A few months ago I woke to reports of a storm blowing through town. Puffs to 40 knots expected. Josie was sick. I was supposed to be leaving town in a few days. I did not have the time or energy to get beat up and dumped in the lake, but I would have for two reasons. First, my teammates would be there waiting for me. Second, I love it.
I love how it feels when the rigging groans and lurches in response to a puff, how the boat lifts off the water, popping onto a plane like a ski boat, how the water sprays directly out from the hull like a hose, how it skips over the water, how it feels to have your body extended, arched over the lake, how the boat hums, happy, how you realize, every time, that your fate is not your own – it’s all wind and sails and boat and all you can do is keep your body out and aft, and ignore the burning in your thighs and hang on to the vang, and be ready to throw your leg over the rail if and when the mast hits the water. I’ll always make time.
But that afternoon my skipper calls. Our third teammate has thrown his back out, the boat needs re-rigging and, he’s also heard that it’s supposed to blow, hard. He thinks we should skip it. I’m both relieved and disappointed.
Later that afternoon, I watch the southerly blow up the lake, filling in at 5:00 pm – going from 0 to 15 knots in a few minutes’ time. I’m in the kitchen making soup for my mother and I take a second to write on his wall: “It’s here! 0 to 15 in just a few minutes.” A mutual friend I sailed with in college comments Oh you guys are going to have so much fun tonight!
In college we practiced every Tuesday, Thursday, some Fridays and anytime the wind was blowing more than 20 knots. The impromptu practices were never coordinated, we just showed up, simultaneously abandoning the warm libraries and lecture halls for the ice cold excitement of a fall, winter or spring afternoon sail.
I have fond memories of those days. I remember my skipper missing his hiking strap and rolling right over the side of the boat into the water on a frigid March day. I remember being so hypothermic that I couldn’t get out of my gear – a friend had to pull off my neoprene and gortex spray top so I could get into the sauna. I remember being rescued from the icy water of Long Island Sound. I remember watching my fellow sailors finish a race sitting on top of their overturned boat. I remember sitting on top of my overturned boat while my skipper swam after our rudder which had broken loose and was floating away. I remember a non-sailor friend asking me at what point we cancelled practice or racing because there was too much wind. I remember not understanding the question.
My college friend who commented doesn’t race much these days. She remembers what it used to be, like the friend that moves out of town in her late twenties, before everyone has kids, and thinks life is the way it was before she left. Like you’re still seeing each other every weekend, going out when really you’re putting the babies to bed, watching Mad Men on DVD in your respective houses and falling asleep by 10:00.
I comment back to my friend that we aren’t going out sailing, bad backs, sick babies and mothers, bags to be packed, dinners to be made and, besides, it’s supposed to be too windy. She says “too windy, what do you mean?”