Monday, April 29, 2013

A Long Ago Voyage or The Next Best Thing

The next best thing to sailing is telling sailing stories.  This is a long one, so settle in.  I may even have to tell it in installments, so bear with me.

Sometimes in life, your choices are clear.  You make decisions and the predictable happens.  Other times you seem to be on some mysterious road that winds around until you begin to wonder where the heck you’re going.  If you’re like me, you just hang on and enjoy the wild ride.  

I had no idea where I was going when I gamely volunteered at a fundraiser for an organization that provided art classes to adults with physical disabilities.  Along with the other volunteers, I stood in a line as we took turns holding up the items while the auctioneer called out for bids.  I held up a vacation stay at a bed and breakfast, an oil painting, a hand built clay vase.  It was a jovial group and we were having fun watching the dollars rack up for the organization.  In front of me in line, a young girl of about ten turned around and asked me what item I had.  It was a piece of jewelry.  She admired it.  I asked her what she had and she slowly turned her card around.  It was a glass blowing class.  I smiled and said how fun that would be.  She looked me in the eye and said in all seriousness, “You should buy this.”  I laughed and said I wished I could, but I couldn’t afford the five hundred dollar price tag.  She was adamant.  “You should buy this,” she said very firmly.   

Her insistence made me uncomfortable and I was relieved when it was her turn to climb onstage.  The auctioneer started the bidding at $500.  A hush fell over the auditorium.  No bids.  The auctioneer raved about the school, the art of glass blowing, the fact that the instructor had been an assistant to world famous glass blower Dale Chihuly.  She lowered the starting bid to $400.  Silence.  The little girl turned her head and looked at me.  It was too much, there was no way I could pay that much, no matter how cool it was.  I averted my gaze.  The opening bid came down and down and down until finally it was just a hundred dollars.  The little girl glared at me.  Incredibly, there were still no bids.  I cleared my throat, raised my hand and bid.  Uncontested, I won that class for a hundred dollars.  And, the little girl was right.

But it turned out that this was a just little detour on the trail.  I fell madly in love with the instructor, who taught us to wear socks on our arms to prevent burns and whose sweaty t-shirt made me swoon.  But, alas, he did not fall for me.  He did, however, have a friend, and he was anxious to set us up on a blind date.  Disappointed, but curious, I agreed to meet Darrel next to the big brass pig at the Pike Place Market.  He was surprisingly attractive, with a shock of dark hair falling over his forehead and a bubbling energy.  And he liked me.  On our second date, he confessed that he had a boat and I was thrilled.  Then he said it was for sale.  I protested.  I nagged and cajoled until he took me to see her.  It was all over then.  I was smitten.  Her name was Skybird and she was a CT 37(similar to a Tayana) with a sexy dark green hull, warm teak decks and brass-lined portholes.  She was thirty-seven feet of fiberglass magic that could take you anywhere.  After a few weeks, I persuaded Darrel to let me pay off the mortgage with my divorce settlement and we made arrangements to move her to Bainbridge Island where we could happily live aboard.  I would keep my job in Seattle and commute on the ferry.  I had never been happier.

We scrimped and saved and worked on Skybird for two years and then finally threw off the dock lines and headed for the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  We had timed the weather perfectly and enjoyed a single tack to the southwest, which took us two hundred miles offshore.  I was in heaven.  We saw no other boats, no sea birds, nothing.  It was our little boat, the sea and the sky and that’s all.  The wind was steady and we made easy headway.  The sea was relatively calm, so one day when I was off watch, I went below for a quick shower.  I was just rinsing off when Darrel called out with great excitement.  He said there was a plane coming and I thought that was very odd because the planes we saw were at forty thousand feet, nothing but a vapor trail.  Darrel called again very urgently, so I hauled my dripping naked self up on deck without grabbing a towel, just as a Coast Guard plane cruised very slowly past about 200 feet over us.  We gaped.  I could almost see the face of the pilot as he went by.  We stood there in our little cockpit, stunned, as the plane made an abrupt turn and headed back our way again.  I ducked below for a towel, but that didn’t stop the Coasties from make two more passes.  Darrel and I laughed and laughed.

Several uneventful days later, we came in sight of San Francisco Bay.  The weather had held and it was clear and a bit hazy, but there was no fog.  We were as thrilled to be making landfall as we’d been to get away from land.  As we headed toward the opening to the bay, we saw something big in the water ahead.  It looked like a rock sticking just out of the water.  Darrel shook his head and said it couldn’t be a rock because we were too far from shore.  It looked like a mostly submerged Volkswagon Beetle.  A few seconds more and we saw a head poke up and the whole thing disappeared.  It was a turtle, an unbelievably large sea turtle.  We reverently thanked it for the welcome and sailed on into the bay, under the Golden Gate Bridge (no small thrill!) and into Sausalito for a quick stop to re-provision before heading out to our next stop, San Diego.

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