Monday, October 31, 2005

Not Quite the Making of a Sailor

'Way back, shortly after dinosaurs had done their bit with ruling the earth and the retreat of the polar ice cap had left the seas in their present form, I set off from home for college (first attempt). Since I would be traveling far to the frigid frozen north of Houston, Texas, my parents tried to round up all the warm clothing they could find, which was in short supply in the sub-tropical Rio Grande Valley. I could still remember wearing socks over my hands during the one snow of my childhood.

Because of my childhood around boats at South Padre Island, with plenty of time on the water and even a couple of sails, the discovery that my school had a sailing club interested me enough to give it a try during my freshman year. Soon, I was chauffeuring sailors to the Seabrook Sailing Club and getting the occasional boat ride. Unfortunately, the college sailing club was set up for people who already sailed well enough to win races and didn't have any sort of program for teaching inexperienced sailors, so I mostly hung around, watched, and tried to cadge an occasional ride to stave off terminal boredom.

One afternoon we succeeded a little too well.

One kindly older gentleman at the host club who was literally quite shorthanded was quite willing to take on a couple of college students. So, one of the more experienced collegiate sailors and I were quick to help him rig and launch his O'Day daysailor. We had a good sail, with the boat coming to life as the afternoon winds built. The boat was getting really lively in the fresh conditions and we were having a great time bounding over the small waves .... until we jumped to the explosion of an almighty CRACK!! and ducked out the way as the mast shattered, breaking a few feet above the waterline and dumping the rig overboard. Recovering from our shock, we loosened halyards, disconnected rigging, retrieved sails, and secured the boom and remnant of mast before facing our next challenge.

With no radio and no one immediately available to help us, we were for the moment on our one. The two able-bodied crew members had but a short paddle to share and a goodly distance to cover if we were to make it back to port. Leaning over the bow while paddling (the best position we could find for controlling direction) was awkward. At least we were within a half mile of port, and the waters calmed as the sun lowered and we crept closer to shore. We were grateful to make it, tired, stiff, and sore, but still glad to have been out. After all, it still beat a good day in a lecture hall!

There were a couple of other boat rides, but nothing organized and not so much of an attempt at educating me as handing me a book. It would be many years before I discovered sailing books, magazines, courses, and clubs. There was also a regatta where the college sailors got to have a lunch of burgers at the Texas Corinthian Yacht Club. Eventually, several weeks later, the yacht club people began to wonder why they hadn't been paid. For reasons that completely escape me now, I was one of the folks who wound up making sure they got paid by delivering them what was owed. (Perhaps the college sailors originally thought they were getting a free meal?)

Later, in January, I volunteered to be part of the race committee during a collegiate "Frozen Butt" regatta in Galveston Bay. Sad to relate, the regatta really did live up to its name, at least by Texas standards. A Texas blue norther was roaring through, stirring up the bay waters into a stiff chop with a few whitecaps. Temps were down in the 50s, which for Gulf Coast sailors is downright cold, and the wind chill was nasty enough to induce painful aches in unprotected ears. Nonetheless, the races continued and I continued to hoist signal flags for the starts.... while wondering when our lunch would ever arrive as the afternoon sun retreated toward the horizon.

Eventually, a motorboat and skipper braved the chop to deliver the club's gourmet selections. What sort of fine hearty provisions would we get to restore our chilled, worn bodies? Had the regatta organizers dropped by the yacht club for some steaks or chowder or steaming gumbo? Well, not quite. Our lunch comprised cold, greasy, stale McDonald's burgers or some limp substance vaguely resembling such, cold congealed, glue-like french fries, and some Really Ice Cold Frozen Milkshakes in Cups Too Cold to Hold Onto.

For some reason or other, that season with the Rice Sailing Club was not fated to be the year I became a sailor. I wonder why! It would be many years, after giving up on my first try at college, marrying, moving to New Mexico, finishing my studies there, and watching our son become curious about the world, before our family would take the plunge and get our first boat.

It would be two decades before I sailed again on Galveston Bay, this time with my ten-year-old son on his first-ever sail.


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