Lady Luck & The Big Red Cup – the Sailboat Saga Part 1.
I know why people drink on boats.
It’s not just because it’s fun or seems like the thing to do. It’s less of an option and more of a necessity. I have never encountered a more nerve-wracking activity in my life than learning how to sail. My heart literally feels like it’s going to beat out of my chest as I go from relaxed to a state of absolute panic in about 2.2 seconds. And I mean real, true, absolute ‘Will we all die?’ & ‘Will I be responsible for the deaths of my friends & their dogs?’ panic. These are the reasons I drink on my boat and I drink a lot. Because if I don’t I’m quite sure I will throw myself into the sea like a flounder and just start swimming for land, leaving everyone aboard to fend for themselves. In the old days of sailing I would be called a deserter and that’s no way for a captain to act. But in my head I’m not going down with the ship, no way, no how, not ever and it’s those delusional thoughts that make alcohol my steady friend, my little shoulder parrot, if you will.
My friend Lauren comes on most of the sails for the sheer purpose of calming me down. She is always at the ready with wine, beer or even tequila. If it has alcoholic content, it goes in my cup. I’m pretty sure if there was nothing to drink she would start fermenting the fruit on board. To clarify you should know I’m not really a super big drinker. While I’m no stranger to the good times booze brings along (I’ve done some keg stands in my day), the hard core drinking days have been over for a while. On the boat, I many times imagine we are sailing into the great, dark abyss. Alcohol is usually the last thing on my mind. Generally I’m thinking more about anxiety ridden logistics like “How quickly could I throw the anchor if I had to?” and “How long would it take me to swim to shore for help?” I try to keep these thoughts to myself but because Lauren has known me for such a long time she can read me like a book. At the point I start heading in the “bad place” she thrusts a red plastic cup into my hand and says simply “Drink Beth.” It is the exact occasion in life when someone else knows what you need more than you do. The look of intensity, perhaps fear, in her eyes is so great that it cannot be denied. I listen. I drink. I repeat. And then sailing starts to get a wee bit better.
I thought when I bought the sailboat that I’d take to it like a fish to water. I really never doubted or thought much about the fact that I didn’t know how to sail. I even thought after maybe 6 months I would move the boat to Texas and start the big trip by sailing around the Gulf of Mexico and maybe into Central and South America. I overly romanticized pulling into foreign ports and discovering new lands. I looked at nautical maps and figured I could do it – why not? Did I really think not knowing how to sail would stop me? No, I just thought I would learn and be off in no time. Sometimes I love how naive I can be. When I told another friend my grand plans she tried to dissuade me by saying I had no experience and that it was a bad idea. She said some people spent their entire lives sailing that never attempted anything like that. ‘Whatever’ I thought, I couldn’t see what the big deal was. I grew up around powerboats and I was swimming at 9 months old, before I even took my first step. I’ve always loved the water. I was accustom to the engines in a powerboat and every sailboat has an engine. How different could they really be? Oh my friends, was I in for a surprise. They are like oil & water and as different as night and day. I am in way over my head, even with the never ending big red cup I am having a difficult time learning how to sail The Lucky Lady.
Sailing looks like fun so I know it must be fun. I see other people on their boats having fun, waiving at us with giant toothy grins, tooling around San Diego Bay convincing me it is fun. When I drive up to the marina and see the other boats sailing around it looks like such a great time, a walk in the park. Of course this sailing thing must be fun. It’s San Diego, the weather is perfect, the water is blue and the bay is a little safety net from the big Pacific. Is there a better place to learn how to sail? I mean really how could this not be a good time? Other people are having fun, their dogs even look giddy. Everyone on the dock is always happy. By all accounts sailing is obviously the over the top, my teeth hurt from smiling, “How can you ever top this??” type of fun. This has not been my experience at all. Sitting on the dock is fun, taking the boat out to the bay – not so fun. If everyone else is having such a great time, why is it so hard for me?
It seems the minute I get out on the water all the tides seem to have changed, the wind starts blowing hard, there’s a million boats out there just running right in my course. Seeing other people sailing and being the person who is doing the sailing are two totally different balls of wax. For starters, sailing is hard, hard work. Much different than the powerboat excursions where the only muscle that hurts is your butt from bouncing on waves, a sailboat will make you work for it. You’ve got to harness the wind and switch up the sails. I can see why people love sailing. It’s like the difference of driving a stick or driving an automatic car. You develop a special, tactile relationship with your sailboat because you have to sail correctly to get where you need to go. Or more importantly simply to stay away from where you don’t want to go – like rocks or other people’s mega yachts. You need more than just gas, you need actual personal finesse and a love for the sea. You learn to watch the wind by ‘reading the foil’ on the water. You start to notice the subtle differences as the wind changes and breezes by your cheeks, eyelids and then the nape of your neck. Instead of saying “The wind is coming from the left.” you realize that the wind is coming from the left but it’s a bit behind you and moving a bit towards your right earlobe. It’s much more interactive and inherently beautiful. You instinctively understand why sea captains throughout the ages have always referred to their boats as females.
It’s amazing to me, even with the big red cup in hand, that something with so much beauty can be completely and utterly alluring and frightening at the same time. There is a part of me that wants to give up and walk away from this. The trembling legs, the anxiety that starts building around Wednesday night in anticipation of the weekend makes me want to just sell the boat and move on. But I know that if I do, it’s a dream I’ll probably never revisit. It’s now or never and so I can’t give up. So I force myself to keep trying. I force myself to get back out on the water and work thru the anxiety & fear that I’m sure has probably already taken a year off my life. The learning continues and maybe someday I’ll be the toothy sailor bouncing off waves and sailing into the sunset. Maybe sailing will eventually become something I can do for fun or relaxation.
Maybe someday, but not any day soon, the big red cup will be optional.
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