Sunday, May 25, 2008

Me, on a Boat

Current Reading: How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish

Inspirational Quote: "There is no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly; sometimes it's like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges." -- Earnest Hemingway

The Ulysses of legend was not just a commander of men, but of ships as well. It is one of many things he and I do NOT have in common. This was originally written almost a decade ago. My sailing skills have not improved.

So, my first sailing lesson was last night.

Actually, it wasn't a sailing lesson. It was a swimming lesson with a 12-foot aluminum life preserver.

I had been planning on sailing with a fellow from work, but due to the number of people vs the number of boats, we were separated and I got to sail with an older couple instead. They didn't know how to sail. I didn't know how to sail. Apparently, the instructors figured that was qualification enough because they assigned us to a boat and pushed us out into the water without so much as a word about how to sail. Oh, we were told what to do (ie: sail around the buoys), but not HOW (ie: what the heck do you do with that bloody great sheet-and-clothesline array sticking up out of the center of the boat?).

The evening's exercise was to sail around for a while. One by one, they'd call on us and get us to capsize the boat so we could practice getting it upright and sailable again. Well, that was the plan, anyway.

In fact, what happened in our boat was this: we cast off and floated a little way into the harbour while frantically trying to figure out what all the ropes and pulleys had to do with our sails. At one point, we discovered that if you pull one rope, the front sail catches the wind. If you pull another, the main sail catches the wind. If you pull both, both sails catch the wind, your boat almost tips over and you go screaming across the harbour with an instructor in a rubber dingy chasing you and yelling "Turn! Turn!"

Actually, he said a bunch of other things too, but "Turn" was the only one I understood, and I really didn't have time to hunt up a Nautical-to-English dictionary. I think he also said, "Let out the sails!" but about the time that I figured out that they weren't really feeling particularly shut-in, we ran into the breakwall around the harbour. The owner of that particular stretch of wall didn't seem too ruffled by having Gilligan and crew show up on her lawn, but her pit bull took a rather dim view of the whole thing.

"Just learning, are we?" she said, and for the life of me, I couldn't think of any more smart-ass an answer to such a painfully obvious question except, "Yes."
What can I say? I was a little rattled by being given care and control of a lethal weapon disguised as a stately watercraft and really wasn't at my best.

The instructor pulled us out into the harbor again and let us go. Again we tried something (everything) with the ropes and sails. We set our sails and positioned our tiller for a bold move up the harbour channel that led out into the open bay.

The boat responded by promptly falling over.

Now in theory, when the boat falls over, the skipper (the one who had been steering and who's fault it probably was that the bloody boat fell over in the first place) or the heaviest person formerly in the boat, moves to the underside of the boat and grabs ahold of the keel to pull it down and balance the mast in order to keep the boat from rolling right over on its back (called "turtling," a fine example of which was shown off by a group of my friends later in the evening). Meanwhile, the other occupants swim to the front of the boat and try to maneuver it so that it's pointing into the wind. Once it's pointed in the right direction, the skipper actually climbs onto the keel blade and uses their weight to counterbalance the sail and pull the boat upright again.

In practice, I grabbed onto the tiller (which promptly fell off and tried to float away), the other passenger tried to head the boat into the wind but got their directions mixed up and tried to turn us sideways instead. Meanwhile, our skipper had kept the boat from turtling, but couldn't lift himself onto the keel blade. I had to do it instead, and was quite surprised when my meager weight was enough to pull the mast out of the water. Unfortunately, that made me the first into the boat, and the guy who has to bail until there's enough water back in the bay that the boat can support the remaining crew. It took about 10 minutes of serious water-shovelling and at the end of it my arms were ready to fall off.

The instructors, who had been watching this whole comedy and shouting instructions so we could understand them (words of one syllable), shook their heads and towed us out into the bay.

I was feeling pretty good. "Capsize the boat tonight," they told us, and we'd done it. That we had done it while still in the harbour 5 minutes after leaving the dock, just proved that we should have been in the advanced class since we were so far ahead of everyone else.

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