The wind blows. From whence it comes we do not know. Where it goes is a mystery, too. All we do know for certain is that the wind blows. How pleasant it is to sit outside in the sunshine and feel a gentle breeze blow past your face, tussling your hair and moving the life-giving air around you. In that moment, taking a nice deep breathe is ever so wonderful. When you sit out upon a sailing boat you rely on those winds to energize your vessel and take you forward to new places and times. There is no better feeling than racing along, tight to the wind, sails taut and keel driving fast through the water. Being on the water in any type of boat or ship is a wonderful and humbling experience, but none as profound as a in a sail boat. You are truly at the mercy of Mother Nature, completely immersed in the whims of her forces. Let the wind blow, and off you go. If the wind goes slack, you could sit for a long time, jostling about at the helm, trying your best to move on in vain. Humbling may not be a strong enough word for that feeling.
The interplay of the wind and the sea creates magical moments, alluring and captivating. It also creates moments of complete chaos when the wind becomes far too frisky and the waves are born into a churning mass of water moving across the sea. Surfers are fond of these phenomena, but home owners along the sea shore tend to cringe. Ah well, we choose where we live. No weather, no waves say the surfers. The sailor also appreciates the crisp wind. All of us should always understand that as the wind comes, so the wind goes. It is a solid metaphor for life.
Today’s book is a lovely collection of stories of sailing on the high and low seas. “The Greatest Sailing Stories Ever Told” is an amazing set of stories brought together and edited by Christopher Caswell. The book came together in 2002 and was re-edited and released in 2004 by the Lyon Press out of Guilford, Conn. It contains 27 unforgettable tales of the life and times of sailors throughout history. There are older tales from the whaling days shared by Herman Melville, tales from famous explorers like Sir Ernest Shackleton, tales of famous sailing races, tales of years long round-the-world sailing and simple tales of day sails in an around the coasts of the world. Reading this book gets you into the hearts and minds of an amazing array of seasoned sailors, really allowing you to feel and understand the mindset of this intrepid group. Of course every sail upon the sea is different, and every sail is a tale, so perhaps this book is set before us to inspire us to create our own tales. I am hooked!
I had an extraordinary sailing experience last summer that was filled with emotion, action and in the end great success. I had never single handed any type of sail boat. I have sailed many times, across the North sea from Germany to Denmark, out to Block Island, in Hawaii, and many times around our local waters in Rhode Island, but never alone. I acquired a sturdy little sailfish sailboat from a friend who had owned it for many years and sailed it around the Warwick Neck area of the Bay often. It is a simple and confident vessel. I rigged all the lines anew, played around with it in the yard to figure out how to work the sail and lines, and just decided that the day had come to go sail alone. I shoved the boat and mast in the back of my VW van and went down to the boat ramp up Narrow River. It looked wide enough there to sail a bit.
The launch was solid, and the sail filled nicely and I shot across the river, heading straight for the mud bogs across the way. I made a few little moves, and as I was coming about the boat keeled over and I was in the drink…for the first time. The boat is a flat top vessel, and does not take on water, so I scrambled to right the ship. I was into the mud bogs before long. I was laughing and panicking at the same time. Was anyone witnessing this hilarity? Whatever, I needed to concentrate.
Eventually I got the boat upright and got her aimed down river and down wind. I dumped it many more times in the next few hours, but figured out how to right it while in the water. Something I had not considered too carefully before setting off! I arrived down by Middlebridge and the wind was not in my favor, too much north in it. The tide was also going out, against my path home.
I could get up the river a bit, but then would be launched back towards the bridge. After many hours struggling, being rather tired and very wet, I was becoming mildly discontented. I may have uttered a little prayer, and lo and behold the wind shifted to southeast. I marshalled all my skills, acquired in the last hours and sailed her right up the river, and smoothly into port at the boat ramp! I was amazed and felt wonderful. Just then a long-time friend motored up in his big cruiser and hailed me. “Out doing a little sailing in the sailfish today there Kerry?” I replied I was and he motored off. All he could have possibly seen was that last run up the river, perfectly executed. It may not make the “The Greatest Sailing Stories Ever Told,” but it was a great time no less. Grab the book, get inspired and go and have your own!
Enjoy and read on!
Kerry Wholey is a freelance writer living in Narragansett.