September 2004

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Slacks and I got the boat bailed out well enough, and waited for the worst of the squall to abate. Curiously enough, the house upon who’s beach we’d struck was hosting a wake (of all things), and they invited us inside for a bite of cake, or cup of coffee. It seem’d to portenteous an omen, and we politely declined.
After a time, we relaunched into a stiff (but not so variable) nor’westly and struck out into the waves. We were a half hour or more making the half-mile or so back up the narrow north-south lake, with port tacks long and fast, reaching nor’east, and starboard tacks short and bucking to the west. Idling alongside, the baker clocked us at 8 knots (with the accurate log of his competition skiboat) as we planed off on our second port tack. That tack, and the few more that followed, were some of the best sailing i’ve yet had.
Out on the rail, toes firm under the strap that runs along the trunk, a sheet in each hand, sitting up and laying back with every gust and fill, balancing all the forces of nature, wind, water, and weight… there’s nothing like it. You are both in control and out of it.

A week or so later, Slacks was telling this story to some other friends of ours. Actually, he was using it to illustrate a point. “More people should live life just like they’re sailing!…” He had had an epiphany that day:
At that second knock-down, he felt that we were sure to be soon swimming, but in seeing me jump to weather and have the boat right herself, he realized that in sailing, there’s really no giving up. Too often, in our lives, we are all tempted to cut our losses, to abandon difficult paths, and veer off into lives that seem, well… easier.
On the water, there’s seldom a second chance. You make up your mind to sail forth having prepared your boat and crew as best you can, and armed with all the knowledge you can gather. You muster your courage (only a fool is fearless at sea; tis fear that keeps you humble), slip the lines, and head out. There is no time, no matter how fair or foul th’weather, when you can just say, “Oh, I quit.” or, “I think I’d rather go do something else.”. In that moment, yer sailing. In that moment, whether th’moment be short as a jaunt across the lake or as long as a passage ’round the globe, you are sailing and there is nothing else.
There is no quitting, no going home, and no failing. Here on the lake, that might just mean a swim in warm water, but out on the sea, it might mean yer death. It demands of you that you be perfect the first time, every time, for there’s seldom a chance to learn from yer mistakes. Slacks has taken this to heart, and has told the tale more now than i.

For me, i’ve always said: Sailing is hard. The harder it is, the more i persevere. The more i persevere, the better a person i become.

A few days later after this adventure (patience, all will be revealed) i was to have a waking dream, while standing in the shower ashore, of a way to reef the main on our borrowed Enterprise. Any prudent sailor will tell you to reef early, and had we the means at the time, it surely would have made for less adventure. Still, this tale has a happy enough ending, and a decent moral lesson too.
At last telling, we two had set off from our friend the baker’s house into a rising northerly wind. The baker had his motorboat in the water, and offered to come give us a tow if conditions proved too great. We made three long clean tacks to windward, then the squall hit. The wind seemed to burst in every direction, and the Enterprise’s nasty weather helm kept Slacks hard at work to keep us on course. We were endured several forced tacks; the wind suddenly veering would put the headsail aback, and around we’d spin, no matter how firm the hand on the tiller. Forward, i pulled the ‘board up (and aft) a good ways to lessen the weatherhelm and to ease our tripping over it, and feathered the sails as best i could to spill some wind. We were going nowhere… the wind was such that progress northwards was impossible. Still, end of day was approaching, and i was reluctant to run off south and lose ground, or worse yet, take a tow from a motorboat! Casting the mainsheet, and with another veer taking the headsaill aback, we hove-to as best we could, though the main was aflog.
There was only so much our little boat could take… one fierce gust spun us into the wind, and though i reined in the bucking boom as well as i could, we gybed viciously and laid right over. I dropped the mainsheet (i’d tied a stopper in it at such place that it would fetch with the boom just clear of the shrouds), and lept to the weather rail. I’m nimble enough for my size, and with weight on my side (and the boat’s side too), she came to her feet.
We’d shipped 6 inches or more of warm lake, and the boat was wallowing heavily. Slacks thought we should claw down the main, but i was reluctant to; the wind was tending westerly, and the mostly rocky shore was hard to our lee. i had no desire to drift before the wind. I spied a crescent of somewhat sheltered gravel beach, and pointed him to it. While i busied myself sheeting to to wind, and hiked out as far as i could, Slacks was bailing furiously, the tiller jammed against his thigh.
i’d never blame the man for inattentiveness, but for certain it’s hard to bail and hold a course at the same time, and not too soon after, we were tossed on beam-ends again. This time, i caught a glimpse of Slacks in the sternsheets, standing inside the lee side, knee-deep in water, with the weather rail nearly to his shoulder.
Later, Slacks would say that this was the point where he thought us done for. After all, the lake was warm, there was a boat standing by (they’d launched by this time) and the dinghy had no less than 5 float-bags tied down beneath the thwarts and below the foredeck. Given the above, there was little actual risk. But, at the time (and still), i’d not abandon my boat. I leapt to weather once more, this time bodily over onto the side of the boat, and willed her back to her feet.
By then, of course, we were nearly as swamped as could be, and still with a squall about us. That sliver of gravel beach (betwixt two shoulders of rock, of course) was just a 50 yards away by then. Slacks had abandoned bailing, and was hiking now as well. I cast the main halyard and clawed down the main, catching the battens as they fell from their torn pockets. I dropped the ‘board to check our frightful leeway, and tended the heads’l sheet with one hand, while holding ready the halyard in th’other.
The beach looked gradual enough, and not so sandy, so as i cast the last halyard i made ready to leap o’er the foredeck to fend us off. In retrospect, it seems odd even to me that i was so ready to go over to save the boat from a gouged bottom, but not so ready to go over to save myself.
Well, it was all moot, as the beach ended in a plumb drop just a few feet into the surf, and i might as well have jumped into the middle of the lake for all the purchase my feet found. The stem found the bottom before the centerboard, and in a moment, Slacks was in the water to lee, and we tugged the boat up far enough not to blow away. i fussed with the gear, and Slacks set to bailing, but not before he’d asked me where my spectacles had gone. i hadn’t even felt them leave my face!

