As a spouse, it's important to remain open-minded when it comes to the ideas and suggestions posed by your partner. And so when my husband suggested we take a sailing course called 'Cruising,' I forced my face to assume a pleasant facade until he finished the pitch. "It'll be fun," he promised with a wild shine in his eyes as if he'd consumed too much alcohol. "It's an adventure."
He knows I hate to turn down an adventure. Sailing at this time of year is magnificent. The trees were in full color, the skies were clear and crisp. Crisp is another word for arctic, but that comes later.
I did what all good watermen do before setting to sea: I bought shoes. Hey, I was just following directions. Non-skid, non scuff shoes were at the top of the Recommended Clothing list. I also bought a full set of foul weather gear, bib overalls and matching rubber jacket in lipstick red, just in case I fell overboard. Overkill? I think not.
I don't like to be cold, I am slightly claustrophobic, and I don't like damp. And yet, I was going to be living on a sailboat for three days. I must say, I was feeling very hearty about myself. Living on a sailboat for three days sounds idyllic until you consider that there will be, most likely, nights.
In the thinking part of my mind, I knew we were on a training mission. But somewhere, deep inside my romantic psyche, I expected, just a little bit, to board the Love Boat.
The training started with the provisioning of the boat, which means lugging all the food and gear into the cabin and stowing everything into cute little compartments that lock with the certainty of prison doors. Next, the instructor reviewed the equipment and systems including an overview of how a diesel engine works. After a detailed description and messy demonstration, I can now tell you that a diesel engine is the big dirty thing inside the engine compartment. Oh, and also, it needs oil.
Next, we reviewed the plumbing and pumps that allowed us to wash dishes and remove waste. The safety briefing came next and while I did not like the look or the smell of my PFD, personal floatation device, I agreed to memorize its location and features mainly because I'd seen the movie A Perfect Storm.
It was time to set sail. The sun breached the treetops, the air was warm. I took the helm and followed the instructor's command: "Start the engine." I started the engine. Nothing happened. We rechecked the gauges and tried again. Nothing! Our instructor called the mechanic who discovered we had a broken starter which, for the record, was not on the tour of the engine systems.
Three hours later, we were finally underway. There was much to learn. Sailing terms are complex and make little sense: ropes are called lines. Lines are called sheets. Maps are called charts. The toilet is called the head.
Basically what you need to know is this: wind is important. You need to know where it's coming from at all times. That helps make the boat go forward. Also, for human comforts, you should sit on the windward (windy) side of the boat, also called opposite the sail, which means you're farthest away from the water when the boat heels. Heeling means the boat is, essentially, trying to tip over. Just before it tips, you are heeling.
Also, you should sit on the low side, termed leeward, which is, for practical purposes, down wind, when you need to throw up.
We navigated. We plotted. We came about and jibed and learned how to heave-to which, surprisingly, has nothing to do with seasickness. We made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and chatted about points of sail and currents and tides, and other sailing things. It was lovely. And then the sun began to fade.
Within minutes, I lost sensation in my fingers. I wanted to go below and retrieve my gloves but I was loathe to move from my secure spot on the windward side. After a time, we realized we'd be out of daylight before reaching our first destination, so the decision was made, without any objection, to motor the rest of the way. Hallelujah. The engine fired up on cue, and we chugged to our next heading (sailing term) at approximately one knot which is equivalent to the speed attained by riding a bicycle that has a flat tire and only one pedal.
Our berth (sailing term for bed) was in the back of the boat. I took off my sailing shoes and slid, like a frozen pizza crust into an oven, in between the flannel sheets. My husband lay beside me still wearing a wool hat. "I thought you said it was going to be warm this week." I accused him across the damp air. "My toes feel like they could break off."
"You mean, you took off your shoes?" he asked. He tapped his feet together, and I heard the sound of leather. "I couldn't bend over to get mine off," he said. "There's not enough room in here to fart."
We lay there for a while, listening to the odd creaks of the boat and slaps of the water on the hull. Anyone who tells you that sleeping on the water is relaxing is flat out lying. We split an Ambien and were surprised to sleep past sunrise.
In the morning, I emptied my duffel onto the bed and set about putting on every item I'd packed. I was securing my foul weather bib overalls when my husband remarked, "Don't you need to use the head?"
During our three-day sailing course, it rained steadily and the temperature reached unprecedented lows. We ran out of fresh water (my fault I think) and had to pour gallons of bottled water into the head to eliminate waste -- not a luxurious maneuver by any gauge, especially in rolling seas. We ate poorly, slept fitfully and didn't shower for three days (and nights). It was, by every measure, a great adventure.