We Didn’t Mean To Break the Boat

South Bridgton, Maine, USA

From Boats and Beaches

The wind was up, the boats were in the water, and it was warm enough not to worry about an accidental tip-test into the lake. My friend Stephanie had come up with me from New York for the holiday weekend, and I don’t think she had ever been sailing. “Don’t worry,” I said, “I’m a certified sailing instructor. I can teach you in an hour.” It’s true, I’ve done it.

Still, it had been a few years since I had been sailing on my own. Last summer, I let my brother Ben do all the actual sailing when we went out briefly on the Sunfish, because I wasn’t sure I would still have the feel for it. So before I put Stephanie on board, I took the Sunfish out for a spin on my own. It turns out that sailing small craft is like riding a bike — actually, better, because I falter an awful lot more when I haven’t been on a bike that long! After a quick jaunt out and back, I ran aground on the much shallower-than-expected lake bottom, picked up Stephanie, and headed out to “sea.”

Meanwhile, Dad was having a great time on his “new,” “free to a good home” Force 5 sailboat. The father of his old high school buddy had this boat sitting around that he hadn’t used in a long time, and he recently gave it to Dad. He and my brother had to re-fiberglass some large sections of the hull, and the missing top third of the mast had to be mail-ordered, but now it was ready to sail, and Dad was more than willing and able!

Stephanie and I launched at about the same time in the Sunfish. A few fishermen out in a small boat shouted, “Great sail!” across the water before powering quietly out of our way. Passing Dad, I shouted an old family favorite, “Swallows and Amazons forever!” He was definitely having a great time, heeling up on edge and flying over the water. We couldn’t get going nearly as fast in the fickle wind of the small lake.

After awhile, Stephanie and I brought the Sunfish in, and I hopped on the Force 5 with Dad to try his new “go-fast boat.” It certainly gave the feel of speed, the wind in my hair, the heel of the boat. We were hit with a particularly strong gust of the inconsistent wind, and I felt sure we had reached that critical angle that you can’t recover from and were about to flip her over. As the sail inched closer to the water, I braced my feet under the lip of the cockpit opposite and leaned back as far as I could manage.

Then, all of a sudden, the hull was flat in the water, so was the sail, and Dad was gone, flown off into the water behind me. The mast had snapped clean off near the hull where someone had redrilled an extra pair of holes to reattach the boom. It only proves what Dad always says: “A free boat is the most expensive kind!”

For dinner, we went out to the sea in Portland for lobster. It was a great weekend away from the city, everything the Swallows might have wished for!

From Boats and Beaches

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