829 Southdrive

829 Southdrive

A New Jersey state of mind

Monday, November 14, 2011


Often, children of sailors don't have the choice of whether or not to 
come along on the weekend for a day on the bay, often being 
dragged by their hair or threatened by not having computer access 
later that evening. We have a couple of dear friends that we've
known for 25 years who have embraced and come to love the 
sport of sailing through windsurfing and cruising on our boats during
the course of those years.  In turn, their 14 year old daughter has 
virtually grown up around us with our daughters,  all sailing together
summer after summer.  

This fall, Rebecca had a writing assignment for her ninth grade 
Humanities/English class, and chose to write about her experience
on Chesapeake Bay a few summers ago.  Thanks to her parents 
Meghan and Dennis, she got the opportunity to learn the basics of 
sailing, and then some, through the Annapolis Sailing School.
Following is her essay describing that experience and I have to say
I'm very impressed, and even more so, honored and proud to have 
made such an impression on our great friends' daughter. 

Most people don’t usually to go to school in the summer, but then most people don’t consider sailing school an actual school. I have to admit that before my vacation in Annapolis, I hadn’t either. I’d been in a sailboat before; the one my Uncle Dave and Aunt Ellen owned since I was a toddler.  My cousin Livvie and I spent time hanging over the pulpit, doing our reenactment of the famous Titanic movie scene. We would also spend the day popping in and out of hatches, and holding onto the cables as we jumped into the water at Tices Shoal. Still, I never imagined the actual sailing of the boat was really that difficult. Uncle Dave made it look easy. That was my first mistake.

The first days in Annapolis were miserable and overshadowed by dark hazy clouds that hung like mist around the marina. I was furious with my parents at the time. Why was I in school in July? This was a vacation, really? On top of that it was an awful day, especially for sailing. The air was still, sticky, and thick enough to choke on. I pouted like a little kid and stood glaring at all the boats as if it were their fault I was here instead of on a warm sandy beach. 
To my surprise I discovered that I wouldn’t even get to go in a sailboat until I had passed an exam. It really was like school! When I first caught drift of the exam, I began to get even angrier. I admit I was also a little nervous. What if I didn’t pass? Would I still be allowed to go sailing? The questions, nerves, and frustrations bounced around in my head for a few long minutes. Then the instructor came over and introduced himself as Mark.
He looked like a high school kid, maybe nineteen. I shook his hand glumly as he grinned excitedly. I dimly wondered where all the other students were. My mom told me there was supposed to be at least four other people taking the course along with me. Paying no attention to my thoughts, Mark led me to the “classroom.” I say classroom because it was really just a glorified shed. Inside were some chalkboards and a couple of desks that looked like they might’ve been there longer than Mark had been alive. Nevertheless, I got very acquainted with that room. This was especially true because, as it happened, I was the only student in my class.
First my instructor asked me what I knew about sailing.  I told him the truth. I said that I had been on sailboats all my life and that I knew what they did, but not much else. He seemed amused, maybe at my lack of knowledge? Anyway, he told me I was going to have to learn some basics about sailing before I went out and actually got to sail. He got started putting some notes on the board while I wistfully looked out the open door and into the shimmering Chesapeake Bay, the sun was finally out and I was inside a classroom. This was going to be a long summer.
As the days went on I found the class less irritating. I was even learning most of the things he taught me. First, Mark taught me all the names of everything on a sailboat. I learned which side is starboard, what a dagger board does, how to steer a rudder, and a million other things I had never even thought about before.
After I learned about emergency procedures (such as how to turn a sailboat around if someone falls off), we were almost ready to go out on the water. I only had to pass my written boating exam before any real sailing happened. As I sat in the classroom and watched the other sailboats drift by, the cross breeze filled me with anticipation. The clear blue skies and the wind were calling me; I felt even more determined to pass that test. 
Even though I was stuck in class for weeks, I wasn’t always learning. Some days were spent on my back lazily looking at the clouds as windsurfers and jet skiers zoomed by without a care in the world. More often then not Mark and I goofed off. We played hockey with a tennis ball and some old yardsticks we found, messed with the big expensive boats, and wandered into the Wet Dog Café to get some sandwiches for lunch. When the heat got really unbearable, we even jumped in the bay!
However, I was the happiest when I finally took my test and passed with flying colors. I’d finally get to do what I’d been itching to do; go sailing. Mark laughed at my enthusiasm as I ran out on the dock gazing deliciously at all the options.  Since I was a beginner, we used a laser, but that was fine with me. Lasers were cool little boats meant for fast paced sailing.
I suddenly remembered something my Uncle Dave told me about lasers. He told me that these sailboats have their own unique number printed on them. The numbers stand for the order in which they were made. The very first one started at number 100 and the oldest one my Uncle ever owned was number 802. I glanced up at the number on the laser in front of me, 49,264.
Mark rigged the sail. We got into our bright life vests and got busy setting up the various lines.  At first it was easy going, not too fast as we eased out of the marina. When we were far enough out, Mark pulled the sail tighter and we gain some more speed. I loved the howling winds and the salty smell of bay water. My body buzzed in thrill when the boat tipped so close to the water that my face was merely inches away. Even so, the bobbing of the boat and the constant sound of the gentle waves made me feel right at home.
For a few days, I focused solely on steering the rudder. It took some time to get used to the fact that rudders steer the boat the opposite of the way I moved it. So when I turned it left, the boat turned right, and vise versa. To practice, I spent hours just aiming and running over fluorescent little buoy markers. Soon, it was like riding a bike; second nature and I hardly thought about what I was doing at all.
For the next couple of weeks, Mark would control the rudder and I would jibe and tack. I was a little nervous about messing up all the lines, but since we were using a laser there weren’t that many lines to keep track of. I was thankful for that because a lot of the time, I struggled with tangles of lines and dealt with the jittery flapping of a loose sail mocking me. Soon I got the hang of it and I didn’t need Mark to tell me what to do. I even started getting a feel for where the wind was coming from and what I needed to adjust on the boat. Every time Mark and I returned to the dock we were exhausted, but happily satisfied with the days progress.
Even though I loved sailing, there were definitely days where I hated being out on the water. Some days the blistering heat blared down on us making us sweaty and wretched. Some days the air was so humid and still the boat would hardly move an inch. There were also days where the water was rough and unforgiving, the weather stormy and cold. I distinctly remember capsizing at least once or twice.
In the middle of August, Mark had to go back to college, and I was assigned a new instructor. Her name was Anna and I really liked her. We only got a few days to sail with each other, but we laughed and joked like long lost friends. On my last day, I was really excited to get in one more good sail before I went back home. The excitement was bittersweet though, because I was also sad that I wouldn’t be able to got out sailing whenever I wanted after this.
The wind was pretty good that day and we actually went out farther than usual. Unfortunately, as night approached the wind became nonexistent and we were left drifting inch by measly inch. For a while Anna and I just laid on the boat finding our situation amusing in a cynical kind of way. We talked a while laughing, as we stared up at the moon and listened to the black waves lapping against our boat.
Soon after, we got out the oars and began paddling the long way back. During the way, I found myself thinking about how amazing this experience had been. It had been such a frustrating and exhilarating summer full of new experiences.  I would not soon forget my time in summer school. Some nights when I lie awake in bed and close my eyes, I can still feel the rocking motion of the waves and I remember that summer on the Chesapeake.  

I'm so proud.

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