Thursday, September 6, 2012

Calamity Jane and the River Part Four-Batman and Robin

My heart began to sink as fast as that little Sunfish. Was I going to be the first fledgling sailor in the club to actually lose a boat to the river? Would I have to buy the boat? Would I be banished from the club? Blacklisted? Would I be the next star on You Tube? 

"No! No! No!", my mind screamed. And faster than you can say 'Davey Jones' Locker', I swam around to the bottom of the boat, grabbed on, pulled myself out of the water and scrambled up the hull far enough to get my hands around the dagger board. If this boat was going to sink, I was going down with the ship. 

Isn't that what all the best captains do? 

Okay. Truth is; that was highly unlikely. I may lack sailing skills, but I am great at life jackets and today was no exception. I was strapped in so securely, Houdini would have had a hard time undoing me.  Also, my life jacket is big enough to double as a raft. So...

You know what happened next, don't you? As I was holding onto the dagger board by my fingertips, guess who sailed out from the beach. Yep. Batman and Robin. The Green Hornet and Kato. My heroes! Once again, on their way to rescue the soaking mess of river, relief and humiliation that was me.

Marcus said, "Carlos is going to help you." And I think I said something stupid like, "Oh. Hi." 

Carlos jumped in the water and yelled, "I am going to try and keep the mast from getting stuck in the mud." An impressive declaration since the mast had completely disappeared.

When Marcus said, "It's probably already stuck in the mud," I began to lose hope. But I pulled down on that dagger board for all I was worth, which was not much at the time because I still got nothing.. nada.. zilch! 

Carlos said, "You want me to do that?"

"That's sweet," I thought. "This kid probably weighs  70lbs soaking wet. He hasn't got a shot at righting this boat." 

Moments later, I watched in awe as  little Carlos grabbed hold of the dagger board, dug his feet into the side of the boat and climbed up that hull like a mini Spider-Man. The Sunfish rolled toward him with every step and soon the hull was in the water and the mast and sail were upright.

My mouth was still hanging open (and taking on water) when he jumped into the river, swam over to his own boat and pulled himself up into the cockpit with Marcus.

God bless him, he'd saved the Sunfish!  But who was going to save me? I was still in the water, getting weaker by the moment and I had to make my way back up into my cockpit. And I wasn't Spider-Man.

Here's the formula we learned in sailing class: You wrap your hands around the lip inside the cockpit and pull yourself up. Then when you can reach the other side of the cockpit, you grab that lip and drag yourself across the hull and collapse into the cockpit.

With Marcus coaching and encouraging me, I grunted, groaned, climed and clawed my way back into the Sunfish. From my heroes' vantage point, it must have been like watching an ungainly seal flop onto a rock. Okay. That may not be a fair comparison. I apologize to the seal.

I was searching for the main sheet and the tiller when Marcus boarded my boat and announced, "I'm sailing you back to the beach." 

Can you blame him?

"Yes. I think I'm done,"I agreed. (Gross understatement.)

But I was not done. Done in, yes, but not finished. I still had to haul the boat out of the water, undo the rigging, wash it all down and put it away. 

Marcus and I hit the beach and climbed out of the boat and I stammered out a few more 'thank yous' before he went to help Carlos with his boat. 

I walked up to the club to unburden myself of my giant life jacket and was embarrassed for the third time that day. Or was it the fourth or fifth? I was losing count. There sat one of the seasoned sailors who had apparently had a front row seat to my calamity. I have crewed on his boat during races at the club and he's a good skipper and a willing teacher to us rookies.

I sheepishly grinned and said, "I've had a little adventure."

He nodded and said, "I know. I have been praying for you." 

As he walked down to the beach with me and helped me put the boat on a trailer and haul it out of the water, he became yet another sailor I was grateful for that day. 

And that's the amazing thing about my sailing club. Everyone helps. They go out of their way to help, even if they don't know you. Marcus and Carlos were complete strangers, yet they rescued me. Twice. I will always refer to them as my heroes.

But I have to confess. Sometimes I wonder how they refer to me.

Right. Best not to dwell.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Calamity Jane and the River Part Three-The Writing on the Hull

For any landlubbers reading this-and God bless anyone who is reading this-there's a mini-glossary at the bottom of the page. 

