there is nothing more humbling than being a first-time sailor. I might have said this before. we’ve grown up in cars, so would, even at a young age, have an idea to how it works. motorcycles as well. even our movie heroes have all, at one point or another, landed an airplane giving us a basic grasp for emergency procedures. in fact, there are more films about space travel than sailing – putting this newfound sport lifestyle at the very top of the most humbling things a boy in his early-thirties can embark upon.
long story short, I have a very, very short grasp on what I’m doing.
I have a boat.
I have a mooring.
I can make it go.
and I can make it come back.
no doubt you’ve got a few verbal pats for my back about right now, something about ‘the basics’.
thank you. but… no.
with every time I go out on that happy little red thing to learn something,
I come back learning that I have even more to learn.
take yesterday for instance.
I rowed out to where my boat is moored.
the wind was blowing from the south-east,
which basically means in the direction of land.
which even more basically means if the boats tied up where mine is tied up weren’t tied up, they’d all be pushed up on the beach.
from the little I know about sailing, that’s a bad thing.
so, yes, I rowed out – it was choppy and I was already wet, but that didn’t matter as it was a gorgeous day.
I said ‘hello boat’ as I always do, as most always do, I would guess.
jumped up on board, cleaned off the mess of Jonathan Livingston’s birthday party the night before,
and made a point to hang some CD’s from my mast to keep them away in the future.
as they’re not nice party guests.
[ask the crab who was invited]
started the motor, even though I hate motors, to motor over to the boatyard a mile away, as I had some work to do.
[any excuse for hanging out at the boatyard, to be honest - but that's another story]
the motor was loudly running in neutral, as I untied all of the lines keeping my boat secured.
I dropped them all and walked to the back, sat in between some white poo, and threw the engine into gear.
we started moving, slowly against the wind, south-east, to the boatyard.
and then the motor died.
and wouldn’t start back up.
I wonder what you’re thinking right now, as maybe I’ve not done a good job setting this adventure up.
the boat is not tied to anything.
the motor just died.
meaning the boat was being pushed towards land.
[that's a very bad thing]
[a very, very bad thing - if you even come visit, I'll show you the hundreds of photos in the pub and why they call it 'shipwreck cove']
so, what would you do?
yes, that would be the most obvious. but I’ve never anchored anywhere, so that thought didn’t cross my mind… I don’t even know if my anchor was secured properly.
put the sails up?
another fantastic idea, but I didn’t have any of the covers off, or lines attached to do that… I had just planned to motor.
so – no sails, no anchor, no engine and my boat is slowly making it’s way to land.
in a few minutes, there would be no ‘fantastic summer’.
there would be no ‘Atlantic crossing’
there would be no ‘spear-fishing in the Caribbean’.
so…Â I did the only thing I could think of.
I tied a rope off of the end and jumped in.
it was a nice day, yes. a nice English day.
you know that video Jimmy Buffet shot here?
of course, you don’t. it never happened.
it’s not a tropical place.
it has no tropical waters.
it was very, very cold.
but my boat was about to die.
I threw the rope over my shoulder and began… well, swimming doesn’t exactly describe the movement.
I had a boat in tow via a rope over my right shoulder – so it was more of a heave.
left arm relaxes, legs stop kicking, legs start kicking, left arm paddles, right arm heaves.
all in icy waters,
with wind ‘on your nose’ as they say.
this could have gone on for 5 or 15 minutes.
relax, kick, paddle, pull.
all in the direction of the long rope hanging from my mooring.
it was only about 50 feet,
but bear in mind – I’m pulling a boat.
and by her stern, not even the way she likes to go.
I somehow made it,
but please do not let those simple four words denote anything of simplicity.
I had swallowed at least a liter of the Channel,
I was freezing.
and I was tired.
I had never done anything so physically exhausting in my life.
but I made it… well, mostly.
now I was stuck with a mooring rope in my left hand,
a rope with a boat in my right hand,
kicking violently to stay afloat.
I passed the mooring rope to my right hand,
leaving my left for pulling myself up on the boat,
but was exhausted and cold,
stomach sick from the salt-water and near-boat death.
there would be no pulling myself up on deck.
I bobbed up-and-down for a few minutes,
trying to think of what to do.
see, this is where a movie would help, but what boating movies do we know of?
Titanic? that didn’t end well.
The Perfect Storm? that didn’t end well.
Jaws? fuck off.
I had no cinematic heroes to help me.
no friendly passer-byes to help me.
I would have to find a way onto the boat,
as my hand holding both ropes was starting to go numb.
I worked my way to the very back of the boat and saw a tiny hole that excess water in the ‘bilge’ is pumped out of.
the a-hole, basically.
a small a-hole,
barely big enough to stick your thumb into.
too small for my big toe to go into,
meaning my… index [?] toe would have to fit.
all 190 pounds of me would have to be balanced on my… index [?] toe.
I have nice feet, and not feet that have the freakishly long… index [?] toe.
it’s slightly shorter than the big toe,
as toes should go.
meaning my normality was now officially a handicap.
long story short, I leaned back on the water,
stuck my toe in,
and pulled myself up by the rope,
until I could slam against the bar on the back.
the entire thing hurt,
but I was on the boat,
with both ropes,
and my boat wasn’t dead.
even though I felt like I was close.
I tied off the ropes and just sat there for a few minutes,
soaking up the sunshine,
and being thankful for the sunshine,
as, if this would have happened on a normal English day,
either me, or my boat, would have been dead.
I rowed back to shore, and Nick came and picked me up.
[the motor started up nicely for him - of course it did]
we went back to the boatyard and I told him I needed a drink.
we sat in the beergarden and went through what I did, what I had learned and what I’d do the next time that happened.
but then some funny stuff happened.
Nick raised his glass to me being a ‘man of action’.
the South African, ‘H’, in the boatyard, an adventurer in his 50′s, listened intently on my story and laughed the laugh that could only come from someone who had been there.
even Tim, the boatyard owner, who has seen, heard or experienced himself everything there is to experience about boats seemed to give a nod of approval.
I had been through something they all had.
I, had been through something they all had.
I had been through something they all had.
… and I liked that.
see, the night before, Nick and I had bbq’d on the beach,
and spoke of how we both worry about our boats when they’re out-of-sight.
it will soon be my only room, my car, my livelihood.
and, as Nick reminded me at the pub,
I could have taken a chance that she would have run up on soft sand,
and have gotten a tow back out.
but I didn’t, I jumped in.
because it was the only thing I knew to do.
I was willing to risk a few scrapes and bruises
for my little boat’s safety.
and while that might sound silly to you,
I think I know why I got so many approving nods at the yard.
as, in those few wet hours,
I had gone from some guy with a boat,
to some guy and his boat.