Messing about in boats
What prompted the query is that we were standing on a promontory on Victoria’s Dallas Road looking at the mustering of the hundreds of sail-borne craft that would be participating in the annual ‘Swiftsure Race’, a semi-famous (maybe even famous) international competition in which schooners, ketches, and possibly the odd dhow or junk, hoist canvas and race out to an area in the open Pacific between the southern tip of Vancouver Island and Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula known as the Swiftsure Bank. It’s a long haul and, obviously, entirely dependent on the weather and assorted forces of nature.
I was especially interested in the process this year because April, my friend and sometimes work partner, was crewing on one of the boats this year, thoroughly pissing off her husband since he had to stay home with the kids while she’s off gallivanting on the high seas. But, hey, that’s for them to sort out. I was rooting for April because she's my friend and I want her to throw more work (hence, money) my way.
“I have sailed,” I said in response to Wendy’s initial query. “I have actually done a fair amount of messing about in wind-propelled boats. I liked it.”
“I think I’d like it,” she said. “I like the idea of it being silent and completely non-polluting.”
“And incredibly expensive,” I added. “Not to mention challenging, and not to be left in the inept hands of the inexperienced.”
I learned a little bit about sailing at a very rudimentary level when I was about 12. My dad built a little sailboat called a ‘Sabot’, which was a pram-bowed, centerboard craft that we would take out on the nearby lake. I never got good at it, since there was nobody to teach me how to master such esoterica as ‘tacking into the wind’ and how to keep the goddamn thing from tipping over, which it did more times than I care to mention. Fortunately, I was a reasonable swimmer, which was a good thing since this was before the days of such official wimpiness decrees as mandatory lifejackets.
When I was 18 I met a beautiful girl named Dee, and she and I were ‘steadies’ for two years, with all the fun and frolicsomeness that implies. Furthermore, her dad had a sailboat, a beautiful 29-foot sailboat and I went sailing with her family regularly, and actually learned how to ‘crew’ after a fashion. Then, when she and I parted company, as often happens when you are young, my sailing days went into hiatus. But, the pastime never lost its appeal.
Later I had friends who owned boats, and after I moved to the Comox Valley I went sailing many times. One particular friend was a fastidious purist about the matter, and would never, ever use auxiliary power.
One day my first wife and I, along with another couple, went along for a sail with him on his lovely open 26-foot boat. It was a heavenly day, until we got becalmed. And so we sat. We sat and we sat, and no amount of argument would get him to fire up the little outboard he carried for genuine emergencies.
“I have to pee,” said the other woman. “I have to pee really badly. Can you put on the motor and take me into shore so I can run into the woods?”
“The wind’ll come up soon,” El Capitan said. “So, I’m not using the outboard.”
“If you don’t take me to shore I’m going to pee my pants,” she exclaimed, genuine urgency in her voice.
“So, pee your pants,” he said, unmoved. “You can always jump in the water when we’re going ashore and nobody will be the wiser.”
“No question why your wife left you,” she said, a tone of bitterness in her voice, making note our leader had just come out of a bitter divorce.
Anyway, the wind picked up and we made it to shore, and she ran into the woods to spend her urgent penny, and that was the end of it.
Since that trip I sailed many more times, and seriously pondered getting a sailboat at different intervals. I got the thirst again when I lived in England for a year and would regularly go sailing with a friend on the nearby Norfolk Broads.
I never did get that boat, but I must say that watching the mustering up for Swiftsure yesterday did put me in mind of that option. But then Wendy said: “I think we should go to Australia and New Zealand next fall.”
“Well, then, what’ll it be? A sailboat or the Antipodes?”
“We could come back by way of Hawaii and maybe we could go sailing there.”
Works for me. Then I won’t have to pay moorage.
Furthermore, if the boat tipped over in Hawaii, I wouldn't have to worry about the chill of the cold North Pacific. Only sharks.
"Or maybe we could go to Europe again?" she suggested.
Good, I think I'm off the hook.