d seen this work before. It didn’t.  I tried using more power. Nothing.

Realising I must have misjudged something, I suggesting untying the rope so I could go out and try again. By this time, though, the boat was pretty much at a right angle to the mooring and the painter was now so tight against the mooring post, there wasn’t enough slack to undo it.

Panic was beginning to set in when the cavalry arrived – more accurately, three people from the nearby boats.  Over the next few minutes they strained and heaved, trying to pivot the boat around so one of them might be able to get the rear painter. As they did, my partner pointed out that the rope that was already secured was pulling against the railing on the front deck, the pressure starting to bend one of the uprights. Clearly, this resistance was the only thing preventing the boat from swinging all the way round.  When I took a closer look, I could see that the bracket where the upright was secured to the boat had also warped. If the pressure continued, there was a risk it might tear a hole in the deck. My stress levels were not easing.

Fortunately, one of our helpers had the presence of mind to point out the obvious. If we untied another rope and attached it to the stern painter, it’d be long enough to throw ashore, then they could use that to pull the boat around. And that, my friends, is what we did.

As we got ourselves settled afterwards, and with some kind and helpful advice from the others, my mistakes became clear.

First of all, although Felixstowe was closer, it transpired that the tide going out meant it was heading for Great Yarmouth, in the opposite direction. Secondly, the current wasn’t strong (strong enough, mind), so it hadn’t been obvious which way it was going just by looking at the water. Our new friends suggested some tricks of the trade to help us in the future.

This was a turning point. From that point on, when it came to reading the tide, I was on it – and mooring up got a whole lot easier. If I hadn’t had such a stressful situation following that mistake, I wouldn’t have become so focused on getting it right. More than that, I can’t wait to try it again – and maybe stretch myself a little more.

The thing is, if I still need to make mistakes to learn valuable lessons at 53, why should I deprive my twenty-something children of that gift?

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