Mark Twain said, "The proverb says that the Providence protects children and idiots. This is really true. I know because I have tested it." 

I can relate. 

Even before I capsized, I'm pretty sure Marcus was still standing on the pier shaking his head and wondering what kind of idiot I was. 

I submit that there are two types of idiots: The first is completely and utterly clueless and when it all goes wrong they can plead ignorance because they don't know any better. 

Unlike the first kind; the second type is culpable. They know when an idea is bad. They can't (won't) stop themselves. 

If you, like Marcus, are wondering what kind of idiot I am, I'll end the suspense. That day on the river proved that I am the second type. The wind rose up and dared me and my re-attached rudder, yet I was determined to sail. Even when I saw the writing on the hull.

I sailed upwind and downriver at Marcus' suggestion. He said it would be easier for me to get back to the beach if I got into trouble. I guess he didn't need a crystal ball to see that as distinct possibility. 

That possibility was realized when I tacked about 30 feet northwest of the pier. Or was it a jibe? The embarrassing truth is that I can't be sure.  What I know is that the boom swung around and the boat heeled to the point of no return and I before I could say mayday, I was in the water. 

In my own defense, the first thing they taught us in sailing class was how to capsize a Sunfish and at the risk of bragging, I was pretty great at it. Still am. It's like crashing a bike.

Drowning is against the rules at the sailing club, so life jackets are mandatory. And maybe because you know that you can't drown, capsizing a Sunfish is not the least bit frightening.  Truly. When it happens, it's more like an "Oh sh*t!" moment. 

The best sailing instructors probably include capsizing in the first lesson because it forces you to learn how to right the boat before it sinks. And when it happens accidentally-which it surely will- everything you learned will come back to you when you need it. In theory.

Once I found myself in the water, I swam around to the bottom of the boat (which was now out of the water) and grabbed the dagger-board. I pulled it out toward me as far as it would go and with all my strength, I pushed down on it.  

Here is what is supposed to happen next: The mast and sail come up out of the water, the boat rolls toward you and while try to avoid getting smacked in the head with the hull, you grab onto the side of the boat and pull yourself back into the cockpit. It takes some muscle, but it's not rocket science.

Here's what happened when I pushed down on the dagger-board: Exactly nothing. And after a few desperate minutes of pushing and pulling, I did something stupid. I know: Quelle surprise.

I thought the lines may have caught on something, so I swam around to the sail to untangle them. Bad idea. The moment I let go of the dagger-board, the sail, the lines and the mast went deeper into the water and the boat began to sink.

 "Oh sh*t!" 


Boom: Horizontal pole at the bottom of the sail
Bow: The forward part of the boat
Capsize: When a boat lists too far and rolls over.
Centerboard: A board or plate lowered through the hull to prevent the boat from blowing sideways across the water.
Cockpit: The seating area.
Dagger-board: A type of light centerboard that is lifted vertically.
Hull: The body of the boat.
Heeling: The lean caused by the wind's force on the sail.
Jibing: Turning the stern of the boat through the eye of the wind. The boom can swing across the boat with extreme force. The sailor ducks and switches from starboard to port or vice-versa.
List: A boat's angle of lean or tilt to one side.
Mast: vertical spar to which the sails and rigging are attached.
Port: The left side of the boat (if you are facing the bow).
Righting: The act of reversing a capsized boat.
Rudder: Vertical metal or wooden plate attached to the stern, whose movements steer the boat.
Starboard: Right side of the boat (if you are facing the bow).
Stern: The aft or rear part of a boat.
Tacking: (or coming about): Turning the bow into the wind, in order to change directions. Typically, the boom moves slowly across the boat as it changes. directions. The sailor ducks and switches from starboard to port or vice-versa
Tiller: Short piece of wood that controls the rudder.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Calamity Jane and the River Part Two: Rudder Failure

Okay, let's get the whining over with. Turns out there are some things more painful than a bruised ego and one of them is bruised ribs. Only hurts when I breath.

Must have happened as I was dragging my beaten body back into the boat after pulling myself out of the river.  Also might explain the bruises on my shins. But I'm getting ahead of my story. 

