Learning to Sail, Day 4: The Final Day
Are you all caught up? No? Start with Sailing Lessons on Gray’s Lake.
DAY 4: the final day of the lesson.
It rained off and on and got really stormy during the day. I watched anxiously out the window at work as the wind blew sheets of water sideways and soaked our patients no matter how close they pulled to the door. The skies cleared late in the day and Jason met me at the lake with all three girls at 5:30. I overheard the marina attendant complaining on the phone about the weather, not wanting to be open: “And now there’s some woman here who wants to sail.” Carol showed up just after we did, and the rowing teams were not far behind, so he was stuck.
No instructor showed up from sailing school, and we were told to set up our own boat by the lone employee as he couldn’t leave the office to help us. He told us to take paddles because “there’s no wind,” and we laughed all the way to the dock. There was more wind today than any other day we’d been at the lake! 8-10mph predicted where we’d been lucky to have 4-5mph gusts previously. It was also blowing West, toward the dock instead of away from it as it had previous days. I found this reassuring after our previous embarrassing rescue by paddleboat because it meant we would make it back in easier.
A second marina employee arrived and took pity on us. Jay walked us through setting up our boat, straightening the rigging with his fingers and pulling up the sail. He said he’d been sailing since he was a kid and quizzed us on what we know, sharing pointers when we were stumped. It was the most help we’d had. The first night it was all new, but now it was a little more familiar we just needed clarification. Sometimes having someone else around who knows what they’re doing is more useful than any class. We got our boat launched and piled all the kids onboard, making it a little crowded.
At first it seemed they were right, we could see the tell-tales blowing a little but couldn’t catch the wind. The kids kept asking when they could paddle. Then we got a little further from the dock and we did catch the wind-and the little boat took off. It lifted and cut through the water, making a wake behind us and splashing the kids. They squealed and hung their hands off the sides laughing as we rushed through the water. We tacked (turned) and went gliding back across the lake as Carol came out of the dock. Back and forth we sailed-really sailed, with wind and speed and splashing as we cut through the water. This was what we’d been waiting for, what we’d imagined sailing to be. It was wonderful.
Even 17-year old Chenoa had fun, despite elaborate arguments as to why she shouldn’t have to come. She took pictures of everything with my waterproof Panasonic camera. When she started to look bored I raised my eyebrows at Jason and he nodded. We told her to trade places with Jason and to move to the back, grab the tiller and this line, ok now, you’re driving! Her face lit up as the boat responded to her hands, and she only got it stuck facing straight into the wind once (we all do that.)
It had stayed overcast after the storms and more were likely tonight so we watched the skies as we sailed. It was getting darker, and I thought I heard a distant rumble. We decided it was time to maneuver toward the dock only to see it occupied by a long rowing boat, 10(?) oars sticking out and blocking both sides. The kids paddled enthusiastically as the wind died down in the sheltered area near the dock, and it worked pretty well with one on each side. Carol was headed in too, but being by herself trying to paddle and steer wasn’t working well. We offered to toss one of the kids overboard to swim over and help her. June was enthusiastic about this idea; she was disappointed we hadn’t let her jump off and on again.
We pulled in close thinking that the rowers wouldn’t be long but they showed no sign of getting out of their boat. It was new class of rowers and this had been their first day out. Jay came out and waved us off, shouting that we couldn’t dock until they moved. They were practicing strokes as their instructor walked back and forth when I saw the first flash of lightning.
“Screw this. Give me the paddle.” Jason took Rory’s paddle and I steered us behind the rowers into a space just big enough for our boat to come up alongside the dock, right behind Carol, who had the same idea. None of us wanted to find out what would happen if that lightning made it to the water. The rowers were suddenly motivated to leave, too, and there was a mad dash of people coming down to help haul their boat out of the water and carry it in.
I herded the kids to safety first and got them up the bank out of the way. We waited while the rowers struggled past, then simultaneously tried to help Jay and stay out of his way as he manhandled catamarans out of the water. I rolled the sail and put it away as Carol and Jason pulled off the rudders. Jay pushed the hull into line and locked it up, and we were done.
It was a sudden end to our last sailing trip, but still our best day. We can tack. We can jibe. We know the difference between port and starboard. We can set up a sailboat, and we can solve problems on the water. Even with so much more to learn, we became sailors that day.