The Maiden Voyage or Neptune's Wrath
by Deanna Jacobsen
Neptune, or whatever the powers that be, taught me a grave lesson
one day. Either that, or I am a star example of the most bumbling
novice yet to sail from a sheltered marina.
Oh how badly I wanted a sailboat. Just a little one. At first, I was willing to spend $500, then $1000, all of a sudden the boat I had to have jumped to $5000. I was smitten with this one. With trembling hand I wrote an IOU and the boat was mine. My friend and I towed the boat home with our little pickup truck. Easy enough.
I read up on things like, how to tell where the wind is coming from, and how to tie knots. My only experience, over 10 years ago, was sailing a 14 ft Laser - a fast, flat bottomed boat. The little Laser was cat-rigged, having one big sail (I used to think this was short for catamaran). The big sail had lots of surface area for the air. This combination of things made it fast and nervous. As a precaution, I always wore my wetsuit, because I always capsized.
Not wanting to do this anymore want to do that anymore, I bought a boat four times as expensive as the Laser, thinking maybe it would be at least four times as stable. The neat thing about the boat I bought, a West Wight Potter, is that it was only 15 feet long and had a little cabin that would sleep two. It also had a famous reputation for being stable, it was love at first sight.
After we brought it home, I set about, putting everything in order. One important thing I did was to scrape the existing name of "Spray" from the transom. Little did I know that "Spray" was the name of a famous sailing boat. But truly, first thing I thought of when I read it, was my cat. So, not knowing any better, the name had to came off, as I was to find out, at my own risk, as this was the beginning of my mistake with Neptune's forces.
Ah, to sail again, with my very own boat! After all the readying, my little sailboat sat upon its trailer in my front yard for two weeks, waiting for me to get my nerve up for sailing. Then out of the blue a friend called and urged me to go, so I excitedly, albeit rashly, decided, "Okay Mary! Come on over, this will be the maiden voyage!" Still waiting for inspiration, I had not yet re-named the boat.
In the morning when Mary called, the wind was calm about 3-5 knots, a perfect first sailing day, but waiting for her to arrive in early afternoon, the wind picked up. I started to worry. So, in case we got hungry, I packed a couple of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and two beers.
I should have sensed something amiss when I was at a complete loss, backing trailer down the ramp. Mary was better at this, so it was she who eventually got the trailer rolling straight down. We gave the boat a firm shove and it floated off the trailer gracefully. This in itself was a miracle me. We gingerly got in and I started up the tiny motor just fine, although at low speed, it vibrated the transom and my teeth terribly.
At last we found our way then, puttering out of the harbor, discussing the wind and whether it was safe enough to sail. Ian took a picture of us getting a good seat on the jetty rocks, watching us sail out of the harbor, a beer propped up next to him. We'll be just a speck in that photo, I think. Creeping out from the harbor into open water, we shut the motor off, then clumsily, I only pulled up the mainsail, saving the jib for a calmer day (later learning the jib goes up first).
The sail fluttered up the mast. I pulled in on the mainsheet, and away we went! What a thrill to catch the wind and use it to move! The water swished against the hull as we blew forward. I looked up at the sail tension as it filled with air. This IS happiness! I was feeling fresh and alive. How lucky we are to live near the water!
The wind was just enough of a challenge for the maiden cruise in my no-name boat.
I made a couple of tacks up towards the opening to Admiralty Inlet. Wow, this boat is more stable than that laser was, I thought. Then it happened, an almost accidental jibe. This time I caught it. I used to get tics whenever I thought about doing that in that nervous little Laser before.
We sailed downwind, back toward the harbor, and took down the mainsail, then puttered to the boat ramp under power. Mary having to jump off fast once we reached the dock. A little practice and I'll be fine. I shut the engine off and we tied up the boat. Life is so dang good! What a great time. We made it back! Happily we bobbed up and down in the sun, we drank our beers and ate our sandwiches. Ian's car appeared in the parking lot. He got out and came down to see how we were doing, asking if we needed any help. We were doing so well, we thought, we could manage ourselves.
Time to pull the boat out. Ugh, the back up thing again. Ian and Mary steadied the boat for the trailer. I tried in vain to back down the ramp. After about fifteen minutes, Ian offered to help and I gladly got out of the driver's seat.
We pushed and shoved the boat onto the trailer, good enough. I had to take the rudder off before the trailer went back up the ramp. (Thus began mishap number one, which I failed to notice for six weeks.) Otherwise, it was pure happiness washing the boat off carefully with fresh water a few feet from the ramp.
Ian went back to the house, of course we could handle it from here! We finished cleaning up, lightly secured the boat to the trailer, since it was only a one minute drive to the house, we got in the truck. Satisfied that our day was good, we slowly drove out of the gravely parking lot and onto the narrow residential road.
KKKKKKKshshshchKKK! With bugging eyes, we looked at each other...what was that? I looked out the window up to the right in time to see the power pole wavering beside us, my eyes darted to the rearview mirror all at once seeing and hearing the metallic crash of a long heavy tube on asphalt. My heart sank. We forgot to take down the mast!
I knew it was Neptune, just letting me know, not only to never again sail in a boat with the name scratched off, but to give due respect to the ceremony of seamanship!