Sailing is fickle. I met a harbor master once who said “there are no beginner sailors at the bottom of the ocean”. What he meant was that if you are a beginner you’re scared, nervous and have the appropriate amount of respect for the sea. There’s no way you are heading out if it’s too windy. But as you get better, you become more capable, and as you become more capable, you believe that there’s more and more you can do. But sometimes things don’t go as planned.
Mario: a friend of ours just told us of a story about a Frenchman who decided to go cross the Atlantic in his 45ft monhull. All but one of the crew backed out at the last minute. His radio failed. He didn’t have a weather forecast. He was an experienced sailor, and he went anyway. Guess what: he didn’t know that Hurricane Earl was coming and he had to abandon ship when water was coming on board faster than he could bail it out. He was rescued by a Portuguese fishing vessel. Mario’s friend (the only crew) has some great stories and fortunately she got off the boat with pretty much everything she went on board with.
I was reminded of the need to be humble this weekend when I took some friends on a quick sail. The weather was perfect: blowing about 15 knots and sunny and once we arrived at our destination I set the kids out on our new Cape Dory: a 7 1/2 ft sailing boat “Sea Leaf”. They squeezed three of them into the boat and my daughter – the most experienced of the three – took the tiller. Their destination was to windward so they were supposed to tack there, but as soon as they took off, they allowed the wind to blow them downwind – and out to sea. I jumped in our tender “Sea Rover” and blasted over to them shouting all the time saying: let the main out, get some more speed and then head up! But they couldn’t. I was very frustrated. The mother of the other two kids said that she was not comfortable and so as soon as we got to them, the kids got out and I jumped into the Cape Dory convinced that I could show my daughter what’s what.
Sea Rover went back to Ondine.
And I continued to drift downwind with Paloma.
And out to sea.
I could not sail upwind.
I’ve never seen Paloma so happy. Glee is the right word. And I had to eat humble pie. Turns out the center board was inoperable and so we couldn’t sail up wind no matter what we tried. That wasn’t obvious because it lowers from 90 degrees as opposed to rising out of the dinghy. So even when the wind is perfect and you think you know everything. Stuff can go wrong.
As punishment, I had to sail to the other side of the cove and then wade through frigid water up to my waste over rocks for two hours so that we could sail back to Ondine from an upwind position. Paloma walked along the beach with warm sand in her toes and reminded me repeatedly of why we were there.
We actually had a pretty good afternoon.
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