Tuesday, June 16, 2009

All I Know About Sailing

A friend of mine, David Jeter, has sent me several interesting notes and photos about sailing, prompting me to add my own two cents worth of wisdom. I love sailing. I have the special kind of love that comes from total ignorance.

My love of sailing comes from reading countless books on the subject, watching movies, and idle daydreams where I imagine myself sunbathing on a beautiful sailboat drifting through a tranquil and warm ocean. (Does anyone ever daydream about sailing among floating ice? Frigid cold water?)

Several years ago, my wife attended a surgical conference in San Diego. I usually don't go to such events as I inevitably end up in a room full of doctor's wives, by definition the most boring people in the world. This convention, however, was at some fantastic resort that rented sailboats and offered instruction. Fantastic.

To be fair, the resort was better than advertised. Beautiful, right on the protected bay, and the weather was perfect. I immediately signed up for what I thought were lessons.

Actually, it turned out to be lesson. Singular. A very young girl took gramps out in an 18 foot sailboat with a permanent keel. I was told this was good because it was impossible to flip the boat over. This was not the only piece of incorrect information she told me. It turned out to be the funniest.

Well, we sailed into the bay where she spoke fluent Greek punctuated liberally with "like" and "you know" and all this delivered at about twice the speed I could hear. I remember her pointing a lot and in various directions while I nodded enthusiastic assent and tried very hard not to appear to be a retarded child. I remember her saying things like, “You understand that this line controls the bluebird in your pencil case?” To which I would nod enthusiastically. “When the wind is snargle dated, you should use the disgrontificator.” More enthusiastic nodding. This lesson lasted about half an hour, and then suddenly, I was on my own.

I was a little nervous, but I’ve soloed airplanes, helicopters, and hot air balloons. How hard could a dinky dinghy be? After all, I was very enthusiastic. Looking back, I realize that the only time enthusiasm works as well as experience is during sex. It certainly does not work in sailing.

What is truly amazing is how long it did seem to work. For several hours on several successive days I took the little boat out on the flat smooth bay and mostly got it to do something. Over 50% of the time when I wanted it to move... it did. And most of the time it went close to where I wanted. These moments were frequently interrupted by periods of time when it didn't move or go anywhere close to where I wanted. And I never understood at any time what I was doing right or wrong. But, it was fun, and I was still enthusiastic.

In the space of a single hour I would go from thinking I was a genius in total control to suddenly gaining great insight into why sailors used to pray to unknown gods. If you had told me that the boat would have been easier to control if I sacrificed a chicken… well, no matter. I didn’t have a chicken.

After several days of this, one beautiful afternoon, I was slowly sailing back into the protected little harbor inside the protected bay. The people who worked at the little yacht basin were standing on the dock, obviously bored, watching me come back to dock. And I can remember thinking that if the 18 footer was so easy; maybe it was time to rent the 24 footer...

And then I was underwater. Briefly. Somehow, I had flipped the little sailboat that could not be flipped. The life preserver popped me to the surface where I could see the permanent keel pointing straight up. It didn't move much, as I seem to have imbedded the mast firmly into the mud.

I was only 50 feet from the dock, so I got lots of help righting the boat. Good thing, too, as it took lots of help to get that mast out of the mud. No one, not even my instructor who had witnessed the event, could explain what happened. Even as we worked to right the boat, they kept telling me it couldn't be flipped. The words “fixed keel” were mentioned a lot.

I still don’t know how to sail. I’m still willing to learn. If you have a boat that needs the topside washed, let me know. I’m very enthusiastic and I can bring a chicken.


  1. So I have a boat. I like my boat. I want to keep my boat in one piece. The last guy I took on my boat still calls me a pussy because I exercised caution. That guy will never step foot on my boat again. You are more that welcome to join me on a day sail when the weather warms, conditionally. The condition being that you know that I am an amateur sailor. No promises on your life, but I pretty sure we will survive. Chickens are welcome.

  2. Deal. I can absolutely meet that requirement, as I wouldn't know safe/correct procedure if it hit me in the face.