Saturday, July 14, 2007

If I can do it with an incapacitated finger...

...I can blog about it with an incapacitated finger.

Sometime last summer, I ran into an acquaintance sitting on a bench in front of one of the libraries here at Queen's. He told me that his girlfriend had recently bought a small sailboat, and was looking for people to sail with. He asked me if I wanted to go sailing sometime. I was interested, though I had never been before. He told me that no experience was necessary. She would do all the hard work, and I would mostly just follow a few simple orders. Sure. Sign me up. I was told to expect a call or an email in the next few weeks. The next few weeks passed, however, and I hadn't heard anything yet. Later on, once the term started, I ran into the acquaintance at the Tim Horton's on campus and interrupted him from whatever he was busy with. It turned out that something had come up that required them to be out of town for a while. He apologized for my not being able to go sailing. It's okay, I said. Not having been before, I didn't really know what I was missing out on. I could live without knowing. Since then, I have become better friends with him than her (more due to difference in quantity time than difference in quality time), and by the end of the term, they broke up. I saw her bike down the street one time after, and, while she saw me, there was barely an acknowledgement that we might have met each other at a party we both went to at a mutual friends house. Surely, if there was ever any hope of going sailing with her up to that point, it was gone after that.

Of course, I wouldn't be telling you about this if nothing ever came of the original request to go sailing. And indeed it is not the case that nothing did. A few weeks ago, I got a phone call from her. It was clear from the beginning of the call that her apparent lack of acknowledgement was more due to the awkwardness of the situation than it was a snub or anything like that. The purpose of her call was that she wanted to know if I was still interested in sailing (surprise!). Of course. I gave her a rough idea of my schedule, and she told me that she'd call me back by the end of the week to make more definite plans. She didn't. Unlike a game of racquetball [1], say, when to go sailing depends on whether conditions. It's not really sailing if you're just floating on the water hoping desperately for even the gentlest of breezes. I figured this is what happened. Earlier this week, she finally called me back. Same routine as before, but with less awkwardness, though she called me twice when I was unable to talk.

We planned to go this morning at 8:00. There was a sailing event at the marina this weekend, so we wanted to get there early enough to avoid them. She called me at 7:30 to tell me that there was no wind, and that there was a small craft warning (it's a rather small boat, 14.5 feet in length). Within two hours, the small craft warning had been lifted, and the wind had picked up. I left my place at around 9:30. When we got there, it must have been between 10 and 10:30, and we were probably in the water by 11:00. It would have been nice if the weather conditions had permitted us to leave sooner, since we barely had time to get in the water before the young sailors launched. The two volunteers were rather rude to her when she asked if she had time to launch before all the competitors did (we would have had to wait up to an hour if we had waited for them), in distinction from the friendliness of other sailors out that day. We were nowhere near getting in anybody's way.

After a bit more mucking about to get the boat ready to sail, and an explanation of the two main manoeuvres that the crew (me) must know, we were on our way. The first of these was tacking and the second of these was hiking.

While sailing, other than at slow speeds, both of you are sitttng on one side of the boat, while the sails are opened opposite to you. At some point (many points, actually) it is necessary to switch sides. That process of switching sides is called tacking. It involves letting go of one end of a rope, grabbing on to the other end, and avoiding hitting your head on the boom (aluminum bar to which the bottom of the main sail is attached) as you switch sides. Apparently I was the first of any of her sailing partners who had to try to avoid hitting their head.

If the sailing is to be any fun at all on such small craft, you can expect there are times where the boat will capsize if you just sit happily on side of the boat (if you try this, you will no longer be happy, sitting, or on the boat). In order to avoid this you have to shift your body weight to compensate. Occasionally you have to lean in, though much more frequently, if my experience means anything, you will have to lean out. Sometimes far. This is called hiking. It's hard to do unless you're actually in a situation where you need to do it. Trial by fire (water?).

(For better more detailed explanations of these things, ask somebody who knows what they're talking about. Failing that, ask Wikipedia.)

One this stuff was explained to me, we headed out. Getting out of the marina was a bit tricky. I was able to get a lot of practice at tacking while doing this. Apparently this is unusual. Once we were out, everything was ummm... smooth sailing. Well not so much. It took me quite a while to get a hang of tacking, especially while avoiding hitting my head on the boom on my way to the other side, and sometimes it felt like I was so slow that I almost caused the boat to tip, and in such a way that hiking would not have been able to help us avoid that (see, it's hard to lean out when you're fumbling awkwardly in the middle of the boat) . It took a while to get the hang of hiking too. There's something a little frightening about extending your body as far as you can, your backside hovering completely over the water, the only thing keeping you from falling in being a strap on the floor of the boat to put your feet under and your own muscles. Once I did that a number of times, however, and figured out where the best place was to put my feet, it was fairly easy, and not so frightening. I didn't quite get the hang of getting back in after hiking, though. In fact, we ended when we did because we needed to tack while I was hiking. In the clamour of trying to get in the boat, I grabbed the rope with my left hand, and ended up putting too much stress on the injured finger. While the splint had been getting in the way the whole time, this was the first time I felt any pain. It's probably nothing, but I decided not to push it after that. All in all we were in the water for at least two hours.

All things considered (head bruises, finger pain, future muscle soreness, etc.), it was a great way to spend the morning and early afternoon. Given the opportunity to do it again, I would. Given the opportunity, so should you.

[1] Not completely true. You probably shouldn't play on days that are so hot that the university shuts down the air conditioning out of fear that the Ontario hydro grid could get overloaded and cause another blackout like what happened a few years ago.

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