The Wind in Your Sail

Ron Karpinski  1995


Ah, the sea, its ebb and flow, what a grip it has on my soul.  Sailing is a dream of mine.  Not in the navy, mind you, but rather as the captain of my own craft, cruising a hundred yards offshore at a steady five knots, soaking up the sun.

An old friend, Bobo, used to live in Redwood City, south of San Francisco.  In 1975, Bobo bought a tiny sail boat, a Brunswick Sun Fish, fourteen feet in length.  Designed for only one person, it wasn't much more than a surf board with a rudder and a hollow trough at the rear.  It had a single sail and a removable center board.

On Sundays, we strapped the boat atop the car and drove to Lake Stevens, near San Jose, to go sailing.  Bobo sat in front and worked the lines while I squatted behind him and steered.  Back and forth we tacked, keeping the wind in our sail.

Once in a while a good gust of wind came up.  As the raw power of Nature tugged at the line in Bobo's hand, the adrenaline began to flow.  The sail grew taut, the small craft leaned hard to starboard, and we skimmed effortlessly across the lake.

Caught up in the thrill of it, we forgot to fall off the wind.  Then, the mast tilted even more, and our speed increased.  "Ah, now this is sailing," we thought.

The first sign of trouble came when the hull lifted out of the water; but Bobo's hands were frozen on the rope, and mine stuck fast to the tiller.  Logic said to let out some line or steer off the wind, but our hands just wouldn't budge.

Up, up in the air we went, as the boat keeled over on its side.  The top of the mast dragged in the water, and the sail went under.  Then the boat stopped dead, and we both fell in the drink.  Sailing is not as easy as it looks.

Soon, the thrill of Lake Stevens wore off, and we began launching the boat from Redwood City.  Tacking up the channel, we entered San Francisco Bay itself.  Out in the bay, bobbing like a cork, a small boat like ours is at the mercy of the sea.

One day, out in the bay, the water got choppy.  Wave after wave spilled over the gunnels and into our laps.  Drenched to the bone, our teeth chattered.

A huge yacht came alongside, and a middle-aged man peered down from the poop deck.  He wore white trousers, a blue blazer, and one of those admiral caps with "scrambled eggs" on the visor.  His left forearm rested on the taffrail.  In his right hand, he held a martini glass by the stem and waved it in our direction.

"Boys," he said, "I sure envy you.  A rolling sea, the wind in your sail, now that looks like fun!"  We would have gladly traded places.


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