The first time I went sailing was in Vermont, sometime in the late 1970s. The boat was a Sunfish, basically a wide deck with a tiny cockpit that somehow carried four of us and a cooler in what I later learned to call a steady beam reach. The lake was large and clear and open and we slid across the surface without a care.

It was probably five years later that I met Joe, who would become my second husband. He owned a Kells 23, a sailboat that could snugly seat six in the cockpit with room for another person or two to stretch out on the deck, and a small cabin that could sleep two.

Sadie took us on dozens of afternoon cruises and a couple of overnights. About a month before our first baby was born, we sailed from her home port of Essex, Massachusetts, to the Isles of Shoals on the invisible border between Maine and New Hampshire.

Aapril Föl was a plywood kit, purchased with a tax refund, that I built in my mother-in-law’s barn. She skimmed across Essex Bay and over the tidal bogs. Although I had built her, and sometimes sailed her alone, most times I deferred to Joe and served as crew. He was a skilled and safe skipper; he still is.

We moved to Knox County to be near the water which, to us, meant Penobscot Bay. Here we sailed in heaven’s playground on a series of boats, only one longer than Sadie and most under 20 feet. The first winter after we moved to Warren an unnamed tropical depression picked Aapril Föl up off the ground where she was being stored and stove in about half of her hull.

A time came when I felt the need to understand the running of the craft in ways that are easiest learned when sailing alone. I found my first very-own sailboat on a front lawn in one of the coastal towns. It was a cute little home-made plywood trimaran that did not have room for an adult among its bulkheads and decks. A boat more theoretical than real. I named her Tri My Patience and her hulls never touched the water.

The first useful boat I owned was Eider Oar, a 10-foot double ender that could be either sailed or rowed, and could be propelled either forward or in reverse. Hence the name. Eider Oar was a treat. By then I was living in Rockland and could walk from home to the harbor in ten minutes. She rowed easily and turned on a dime. She came with a rudder and tiller, but the previous owner had another use for the mast and sail.

Then I found Emma, a Cape Dory 10 sailing dinghy, and my first fiberglass boat.

Emma came with her original rig, a contraption of aluminum in three parts called a modified gunter. One pole slid up another, forming a 16-foot-tall mast, while the third hinged out on a heavy bracket to become the boom.

I found her a peach to row, taking me the mile out to the Breakwater in short minutes and grabbing every bit of breeze. Her rising stern and reverse-curve transom lets me row in the direction I’m facing when necessary. But she wasn’t really set up to sail and row on the same trip.

I discovered this on a flukey afternoon in Rockland Harbor, during our first summer together. Light air let me breeze from the Public Landing to just inside Jameson Point in about a half-hour. But as I came about to start tacking back, an operation I expected to take the rest of the afternoon, the wind shifted in direction and gathered a lot of strength. That 68 sq.-ft. sail was far too much for me and my little boat.

Dropping the rig was easier said than done. The mast is all the way forward, as in a cat boat and the technological marvel that turns two short spars into one long mast makes for a lot of tubular cargo; collapsed, the they and the boom extend beyond the full length of the boat.

Squatting in the bow while attending to the spars, brackets, and sail with a building breeze was no fun at all. Eventually I got things bundled up enough to row back to the Public Landing. I promised myself and my boat a new rig.

That was four years ago. At the end of the 2019 sailing season, Joe dug an 8-foot wooden mast and a homemade lug sail out of his barn. I tried it out a couple of times in 2020, but . . . it was 2020.

Since then, I have moved to Thomaston, to a different harbor. After putting Emma on the dock early this summer, I rowed upriver and explored a bit. It took me a while to find a place to store the sail rig; it was only recently, at a noon high tide on a slightly-less-humid day, that I finally put up the sail.

Instead of Rockland’s deep and wide mooring field, the St. George in Thomaston is a tidal river that turns mostly to mudflats twice a day with winds that bounce off the bluffs that define the water’s narrow path.

One thing about wind is true everywhere. It can change in the time it takes to blink.

Last week, it took me about 15 or 20 minutes in a northwest breeze to cross from Thomaston’s Public Landing to a spot not far from the Hayfields Preserve. I figured I would spend the rest of the afternoon making my way back.

Of course, the wind changed, switching direction to come out of the southwest. What had been a relative millpond became what the Beaufort scale refers to as a moderate breeze, with small waves turning into fairly frequent white horses. Taking the sail down and rolling it around the spars proved easy, but rowing home was another story entirely. After what felt like two hours but was probably 30 minutes on a sea freshening in the face of Beaufort’s “strong breeze,” I found myself no closer to the dock than when I’d dropped the rig. Rowing as hard as I could, I was just managing to keep from being blown to shore.

I was under Lyman-Morse’s seawall, keeping pace with a small shingle beach that was going nowhere. Sun and fatigue were tiring me. I decided to head for the strand, find my water bottle, and consider my options.

I pulled Emma far enough up the beach to take my hands off her safely, and studied the situation. The wind was still building and the tide was about to start going out. Already I could see flats rising to the surface, creating obstacles to any possible short path home.

I called the nearby marina and heard a cheerful voice tell me they would be open on Monday and to have a great day. I thought some more, getting used to the idea that embarrassment was unavoidable.

Last fall I joined the Harbor Committee, mostly to understand how recreational boaters like myself fit into Thomaston’s waterfront community. I know the harbormaster; his number is in my contacts. I also know he has real job, as a police sergeant, and can be pretty busy.

When I reached him, Sgt. Chris Hansen was directing traffic around one of the accidents that occur with increased frequency on Route 1 around Thomaston. This one was over the line, in Warren, and Chris thought he’d be able to look into my situation in about 10 minutes.

“Keep your phone on,” he said.

I drank some more water, re-stowed the rig so I’d be able to carry it once we got to the dock, and looked out into the growing whitecaps. The phone rang.

“There are four people coming to get you with a skiff. They seemed pleased to be able to tow you back.”

The folks who rescued me were two people around my age and two I would call younger. Twenties or so. The younger ones jumped in to tie my painter to a cleat on their boat, I climbed back into Emma, and we surfed the wake and the flukey waves back to the public dock.

Sgt. Hansen was waiting there in the hot navy blue uniform police wear on duty. He grabbed my line and helped pull Emma around the dock to her berth, accepted my gratitude, waved off my embarrassment, and went back to work.

Next time I go out with Emma, I told myself, I’ll watch the tide and the wind a little closer beforehand. Maybe I’ll get a friend with a little boat to tag along for assistance, just in case. Or maybe I’ll just row.

Shlomit Auciello is a writer, photographer, and human ecologist who has lived in Midcoast Maine since 1988. Letter From Away has appeared online and in print, on and off since 1992, and is published here on a weekly basis.