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First You Have to Row a Little Boat: Reflections on Life & Living

4.28  ·  Rating details ·  652 ratings  ·  71 reviews
In the bestselling tradition of Harold Kushner and Robert Fulghum, this inspiring little volume uses sailing as a metaphor for embarking upon the journey of life. Sailors and non-sailors alike will be enchanted by this simple yet compelling book which sheds a magical new light on the age-old search for self.
Hardcover, 224 pages
Published May 21st 1993 by Grand Central Publishing
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Average rating 4.28  · 
Rating details
 ·  652 ratings  ·  71 reviews

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Kari Ross
Jun 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book. I read it about two weeks after a big heartbreak and it helped ground me and look forward agai. And no matter the state if mind I started the book, its a quick, heart warming read.
Oct 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I picture Richard Bode scanning the saltwater horizon with his youthful eyes and unintentionally crafting this beautiful elegy over the course of a young lifetime - a spark of insight here, a hastily written idea on a steno pad there - and finally gathering all of these ripe wisdoms, these little wonders of the world, into this simple culmination of a book. The journey of sailing and learning how to sail is truly such a meaningful metaphor for a fulfilling life.

I thank my father, who himself loves sailife.

Jun 06, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A pleasant sojourn while away for a week at an intensive training course. I missed my sailing on both of the Saturdays so this book was my way of making up for it.
In some ways I was surprised how much it did. While there were a few details about learning aspects of boats and their movement, it was the friendly life advice that I so appreciate that this book also provided. It is so much easier listening in to other’s mistakes and learning from them. Yet somehow we still need to make mistake
Jul 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
As a boy, Richard Bode is enthralled with the boats that glide through the bay near his home. His first boat is nothing more than a dinghy, which he dutifully rows out of the creek and across the bay, each stroke bringing him closer to harnessing the power of the wind. As he learns about sailing, he learns about himself. He describes the lessons he learns while growing up and the sailing masters he meets along the way — the men who guided him at sea and in life.

I sympathized with the young boy
Mar 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a sailor and one who savors the memories of the past, this book made me smile wistfully at so many points. The lessons one learns on a sailboat are life lessons and cannot be understated. Easy read. Good for those in one of life's many transitions and fans of Long Island's south shore.
Jun 09, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really appreciated the author's life lessons and using sailing as a metaphor. If I knew more about boats I probably would have given this a five.
Sherri Brown
Oct 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a book that is best enjoyed in short sections. I found that I wanted, even needed, to stop at the end of each chapter to absorb what the author had written. As a sailor, I fully understood his vivid descriptions of learning about the wind, the weather and the water and about becoming one with your boat as well as the minute details about such things as parts of the boat, points of sail and trimming the sails. I didn't need any time to understand the parts about boating. But I wanted to t ...more
Jan 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent, inspiring read. After several of my friends recommended this book, I finally read it and glad that I did. I just recently moved aboard our sailboat, so I enjoy reading anything about sailing. Bode's book isn't just about sailing though, and really, it's more about navigating through the sea of life. Bode takes us on a journey of his early years aboard his little blue sloop and shares the life lessons it taught him.
Sara floerke
Seemed like a great concept, but our group agreed that we never really got to know the author very well. It's autobiographical, yet, he never really opened up. Part of the postscript is that his children really like the book because they never really got to know him. Even reading his book didn't really help me get to know him.

The metaphor was inviting, but it just never caught any wind.
Heidi Eckman
Aug 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fantastic book! One of my favs!
Dec 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
SO cute. Fun little life lessons and just a fun read.
Jillian Owens
Oct 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
one of my new favorite books, great purchase
Heather Rosenkoetter
A delightful, reflective piece that anyone who has sailed a sailboat would appreciate and enjoy.
Peg Gjertsen
Aug 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Amazing book if you have ever sailed a book. It mentioned many places that were familiar to me particularly the Great South Bay.
Jennifer Callahan
A touching little book that a neighbor gave to me.
Shirleon Benson
First off I have to say that I wish Goodreads put the time you started this book because it didn't take me two whole days to read the book. I started it last night, yes, but just barely, and then finished it today. Technically I read it in about 4 hours? Give or take.

Anyway, I loved the book! I honestly wasn't sure what to expect when I picked it up at my libraries book sale. I saw the word boat and since I'm on a nautical theme, I thought it would be a good read to add to my list! Well, when I
Mik Hetu
Feb 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: definitely NOT ONLY sailors, but all parents and all young adults!
A man’s reflections on what sailing has taught him about living life, without the cliches.
This may not be one of the best books ever written, but it is one of the very best books I’ve ever read! Once, at a booksale, I met a guy who was buying several copies of this book, as I was, for gifts, for recipients yet undecided.
There are many cliche life lessons in sailing — how you often have to trade off speed for direction; prepare your gear; etc. — but I didn’t find any of these in this book. Richard Bo
Oct 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
This is an incredible little book. As nothing more than a collection of thoughts about life and living, it's probably only passable. But for anyone who has every sailed, or dreamed of sailing, it's very magical. It's becoming one of my all time favorites.