Today’s pick is “Leviathan” by Mastodon. This 2-disc set (audio CD and DVD) is a great piece. The artwork and presentation are superb. Both the notes and music follow a tight Moby Dick theme… with a metal twist!
This album takes off where Clutch’s “Whiskey and Rye” left off. Just like the promo literature states, it’s “Rush meets Metallica”, blending metal, blues, and prog rock with a distinct and cohesive nautical theme.
This is one to keep the long-hairs aft on the quarterdeck rockin’ through their watches…

Earlier this summer, i showed a new hand something of sail. Slacks and i have known one another for some years now, and we’ve a good trust of one another, and as such i could not have had a better hand (green or not) for exploring the local lakes.
Now first, of our craft: she was a natty little thing, an Enterprise racing dingy. A touch over 13 feet, she set over a 100 square feet of sail, and thoough her half-fathom of centerboard kept her well into the wind, two (and sometimes three) hands on the rail were well-pressed to keep her on her feet.
Now before you get all inspired, picturing some fine craft, it should be said that although she made for fine times, she was no beauty. Her sails well-stretched, varnished mast peeling, and with a thick coat of black paint on her bottom being the most of what held her sprung seams together. Caulked up, she still presented some challenge for the bailer, and in a lively beat to windward, her split and weathered stem gave us cause for much caution.
Still, she was a fine boat for a new hand to learn a thing or two. Board up, she drew a pittance, and would move in lightest breezes. With a firm hand on tiller and sheets, she would fly in some wind, but as it crept over 20, she would baulk and show a vicious weather helm.

We two (a hand of some experience, and a hand of some enthusiasm) had been taking to water most every day the lake showed a ripple. On day, the air too hot for other other endevours, we thought we’d try our luck once more, though the lake was more still than not. Indeed, by the time we had the mast stepped and steadied, sails bent, and hull kissed by water, there was little enough breeze, but as summer it was, and free we be, we ventured out nonetheless.
The afternoon progressed as well as could be expected, given the calm conditions. We reached out into the center of the lake, then slowly taked south down the arm, into the failing breeze. We made some manuvers to retrieve a piece of floating trash, then later hove-to, and Slacks slipped over for a swim. Mid-afternoon found us both spread upon the thwarts, soaking up the sun, and looking up at a wrinkle of slack baby-blue sail, and to the deeper blue of the sky above. By and by, a tickle of breeze tumbled in from over the hills to the SW, and catching the tiller with outstretched toes, I brought us onto a ghost of a reach across the lake to a friend’s dock.
I handed the sails as Slacks steered us alongside, and our friend, the baker, came down and caught our lines. We sat for some time on his deck, enjoying some conversation, and a crisp beer, but as the sun lowered itself nearer th’horizon, we thought it best to cast off. Indeed, the wind was freshening, and more northerly by the looks of it, and we were looking forward to a brisk beat home.
to be continued…

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