Under Sail

When I was twelve my family moved from east Tennessee to San Diego. We drove cross country in my father’s pride: his 1953 Oldsmobile Rocket 88. There were no interstate highways then; we travelled two lane roads (including the glamour Highway 66) for most of the trip. We arrived in the mountains above San Diego late the last night of our journey. Below us were the bright, countless lights of the city curving around the darkness of Sand Diego Bay.

After we had been in California for about a year, we now lived in Del Mar, my father bought a large sailboat: a Dragon, a thirty foot, wooden, single masted, heavy weather boat. Alas, I cannot recall what he named  it.  His plan was to race the boat.

Quite often I and my next younger brother Pat comprised his crew. Captain Ahab had nothing on Dad. He was a taskmaster, often, I suspect, visiting us with his anger at his own nautical errors.

I still vividly recollect my terror at being ordered, one weekend afternoon, to the bow of the boat to fix some problem with the jib. The wind was brisk, small waves loudly slapped the Dragon’s bow as the boat stumbled through the bay, sending spray over the slanting, wooden deck. I inched forward on my stomach, certain I would swept off the wet, narrowing deck at any instant, and doing my best to ignore my father yelling instructions at me to move faster and farther.

Later that same year my parents got me a small, sturdy plastic sailboat, a Surf Sailer, about twelve feet long. Perched on its narrow deck, managing its single sail in a light wind, I finally came to appreciate sailing. Early in the next year my little boat survived falling off the top of our new Volkswagen on US 101 on the way to San Diego. A few months later, however,  it succumbed when my father brought his three thousand pound Dragon into its slip too fast. The boat rode up over the pier, its sharp prow impaling my little craft in its  side, leaving a jagged, and unrepairable, hole. I was devastated.

In 1966, during my freshman, I had a brief stint on my college’s sailing team. We came in second in a three team regatta on the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia. The little sailing dinghy we raced single handed in was hardly bigger than my SurfSailer.

Twelve years ago my father and I chartered an thirty-six foot day sailer in Havre de Grace, Maryland, in the northern part of the Chesapeake. He was seventy-eight then; I was keenly aware this was likely to be my last chance to share an adventure with him. We spent three days roaming the northern end of the bay. We ran aground twice, but otherwise managed to avoid even more humiliating blunders.

On the second morning of our trip, in a rising breeze, Father let me handle the tiller. From a drifting start, once the mainsail was raised, the broad beamed boat became a living thing, gathering itself, lurching forward like a horse left too long in the barn, as it responded to the wind filling its sail. Heeling slightly, it accelerated, then began driving through the green, choppy water. It was as  if the boat was about to take flight. I was so pleased I began laughing out loud. My father looked at me; we shared, for a moment, his passion for sailing.

Sailing is elegant. Sailing boats and sailing ships are elegant, too. Here is a Flickr gallery I hope shows, in photographs, that timeless truth:


Some Flickr groups: Tall Ships, Sailships, Sailboats and Sailing, and, believe it or not, Sailing Nude.

Read All of VISIONS

This is a photoshop image of mine:

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