What a blast. A perfect day for sailing. Not too much wind, clear skies, and no big waves on the lake. You don’t want someone’s first experience on boat to be throwing up over the side! We arrived at the boat at a little before 10 this morning, and did the usual drill. There were 3 teenage boys about to go off to college, and the lesson started with the basic questions. Have you ever been on a boat before? (no from 2, only a big boat from 1), Do you know how to swim? (no from 1, sort of from 1, yes, I’m on the swim team from 1). Then, the basic instructions. These are life jackets. This is a throwable flotation cushion. If someone goes overboard, you throw this to them, we turn the boat around, then we throw this other one that has a rope tied to it, and we pull them in. This is a marine radio, tuned to channel 16, if some bad thing happens, you push here to call the Coast Guard. This is a horn, this is a winch handle. This is an anchor. If some terrible thing happens and you’re going to end up on the rocks, you move this thing and drop the anchor. When you’re moving around the boat, it’s one hand on the boat on something secure, and the other hand for what you’re doing, etc. etc. Finally, the one I like the best, “When I tell you to do something, do it. Don’t give me the look, don’t ask questions, just do it. You can ask questions later, but someone‘s life might be at risk. Do you understand?” Yes, father, we got it. “We don’t want to get anyone killed out here, ok.” We got it, father.
The last part of the instructions today had to do with getting back into the dock. “The wind will want to push us onto the boat next to us. Do you see the boat?” Yes father. “It’s a pretty fancy boat, and we don’t want to scratch it, ok?” Yes father. “Ok, Ernesto, you’re on the bow right up here.” I’m standing next to him. “Take this boat hook, and when we come in, grab this cleat on the dock with the boat hook.” Ok father. “Do it now, so I can see that you know how.” Ok, father. I tell Manny that he’ll have the boat hook at the stern, and practice with him as well. I put Jose in the middle of the boat sitting on the cabin and tell him that if he has to, he should push us off the boat next to us with his legs. Off we went, and getting out of the dock went as smooth as butter.
Out on the water, they raised the sail and we were off. “Everyone ok so far?” Yes father. We do some sailing and there’s a bit of chop. “Anyone sick?” No father. We head North out of the harbor and one of them comments to another, “Wow, this is beautiful. It looks just like the pictures.” The other one answers, “Maybe that’s why they take the pictures.” My goodness, I’m thinking to myself, they’ve never seen this at all. They get to talking about the skyline, and going to Indiana. One of them had never been to the sand dunes, and we talked about how you could see Chicago from a long way off. We talked about Milwaukee’s skyline, and Minnesota’s skyline (he must have meant St. Paul), and they each got to drive the boat. They’d sit by the wheel (it was on autopilot) and I’d ask them, “Captain, what’s our heading? What’s our windspeed? What’s the depth of the water? What’s the speed of the boat?” They’d answer and we were having some big fun.
Coming back in they learned how to drop the sail, handle the reefing lines, and a few other things. Then came time to get back into the dock.
We pulled into the dock as smooth as clockwork. Ernesto grabbed the wrong cleat on the dock, and he’s pulling us toward the other boat. “Ernesto,” I’m yelling, “you got the wrong cleat.” Manny’s yelling at him from the stern, and he’s flailing around with the boat hook on the bow. “Jose, push us off that boat.” He does and now we’re getting closer to being tied up. I step away from the helm to go and grab the boat hook (a mistake), and while I’m getting the boat hook I realize I’ve left the shift in reverse. I yell to Manny, “put the boat in neutral,” and he reaches for the throttle. Oh my goodness, I think, we’re going to back up into the channel with nobody at the wheel. “Don’t touch anything,” I yell, and he lets go of the throttle. It’s the three stooges docking a boat.
Finally we get tied up and secure the boat. Nobody’s hurt but we’re all a bit rattled. I have a cut on the top of my hand and I’m bleeding a little bit. “You guys ok?” I ask. Yes father. “That was a mess… the only good thing is that there was nobody on the dock to laugh at us. Look around.” They do. There was nobody there, thank God!
Ernesto tells me, “Father, you’re going to have to get a lot better at giving instructions.”
I’m proud of myself. I didn’t throw him into the water.
“If we had more time, boys, we’d be doing this same thing over and over again until we got it right.” Manny looks at me… “Yep, that’s the only way to learn things. By making mistakes. Next time, we’ll do better.”
They put the sail cover back on, put away the lines, put the instrument covers back on, etc. and we got off the boat. A great day sailing. Next time, we’ll do better!