Gas prices have come down some in the last few days, but the last time I drove past a pump, regular was 2.99 a gallon and they were still out of premium and plus. I don’t mind paying the higher gas prices that much, but I do wish I had a vehicle that was even more efficient than my Civics’ already exceptional 40 miles to the gallon. I think that’s what makes sailing so appealing. Almost complete independence from suppliers. It’s transportation that requires nothing but wind. In theory one could go for months even years without any additional resources.
There’s also the romantic aspect of sailing. It has all the requirements for an ideal date, specialized skill, time, setting, being alone and most importantly the nostalgia that comes with a somewhat anachronistic activity. Alas I don’t know how to sail, I rented a sailboard once and I have good intentions of taking a kite surfing class, but my experience in sailing is limited to a few hours out sailing around Booth Bay, Maine when I was 15 and the knowledge one picks up from causal reading of sailing novels. So when Jonathan Robie who goes to Durham Mennonite offered to take me sailing in his 17 foot dingy, I jumped at the chance. He picked me up late Saturday morning and we drove down to Lake Jordan. The wind was brisk and setting up the mast and jib was relatively uneventful. We launched the boat and Jonathan bustled around rigging the mainsail, adjusting the rudder and all those little things Captains do, or as he put it, “thinking about what all could go wrong.” Sailors are a superstitious lot and I suppose that when we eventually cast off from the dock and ended up sailing the wrong direction it was a bad omen, but that was soon rectified and we were cruising along. Jonathan kept apologizing for how fast the boat was going saying, “It can go a lot faster but I’m sailing conservatively because I’m getting the hang of the wind.”
“Conservative can be good,” said I.
We tacked once, and everything seemed to be going OK, there were a few little minor problems and we tuned the boat a little bit for the wind but this was sailing. This was what I wanted to learn. Before I had a chance to get comfortable with my role of first mate and ducking the boom as we changed headings, Jonathan said something to the effect of, “Uh oh” and I found myself ducking the boom and at the same time trying to avoid being hit by all the other objects falling with me into the water. Our boat had capsized. I floated in the water for a brief moment surprised at the turn of events and tried to collect the water bottles, hats and everything else that was sinking. Jonathan explained what we needed to do, but before we could actually do it, I learned a new term. The boat turtled. Turtling is when the boat turns completely upside down and makes righting it much more of a problem. So there we floated, clinging to an upside down hull in the middle of Lake Jordan. Jonathan explained that if we pulled on the centerboard, we’d be able to get the boat over on its side and then we could right it. I climbed up using the mounting brackets for the rudder and did as he said. A friendly wind surfer stopped by and gave us a hand and we righted that boat. At this point I noticed that we no longer had a rudder. As I looked around for it, I learned the reason why you never leave the boat when you’re in the water. It’s really hard to get back to it. I started swimming to the boat but the boat was drifting as fast or faster than I was swimming and I couldn’t seem to catch it. I’m an ok swimmer. I can get from point A to point B. I can tread water for a good long while and am comfortable in the water. I’m also a sinker. My body fat is in all the wrong places to be a fast swimmer. Add to that my baggy shirt and ill fitting life jacket and you understand how, when 20 minutes later Jonathan told me I should try and swim as fast as I could to the boat, I could tell him that I was, without any sense of lost dignity. I was relaxed though, I was always getting closer to the shore that wasn’t that far away at this point. It also gave me time to think about James’ exhortations on the tongue as related to steering, Peter walking on the water and the meaning of bedraggled, in that order. It was at that point that Jonathan then decided to teach me something else, that lowering the mainsail is how one calls for help. It works pretty well because shortly there after a catamaran stopped by and picked me up. At this point I was so tired and waterlogged that I couldn’t even get out of the water without assistance. These were good sailors and a catamaran is a fast boat so in no time at all I was back on the beach helping Jonathan deal with a swamped boat.
I’m not going to describe the process it took to get the boat back on the trailer, but I will say that I strongly suspect that fact Jonathan had a boat at the end is largely because we had used up our daily quota of calamity. It’s also worth noting that the same boat that picked me out of the water came in while we were working on this project, towed by a ski boat, victim of a downed mast and cracked hull.
This is the sort of story that one can only describe as an adventure. Adventures aren’t always good, this one was simply because of the humor and the fact that no one got hurt. Maybe you’ve seen the bumper sticker, “Oh no not another learning experience.” This was such a learning experience, I learned lots of new terms and things to do or not do and also that sailing is not quite as self sufficient as I would like to think.
A ship in a harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for. -William Shedd