Storms ‘Til Sunsets

A Day to Sail

“Today is the perfect day to sail,” said my father as he gestured towards a book he had recently purchased: Learn to sail in a weekend, by John Driscoll. He smiled widely looking down the hill at the lake under an overcast sky, emitting a cold mist. I followed his gaze down to the water. It was choppy and uninviting. No matter the weather, my father always made the most out of his time at the cottage, determined to enjoy every moment away from the city. But in that moment I did not want to face the cold, rough water. I wanted to relax on the couch, read Archie comics and eat potato chips. He was insistent, and I could not say no to him.

The boat was ready to go. Our aqua blue vessel was a 16 ft beauty from the late ‘70s. We had assembled it together the previous day, before being sidetracked with fishing, swimming and barbecuing. We had assumed the delay would offer the same ideal conditions.

I was already uncomfortable as we lowered the boat into the water on the wooden ramp, rain drizzling down the back of my neck. We paddled out and as soon as we hoisted the mainsail and passed the threshold of the tree line cover of the bay, our sail filled and we took off.  My feet lifted off the ground as I was pulled back by the sudden force. We were both surprised and frightened by our immediate speed.  I kept the mainsheet tight, and the rudder true.

The winds from the North West quickly pushed us out quite far, the bow dipping up and down, waves splashing over the edge. In little time we were approaching the buoy directly across from our dock, marking the shallow waters. It was time for my first attempt at tacking: the basic sailing maneuver of turning the bow through the wind.

Wind changing from one side of the boat to the other, I thought, growing wary of the boom, always shifting. One side to the other while keeping control, I reminded myself. Dad let the jib line loose, and crawled around the front of the mast. It was time. I pulled the rudder towards me smoothly, feeling the sail go loose for a moment, before catching wind on the opposite side. I ducked cautiously under the boom as it made its way towards me.

“Tacking port side,” I proclaimed to the world that I was now a nautical man. My moment of triumph was short-lived, as I realized that we were now facing the wind at a very difficult angle, heading towards the dead end of the bay to the far left of our dock. The waves were growing. I let out some slack on the mainsheet. I knew I was quickly losing control of the boat. The winds were turning into a squall.

I began to doubt myself. My dad asked me if he should take over, but I would not be defeated so easily. We agreed that tacking again was in our best interest. Our second turn was sloppy at best. Turning our ship once again only worsened matters, and the wind was picking up. The boat came very close to tipping right over, so my father and I both leaned over the leeward side of the boat and to balance ourselves.

Once we were steady, I pulled the mainsheet in snug, my father and I leaning towards the water.

“Slow down!” he yelled.

I didn’t know what I was doing.  

“I can’t!”

A sudden burst of wind struck the mainsheet, and I lost my hold on the rope. The rope sliced through my hand in a searing burn. The sail flapped away from us and my father and I were thrown forwards. I caught myself on my hands and knees and scrambled to get up.

The boom cracked against the back of my head, and I was surrounded by white. I recall a strong metallic taste as I found myself face down in the water, held afloat by my life jacket but trapped under the mainsail.

“Pops?”

“Son,” he shouted between mouthfuls of lake water. He lifted the sheet off of me, and we swam around the boat, leaning on it with all of our weight, lifting ourselves aboard.  

The sight of our half submerged boat filled me with dread. We were going to lose her. I barely got to know her. Once my father let the sails down, we both started bailing the water out of the boat frantically, working against the steady churning of white caps. His bucket was an old laundry detergent bottle with the top cut off. Watching my dad draw the water out gave me hope. With great effort, we were able to bring our boat back above the waterline.

He handed me a paddle, and we struggled against the waves to shore. My hand stung as I paddled in a daze. I was exhausted by the time we approached our bay and the trees along the waterline provided protection from the winds.  We didn’t sink the ship; we made it.

My head was throbbing, and my hand stung badly, but as we approached the dock we both started laughing with relief, the after effects of a massive surge in adrenaline. I went from being overcome with a sense of impending doom, injured and scared, to brimming with pride and satisfaction.  We were able, if only for a moment, to harness the power of the wind.  I had learned to sail in a weekend.

I think back to that day during the peaceful moments of sailing, during gorgeous sunsets, warm breezes and gentle waters.

Adrian Gregorich

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