Bringing Her Around

This is the first year I have actually gotten the boat onto my mooring in April.  Hours before April ended, to be sure, and what a ride it was!  Strange and a little ominous to have a warm northwesterly, but today is the only available day.  Having checked all I could for proper installation and readiness for sea, I said goodbye to John at the yard and set sail east out of The Gut in South Bristol with a reefed main and a full jib.  It’s two-and-a-half miles from the north side of Witch Island to the outer point of Thrumcap, and I must have made it in about 20 minutes, barreling down John’s Bay in a broad reach with a breast of swell rising and receding beneath my feet.

Even though there are more islands out beyond, Thrumcap’s rocky end marks the edge of the sea, the end of the land fingers reaching out into it.  I wanted Tycha (and myself) to have a taste of it.  Taste it we did, literally: the full force of the wind grabbed us as we rounded the outer granite ledges, shaking the boat and setting the sails to slattering along the leech.  It’s suddenly noisy as hell.

Knees and hips crouched in fear: I’m alone, and there are no boats out this early in the season, the occasional fishing boat, but none I can see right now.  If I got in trouble out here, there would be no one to hail.

So there’s no room for error in 30 knots of wind and rail under, me standing on the sides of the cockpit not the bottom, with water coming in over the coaming.  As I tighten sail, so does the angle to the confused rush of oncoming whitecaps roaring down the fetch from Boothbay, and the slap of the sides starts throwing spray over me every 10 seconds until I am drenched and tasting salt with every breath.  So now we can add cold shivering and the inability to see to the Superficial-Front-Line-tightening fear.  I have hooked myself to the life rail with a safety harness, but I don’t fancy my chances of pulling myself back aboard if I get thrown over.  Won’t last long in April water anyway.

Such cheery thoughts occupy you in those first minutes of the first challenging sail of the year, when you wonder if everything’s been done up right and snugged tight, or if something slightly worn in the chattering gear will suddenly chafe through and part. But John and Mike have done their work well, and Tycha and I both test our sinews – her the wiry shrouds and stays that hold the masts, and her sheets, halyards and blocks that bridle the horses of the sails – there’s a bunch of creaking but nothing breaks, and you can feel her – a boat’s alive – waking up and tuning herself, like a guitar long unused awakens to the touch of music.

Me too – my lily hands and airplane-fed body and computer eyes relearn the movement; the leans that take your whole body weight into the wheel, the winch, or the wave.

I am glad to say that neither were found wanting and within a few minutes I am riding the waves with a rodeo rider’s clamped abandon, a reason for having hips suddenly rediscovered, pure exhilaration dancing between the wind and the water.

It’s a struggle to come about in the now-screaming northwesterly, and I shorten the jib to working size by pulling in the furling line as I come through the eye of the wind, even though it’s such a struggle that I reawaken the biceps injury I got last fall, but after we make the turn she is perfectly comfortable heading back into the welcoming arms of the river, where the wind is no less, but the waves calm down and the spray stops, so I shiver away the last of the cold and panic; the salt dries white on my clothes, and I am glad I brought the thermos of sweetened tea.

Sailing is a meditation, and this meditation is one of constant attention.  In this bluster of gusts and williwaws, a momentary lapse could allow the boat to twist to the wind and get in trouble very quickly.  The river provides shelter from the waves, but leaves you very little leeway – one mistake and you will be blown down upon the rocks in minutes.  The boat itself is on its edge, both literally and figuratively, and so must you be.  There’s hardly time or leisure to grab my water bottle or tea thermos.

I am almost home when the wind shrieks – gusts well above 30 knots – and even with the sails reduced she is taking water over the sides and I am at the edge of my skill just to keep her balanced; no wrong moves allowed.  I doubt that in these conditions I can bring her into the mooring itself – which requires you be in two places at once, and you just cannot miss or you will be spun ashore in no time – but the cove provides just enough shelter and about 100 yards from the pennant the wind falls, the boat slows, the sun warms, and you wonder what all the fuss was about.  I cannot credit it and turn away back into the maelstrom to reassure myself that it is still there, and sure enough, I am caught in it and swooshed across the river, and come screaming back on a beam reach at 8 knots, again to duck into the lee near the mooring.

It’s the kind of time drink is made for, but I have nothing but water on the boat – left my flashlight and whisky behind on this maiden voyage.  But there’s no real need for alcohol, I bandage up the rope burn I got in a bad moment so the sails won’t get blood on them – you can’t do a sail like today’s without joining The Order of the Bloody Knuckle.  It’s good to put the boat away, praising her and crowing about our feat – which no one but us two will really understand..

Then sit in the cockpit, letting the residual cold and fear and tension drain out of my body until there is nothing left but the warm pulsing peace of a well-used neuromyofascial web.

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