The author describes how he bought a small sloop as a boy and learned to sail it. As he describes many of the lessons that he learned, he applies what he learned to other areas of life. The book would be interesting enough just as a
Apr 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am in love with this book. Happened across it in the self-improvement section of my local bookstore while searching for books on recovering from childhood neglect. As someone who had no meaningful role models to provide me guidance, wisdom or love as a child, I cherish this little book for its easily digestible, immediately applicable nuggets. Every page seems to contain some kernel of indispensable insight on how to approach life's ups and downs, ins and outs. Bonus, it's poetic - the author ...more
Jun 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A terrific book, enjoyed it tremendously, especially for those who sail or live life on the water.
It's full of insights with a "quotable" saying or phrase on almost every page.

As someone who loves to sail, I'd recommend it to anyone who yearns to get on the water, or wants to enhance his/her life.

Even if you don't enjoy sailing or being on the water, the book is full of nautical sayings that quickly translate to everyday Life.

I'd encourage almost anyone
Paul Jones
Sep 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
I was sent this book as a gift from a friend in preparation for my first sailing trip. At fist I thought it was a guide on the basics of sailing, it was nothing of the sort! Instead it was a book that relates many of life's lessons to the lessons and passions of sailing. The book helped me get my sailing jargon down and learn a few basics things around the boat which was helpful, but it also helped me look at sailing as not something you just do, it is something that you experience and apply. ...more
Gordon Francisco
Mar 17, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-enjoyed
This is a treasure. A young boy dreams of sailing while the old sage of the harbor, whom the boy has watched from afar for months - places him in a row boat - much to the young dreamer's dismay. The sage advises him as the boy finds his way to balance, rowing, taking the waves, docking, etc until he advances the boy to an actual sailboat. Each new chapter brings the young boy another lesson in the skill and art of sailing and seamanship, which he later draws upon as a man. A wonderful story in a ...more
Apr 22, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm not a sailor and don't aspire to be one...deep black water is always a bit frightening. However I can understand the allure and magic of it through the eyes of a young boy needing an outlet for grief at losing his parents, and the usual growing pains of any adolescent boy. Learned some sailing lingo I will never use and months from now will not remember port from starboard (again!). But something beautiful lives in the wind, the waves, the freedom of sailing and the knowledge needed to do it ...more
Karen Birdsall
Jul 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
One of my favorite lessons in this book was when Richard went to the dock to check out a boat when a captain asked him if he'd sailed before to which Richard said no. The captain signaling for Richard to get in the row boat and learn that first. (I might not have that down verbatim but it's from what I remember)

As in life, most want to start at the top without first learning the skills necessary to grow and succeed at the top.

One of my favorite books!

Thom Leiter
Apr 27, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: inspirational
This book got me through a summer of selling books. Actually, it helped keep my mind off the misery I was in. When I think about taking on an enormous challenge, I understand that I have to work away at it a little at a time.

This book gives a great picture of how that process works and there are wonderful little stories that the author writes in regards to his own experiences as well. I liked it a lot.
Victoria Miller
Jan 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Such a pure pleasure to read, that as soon as I finished, I went back and started reading the beginning again. For someone who knows about sailing, I'm sure much in this book would resonate more deeply; however, still I learned some things about sailing, and some great reflections on life of value to anyone. A wonderful contemplative and soothing read.
Jan 22, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a good book to read when you are in "transition". Between jobs, between spouses, between phases in your life, etc. The book has some nice "life lessons". Not the most profound thing I've ever read, but it was short enough to make it well worth the effort.
Feb 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I think this would appear more if you are a sailor, but it's a lot of great advice on how to focus on what's important in life, not getting distracted, knowing when to act and when not, etc.
Highly recommended (and really short!).
Jim Mcnulty
Sep 23, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having grown up on the South shore of Long Island and experienced the magic of sailing on the Great South Bay I was pleased to find that the author anchored this story in those experiences. This is a charming story. It is well written and delivers lots of good life lessons.
Jun 08, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
OK, I am really enjoying this book. Just past halfway through and it is both beautiful and thought-provoking which is always a good combination! I will wait to rate it on the star scale until I'm through, but so far I'd give it four stars!
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“For the truth is that I already know as much about my fate as I need to know. The day will come when I will die. So the only matter of consequence before me is what I will do with my allotted time. I can remain on shore, paralyzed with fear, or I can raise my sails and dip and soar in the breeze.” 17 likes
“And so in time the rowboat and I became one and the same-like the archer and his bow or the artist and his paint. What I learned wasn't mastery over the elements; it was mastery over myself, which is what conquest is ultimately all about.” 0 likes
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