Sunday, May 08, 2005

Know thyself

A sunny and windy day. It seemed like a perfect day for sailing. Or so thought my friends. So I joined them for what was supposed to be a beautiful morning on the water. We've done it before, going to Alexandria and back.
As soon as I stepped on the boat, I knew this was different. The wind was very strong and the boat was rocking widely. I know nothing about boats and sailing and became quickly scared. I asked to be brought back to the dock. After trying to persuade me to stay on board, my friends relented, dropped me back and head out again.
I didn't want to leave that quickly so I spent some time watching people. One couple caught my attention. In a place where everyone is wearing the latest goretex equipment, the man is wearing a jean and old sneakers. He is a little fat, as is his girlfriend, and they both move about the dock with the demeanor of amateurs. They started to build their boat in front of my eyes, as if they were following an instruction manual. The boat is small, a wooden boat the size of the ones used for a two-hours family rowing trip on a small pond. The mast comes in first, sliding it somewhere in the back of the boat. The woman, wearing a life jacket, is in the boat while the man is unfolding the sail. He gives her instructions to put in place some ropes. She follows with the hesitation of a neophyte. The man has been working on the assembly of his boat for about an hour, an hour and a half when all seems to be ready for the journey out on the river.
Considering the violence of the wind I've experienced first hand, I am both fascinated and worried by the couple. I can't see this small boat lasting more than one second on the choppy waters. The fascination is with the certitude of an upcoming disaster. I keep watching when the woman steps out of the boat to let her friend get on. He is quickly on his way out, the red sail filled with wind, an odd sight among all the standard white sails surrounding him. A few minutes later, after no more than 5 minutes on the water, he is on his way back to the docks.
He quickly maneuvers the boat back with great ability. There is no doubt that the guy is a good sailor tickering with a boat of his making. The couple takes the boat apart like a giant puzzle, folding everything and storing all the pieces in small boxes. The mast comes out and all is packed back in their car. They're gone shortly afterwards. Almost two hours of work for 5 minutes on the water.

It does not sound like a good deal until, as I am ready to leave, I see a police boat towing back to the dock a somehow familiar blue boat without sail. I recognize my friends. They capsized, lost all their stuff (keys, glasses, ...) in the river and are shivering in their wet clothes. I gain some respect for the man with the red sail who knew his limits.


Blogger Solomon2 said...

You showed excellent judgment, and your friends were lucky. I presume they wore life jackets? I attended high school not far from the Potomac River. We could always tell when someone drowned by the noisy helicopter traffic of the Park Police -- and such activity usually peaked in May in June. We rowed the C&O canal, yes, but no one dared sail the Potomac.

3:05 PM  
Blogger Just said...

yeah. It could have been a complete catastrophe and they did get very lucky. I hope this will also serve as a lesson to both of them. I never realize how dangerous the Potomac was really...

10:15 PM  

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