The true account of a middle-aged couple pursuing life aboard an ocean-sailing yacht while savoring blue skies and crystal waters, sparkling beaches, romantic settings and glowing camaraderie afloat — forget running out of money, three fiendish sailing companions, everything going wrong, impossibilities . . . and nearly dying.
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The word “sailing” evokes idyllic images — new and exciting places to visit, sunny blue skies to enjoy, refreshing free winds, crystal waters, colorful aquatic life and moonlight peeking between scudding clouds on balmy evenings. Throw in those refreshing drinks after satisfying hours of delight, perhaps while sharing experiences with other boaters and planning the next day’s exciting, sun-blessed experience. Providing the sailboat is big and comfortable enough, funds are plentiful enough, sailing experience is ample enough, the weather kindly enough and the destinations reasonable, the only items remaining are the decision to go, someone to watch the house, good health and substantial long-term financial security. We had a few little glitches in our enactment of this dream, trivial items such as selling our house and belongings and cars, and going into hock. The biggest boat I’d ever commandeered was a rowboat — a small one — so I had zero experience. Our boat was too big for two people in their fifties. The weather was unbelievably bad. Our investments tanked and then disappeared completely. We had three brushes with death, unbelievable bad luck all around, and three sailing companions we never saw, never wanted and would rather not have known. Their names: Murphy, Finagle and Sod. Everyone has heard of Murphy. Some know Finagle. Very few know of Sod, but he knew us. They all did! In fact, Murphy and Finagle were Sod’s protégés. Sailing was the easy part. The real problem was trying to get the darn boat to go uphill!
There I was, trying hard to swallow as I gazed upon my soon-to-be new toy, a forty-five foot ocean-sailing yacht berthed among hundreds of similarly valuable boats. The broker suddenly thrust the ignition key into my hand. “Why don’t you and your wife take her out on the bay? Have lunch out there, and we’ll see you back here around three.”
He’d never guessed that the biggest boat I’d ever managed on my own was a rowboat—actually a small rowboat—or that I’d planned a little of my own, private “on the job training” once out on Chesapeake Bay where nobody would notice. If that proved too difficult, dangerous or embarrassing, I’d eventually motor my sixteen-ton acquisition several hundred miles to its equally new mooring in a Staten Island harbor, after which I’d hire other large sailboat owners to tutor me in quiet water for a few weekends before I tried sailing all by myself. It was truly a brilliant plan, however sneaky.
After all, the same agent had just finished showing how easy the boat was to maneuver. When returning to the slip, he’d simply made an abrupt turn to the left — I mean to port — while reversing the engine “hard” so the boat would skid sideways, stopping just a few feet from equally expensive boats moored in the next pier over. Heck, I could do that—nothing to it! Then he’d deftly nudged my cherished prize backward into its own private slip on his very first try without even coming close to the neighboring boat on one side or the piling and finger pier extension on the other. He’d appeared nonchalant about the mere three feet of water separating us from the neighboring, far more expensive craft. Air-filled fenders on that side of my new toy never touched a thing. And was that a yawn I’d seen as he shut down the engine with the boat precisely centered in its berth?
I could yawn, too. It’s an engineer thing, almost inborn.
Earlier that same morning he’d also shown us how absurdly easy my new boat was to sail, out there on the quiet Chesapeake just east of Annapolis. It looked so simple, so . . . cushy, the way he did it. Of course, he thought I was a veteran sailor, else why would I be buying this sized boat? He’d never asked, and I’d never volunteered that information.
Now my mouth was dry and my knees were shaking. This was not the easily approached boatyard dock from our previous visits, but something as tricky as a box of monkeys! Before we reached any kind of open water, I’d have to thread a fairly tortuous and precise path past a few tens of millions of dollars in boats, passing long rows of piers while on the alert for any kind of surprise, like maybe a whale surfacing. Then I’d have to negotiate busy channel traffic just east of the United States Naval Academy, all the busier due to the beautiful weather and time of day. I asked myself what I’d do if someone else did something really dumb and unexpected.
I didn’t appreciate the whispered answer from my higher self that I was probably the only really dumb one there.
Even if I didn’t pretend to try sailing once out on the bay, I’d have to anchor somewhere and let a couple of hours slide by before returning with whatever lies I’d thought up to cover my ineptitude. Was this when I was to blurt out the awful truth, clearly traceable to genetic deficiencies in brain function? Was now the time to admit that I’d been no more than a passenger on a tall ship a few years back? Or that I’d be totally lost if faced with a breaching whale—a baby one?
The answer was indisputably no! I was an engineer, and engineers aren’t allowed to own up to such things. Typically, they yawn. It’s an engineer thing.