I have been mentally composing the story of our first voyage in our little sailboat because it was a great time. It’s OK, you can laugh at our expense…..we did!
We had promised the lady who gave the boat to us that we would take her daughter out on the weekend before Easter. I was a little apprehensive because it was somewhat windy, and I didn't have experience with it, but Jesse said we would launch by the causeway so we could experiment with it where it was less windy. We would take it out alone before we took the daughter. That was almost the best decision of the day.
The sail is made with a sleeve that slips down over the mast, so it can’t be raised or lowered. Before we took it out I thought that was a bad design, and after we took it out, I discovered that I was right. We had to put the sail up while still on shore and after about thirty minutes of struggling we jumped in, and were OFF in a FLASH!
We learned right away the truth of the claim that it was a fast runner! No time to trim or even get seated before we found ourselves halfway towards a little barrier island where the river runs into the Gulf. I was so afraid I was going to do something to mess us up, but I didn't even have TIME to do anything (other than try to prevent myself falling out) before a big wave completely CAPSIZED us! I had a split second to realize it was going over, and pushed myself astern so it would not bonk me on the head.
Now we were dangling in the water beside a useless upside-down boat, with its sail pointing at the bottom of the sea, and I was holding the only paddle in one hand. We quickly learned how beneficial our short wetsuits were because that water was cold! I must have repeated a dozen times, "Jesse, tell me what to do. I don't know what to do....." At last, he said, "Let's try rocking it." So, with him on one side, standing in the keel, and me pushing from the other side, it rocked like a concrete seesaw. Because the sail created a lot of drag, it wouldn't turn over.
After several exhausting minutes, Jesse said, "We have to get this sail off," so he dived under and disconnected the mast, and then returned to his post on the keel and we began to seesaw again. After about 5 minutes of aaallllmmmooossstttt getting it righted, a wave assisted at just the right time (never mind that it was a wave that tipped us in the first place), and the boat popped upright. Yay!
Jesse managed to hoist himself into the boat, and I pushed the mast and sail so he could pull them in, and then I bobbed in the waves alone, asking, "OK, what do we do NOW?" That was when I noticed Jesse had a little cut on his forehead. "Your head is bleeding."
He answered, “That explains the headache – I don’t remember being hit. Oh, that could attract sharks.”
I knew he was mostly kidding, but retorted, “Gee thanks a lot – seeing that I’m the one in the water!” He laughed and said, “Oh, look! Dolphins!” I turned to look and got a face full of saltwater when a wave swamped me. I coughed and wiped my eyes, and said, “Do you need me to PUSH this thing, or can you help me back in?” The deck was above my head, with nothing to grasp, so there was no way I would be able to get in without a ladder. (Mental note #1: A rope ladder would be a good idea.)
So he grasped my hands and I lunged upwards (that’s how it felt, at least) and then he grabbed my right leg and hauled in my butt and I slid gracefully into the boat. “Are you OK?” he asked. “Yeah,” I replied, not wanting to admit the word “thirst” into the conversation. (Mental note #2: no matter how long or how far you plan to go, put the water on board first!) “Where are the dolphins?” He pointed them out, about five of them leaping the whitecaps. So beautiful and exciting!
We sat quietly for a moment, contemplating our dilemma. Suddenly Jesse laughed out loud and said, “That was the most fun I’ve had in a long time!”
I started to laugh then, relieved that he wasn’t upset, but thinking he might be delirious from the knock on the noggin. “It’s not over yet! How are we going to get back? Only one paddle….” I reminded him, holding it up. “Look, I saved it. I’m so proud.”
“It would have floated,” he reminded me. “It’s wood.”
“Yeah … but it could have floated away,” I insisted. (Actually I hadn’t been sure it would float - some woods don't.)
"You did good,” he said with a smile. He must have realized I needed some reassurance. Or maybe he recognized the early warning signs of mutiny.
“Let’s see if we can get the sail back up,” he answered. So after a few minutes of fumbling with a soaking wet 60 square foot piece of canvas while rocking on the waves, we managed to re-attach the mast without re-dumping ourselves. Alas, we found that a tiny, important piece of steel that holds the sail to the boom had been lost (Mental note #3: spare parts are optional, but could be helpful). Jesse thought he could hold the sail and the boom if I could man the tiller. Yeah, right?
So he fought the boom into place, and pulled the sail out a little, and we immediately headed away from shore! “Grab the tiller! We need the ass-end turned around!” Yes, Jesse is a sailor. He may have forgotten the seaman term for the back of the boat, but his language was still colorful enough to qualify.
I fought the tiller while Jesse fought the sail, and we managed to get about halfway to shore before the wind whipped the sail from his hands. He decided to paddle while I tried to maintain an even keel. I repeat, Yeah, right?
So he paddled and I steered, then we rested a few minutes and watched the dolphins. We had just started again when two men on jet skis came to our rescue. The friend - still patiently waiting on shore - had asked them to give us a tow. Jesse was happy because his arms were worn out. All I could think was, Water! My lips felt as if they had shriveled to nothing and my skin felt shrunken. The jet ski guys said they had been stranded the week before and paddled over 6 hours before they got to shore. Jesse didn't tell me that until we got to shore.......
Jet skis look fast when they travel alone, but they are slow when towing a sailboat. We were getting close to shore when the guys towing us decided to increase their speed, and naturally, something else went wrong. The boom slipped off the mast – again – and pinned me to the inside of the boat!
I yelled (maybe demonstrating my grasp of sailor’s expletives, but I don’t remember), and Jesse yelled at the guys towing us, and we stopped so I could be extricated. “Are you ok?” Jesse asked for at least the second time that day as he disconnected the mast and boom again. “Yes, I think so,” I said a little shakily. “No cracked ribs and I’m still in the boat!” I didn’t notice any injuries until the next day when baseball-sized bruises appeared on my arms.
At last we made it to shore. I helped pull the boat out and walked straight to the ice chest for water. Aaahhhh!
We decided to sit in our beach chairs to eat our sandwiches, look at the sea and relax. (Mental note #4: that was the best decision of the day) We were exhausted, but still laughing! While we ate, we tried to estimate how far we had gone (maybe a half mile from shore into the bay) and decided to modify the sail so it can be raised and lowered - good idea, right? What brilliant mind thought a stationary sail was a good idea?
Jesse repeated that he hadn’t had so much fun in a long time, and then asked again if I was ok. “I’m fine,” I answered. “Just tired and thirsty. Is your head all right?” I checked his cut and it didn’t appear to need stitches, though I would have Steri-Stripped it if we’d had them. “It hurts a little, but it’s ok.”
We sat quietly for a few minutes. “I wish we could have watched the dolphins longer,” I said.
He patted my shoulder and said, “You’re a good sport.”