Staff column

Why I don't go sailing anymore

By Bane Okholm | Apr 03, 2013

The truth of the matter is this: I love to sail. Like a lot of kids in this area, I took a few classes in my youth. I never had my own vessel and most of the time I had to apply for scholarships to the clubs and camps, but I loved it all the same.

So when, as an undergrad student, I got the chance to assistant teach 12-year-olds in two weeks of sailing lessons, I jumped at the opportunity. I recalled days of knot tying, swim tests, games of Capture the Flag on Curtis Island and coursing along on the open ocean, sunburned and sticky from the sea spray. And hey, since enthusiasm counted, I told myself that I was going to be the most awesome sailing quasi-instructor EVER!

For a while, everything was awesome. I did, in fact, remember how to sail, and since it was a Pirates of the Caribbean summer, I was even honored with the title of Captain Jacqueline Sparrow during a particularly scrappy seaweed fight. I saw a lot of the kids coming out of their shells and flattered myself that I had in some way helped.

Then came a day that started in a deceptively familiar way. There were strong winds and lively seas, but the bright sunshine was enough to keep us warm as we sailed off into the Atlantic.

Yet a mere couple of hours later, we found ourselves headed back into the maw of Charybdis herself. The sun was veiled with bruise-purple thunderheads and a stinging rain poured out of the heavens. Worst of all, the violent waves raged around the knife-edges of rocks on shore, threatening to pull us to our doom.

Okay, it probably wasn’t quite THAT dramatic. But in a boat full of nervous adolescents who I was charged with protecting, it certainly felt that way.

Brave face, I told myself. Just keep that upper lip stiff until we’re back on shore. Then you can panic.

Getting to our mooring was going to be a tricky maneuver. We had to sail straight at the boulder-strewn shore and then whip suddenly around, bringing the bow up into the wind to stop the boat’s movement. Then we’d quickly loop the mooring buoy over its corresponding cleat, drop the mainsail and be done for the day.

The lead sailing instructor got to her mooring without incident. And we probably would’ve, too, but for the simultaneous disasters of the main sheet snagging and the designated buoy-grabber losing his grip.

Rocks on one side of us. Waves battering us backward. Our mainsail was stuck halfway, so the arm-thick metal boom jumped to and fro like a horizontal guillotine. Not to mention a terrified Human Ecologist at the tiller.

The kids gaped at me like groupers, waiting for some sign of how to react. It wasn’t any use panicking, I realized as I stared into their saucer-sized eyes. I was going to have to pretend this was FUN!

That day I became Captain Enthusiasm, marauder of the stormy seas. I was the scion of a maritime community and fiberglass ran in my veins! Those kids and I were no mere mortals tooling around our harbor...we were ocean ninjas and we would survive!

I barked orders, and the kids hopped to it. Somehow, we managed to come around a second time and the kid grabbed the mooring buoy like a champ.

“I got it!” he shouted to me, grinning with excitement.

Unfortunately, what the kid did not have was a grip on the boat, which lurched to the side when a wave hit. Into the drink he went and we lumbered out of the way while a chase dinghy picked him.

After what seemed like an entire Tom Clancy novel’s worth of maneuvering, we finally managed to grab the mooring buoy, cleat it off, and unstick the main sheet. I slumped in the bottom of the boat like it was a foxhole while the kids were ferried back to shore two by two.

My rubbery legs gave out as I climbed out of the dinghy and back to the safety of the main dock. I stared at the rocks in disbelief. Had I managed to keep it together enough to ensure these poor kids weren’t permanently scarred by the awful circumstances and my relative ineptitude?

I felt slightly less melodramatic, however, after the kids started asking, “Can we do that again?”

So as the ice recedes and the breezes turn fair, I’m looking forward to another summer of good sailing weather. I do love it still. But for the sake of humanity be grateful, as I am, that you won’t actually find me at the tiller.

Camden Herald reporter Bane Okholm can be reached at 236-8511 ext. 304 or by email at bokholm@courierpublicationsllc.com.

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