After a few months hiatus due to a knee injury, I finally returned to the river. I hadn't rigged a Sunfish since last summer but after a quick sail on Saturday, sailing-fever struck again and by 
Monday afternoon I was ready. Or so I thought.

The process of rigging a Sunfish makes me almost as happy as sailing one. It's incredibly physical. Hauling a 120 lb boat via a trailer into the water. Lugging the mast, the sail, the rudder onto the beach and then putting it all together.  All the lifting, fitting, pulling and tying the lines makes me feel that I've earned it.  It's an amazing feeling of accomplishment to be out there on the water in a boat that I rigged. Controlling-okay, attempting to control something so small amid currents and wind is exhilarating and awesome.  And this time it was all that and more! 

And by more, I mean mayhem. 
Pure, white knuckling, jaw clenching mayhem.

It was my good fortune to meet Marcus and his 10 yr old son Carlos 
(not their real names) on the beach that afternoon before I set sail.  As it turns out, meeting me was not so fortunate for them since they spent the rest of their the afternoon rescuing me.

The fun began when Carlos who was sailing due east of me called out,"You lost your rudder!!" Squinting my eyes and scouring the river, I  suppressed a smile.  "What poor fool could have lost their rudder?" I wondered. 

I stopped smiling when I realized who the fool was.  Ugh. My tiller was no longer controlling the boat and my rudder  was dangling precariously from the stern.  What had I done? This was bad. Thankfully, I positioned  the tiller under the traveler. Without that line both the rudder and the tiller would have come undone and sank to the bottom of the river.  

Carlos tacked and headed back to the beach while I tried not to come as undone as my rudder. I  prayed that he was going for help.

I then remembered something I'd learned in the Sunfish class.  The instructors explained that by allowing the sail to luff (flap in the wind) the boat would stop. Which
essentially stalls the boat. 

I let go of the main sheet and waited. Mercifully, I had not stalled in the channel. I was close though and the motor boats whizzing by were creating enough wake to make the boom swing around and occasionally bounce off the back of my head. 

I crawled back to the stern to re-attach my rudder,  but I knew  it was futile. After all, I had failed to rig it on dry land and the rudder is mostly underwater when you're sailing. Or in my case, waiting for the Coast Guard. I wrestled with the rudder for what seemed like forever until Carlos sailed toward me, this time with his dad on board. My prayers were answered when Marcus boarded my boat, lay down belly first and took all of twenty seconds to attach my rudder. 

Little Carlos was on his little sailboat passing the time doing figure eights. Cute kid.

His dad and I sailed to the pier, he at the rudder and I at the sail and I thanked him for rescuing me almost as many times as he gently criticized my sailing skills.  As he stepped onto the pier, he asked me if I was sure I was comfortable sailing today, "Considering...... ah, the weather." 

I may have been humiliated but I was not defeated! I assured Marcus that I would be fine  and I left him on the pier and sailed downriver.

Wouldn't that make a great ending? Me sailing off into the sunset? Ending the day with a triumph over rudders and rivers and wind? (Sigh!) But, of course, the day turned out slightly different than my imaginary ending. 

Okay, a lot different. 

And I had to ask myself. How many times can a person be wrong in one day?

Monday, August 6, 2012

Calamity Jane and the River Part One: As Good As it Ever Got

I fell in love with sailing when I was a teenager, but I didn't learn anything until last summer. I'll leave it to you to decide how much.

I went for a sail after work today. Though the wind was kicking, I managed a graceful launch from the beach and that's as good as it ever got. When my rudder fell off fifty feet from shore, I probably should have called it a day. But I'm not easily discouraged.  What happened twenty minutes later makes a good case for discouragement. 

It also made me wish I had remembered my whistle. The whistle that was a requirement for the Sunfish class I took last summer.  I did take a sailing class. A fact that you may find hard to believe by the end of this story.

I am nursing a  bloody 
knee and bruised ego, but it would have been a lot worse if not for my two heroes. One of whom is a ten year old boy who has a great story to tell his friends. The one about the crazy lady whom he and his dad rescued. Twice.  A story I will share with you in my next post. If the kid doesn't beat me to it. 

For now, I've taken up enough of your time and these near-death experiences can really exhaust a gal. I need a hot shower, a big glass of wine and a dry bed.