Thursday, August 4, 2016

Adjusting My Sails

Of course my adventure began with a trip to the head before we even left the dock.

My first perch was primarily aft, although there was that deep conversation on the bow starboard side on the way back. The wheel is sensitive because the rudder is large and no, that's not a metaphor. We moved leeward and windward, tacking and jibing.

I had never been sailing before today, but two of my favorite people changed all that with a nearly six-hour sail that had to be one of the most unexpectedly pleasurable ways possible to spend a gloriously breezy day at the river.

Unloading the car at the marina, a wizened-looking man with his long white hair in two pigtails came over to greet us after my friend called out to him, "Hi, chief!"

Naturally, I had to question that "chief" business.

Of Native American ancestry, he was quick to explain to me that his name was Hal or Harold, depending on the situation, and that the "chief" moniker came from years spent working to rehab a sailboat, resulting in marina regulars dubbing him Chief Wanna Sail.

All of which was news to my friend who lives two miles away and docks his boat there. You never know unless you ask, I always say.

"He's never come over to talk to us before," my friend shared. "It's because you're here." That's what they all say.

After chatting with a man from Roanoke who docks his boat in Hampton but was currently standing next to our boat slip, we left the marina under engine power at high tide.

So far, nothing I hadn't experienced before.

But then the mainsail went up and before long the jib, so that the engine became a thing of the past. With steady breezes and occasional thrilling gusts, I watched in awe as the poetry of sailing unfolded around me.

That it was such a beautiful day may have partially accounted for my baptism by sailing being such a success, but even without the blue skies and picaresque clouds, there was the intoxicating scent of the water, the sometimes precarious angle of the boat and the constant change of speed as the wind determined our rate of movement.

When we weren't dodging crab pots, we were observing white caps. Ospreys glared at us from nests on channel markers. We ogled from afar the princely yachts moored at the Tides Inn.

A barge carrying grain to storage silos in Tappahannock shared passage under the highest arch of the Whitestone bridge with us, its massive rectangular front displacing a wake of sizable proportions for us to navigate,

My friends impressed me with the yin and yang of their sailing skills, working perfectly in tandem to wrangle this vessel to their whims, agreeing that sailing has brought them closer together.

Well, that and true love.

Passing other sailboats, especially those larger than the 30-footer we were on, I regarded them with a slightly more knowing eye now, looking to see how much of their jib was furled, how their mast size compared to ours.

When we sailed under the bridge, we all peered up, curious about how much clearance we had, although it was presumably not the best time to make that determination.

By the time we returned to the marina, it was evening and Chief was floating by in an inflatable yellow kayak, unlit cigarette in his mouth. He'd briefly considered going sailing today, he claimed, but decided it was too much work.

After dazzling us with the kayak's compactness - it folds to a 17" square four inches thick - he reckoned he'd resume his paddle and was gone in the blink of an eye.

Coming from the wonder of my first expedition harnessing nature to sail into, in front of and beside the wind, I could only marvel at Chief Wanna Sail settling for such docile time on the water. The skipper said today was the best day of sailing they've had since they got the boat.

Only the best of friends show you the seductive power of sailing and let you go first in the outdoor shower. Is it any wonder I'm hooked?

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