Sailing Lessons By Bill Foley
he Flying Scott rested on its trailer in front of our tiny frame house in Queens, New York, like an alien space ship. Its emerald green fiberglass hull, the long aluminum mast resting in its cradle, and a cockpit decorated with winches, cables, and cleats all suggested something otherworldly, at least for our street. My father ordered me to be ready at 2pm for the drive to Jamaica Bay without discussion. My happiness was never part of his agenda. At 14, weighing 132 pounds, my legs and arms were like tinker toys, knobby and thin. I craved my father’s praise but often believed I was smarter. I admired him, despised him, and loved him, as he taught me to sail. At the Jamaica Bay Yacht Club, a row of Flying Scotts sat on trailers, like F-16s on an aircraft carrier, launched by a lift mounted on a bulkhead. We were soon to learn that Flying Scotts did not thrive on water without their owners’ competent attention. We trailed the Scott down to the club on Memorial Day weekend and proceeded to rig it. Once ready, we attached the boat’s launching cable onto the chain hanging from the lift. I climbed down on the dock, holding a bowline, watching as our dingy slowly touched the water. I dropped the bowline, jumped on board and unhooked the lift cable, when suddenly a fierce gust of wind threw me forward. Scrambling to get up, the boat began drifting away from the dock as the bowline I had left unsecured sank into the water. The Scott eventually stopped in a sea of reeds, and like the baby Moses, I waited to be rescued. Pratfalls filled our first race, starting with my dad’s hat blowing over the side. As he leaned over to retrieve it, his glasses joined the hat in Davey Jones’ Locker. We crossed the starting line too early, and our rudder caught the anchor line of the committee boat
as we attempted to circle it and restart. The jib sheets snagged on the mast, causing the boat to heel violently, hurtling me toward the sea on my stomach, when somehow a cleat caught my bathing suit in the crotch. We did finish, but the race committee had long ago returned to the calmer waters around the club. We had been in our 19-foot sloop for over four torturous hours. My throat was parched, and I desperately needed to pee. Dad’s confidence had been unshaken by our debacle, as he joined his fellow captains in what seemed like an endless rehashing of the worst experience of my life. My Dad loved to sail, and losing a race never affected his enjoyment of a day on the water. My fragile ego saw racing as some manly rite of passage, where his failure to win made me appear weak and foolish. By my senior year in high school, I was in full mutiny. “Dad, we need to tack,” I commanded. “Not yet. The boat is moving
well,” he replied. “We’re being headed, and you’re falling off to leeward. The competition is killing us.” “Will you trim the jib?!” As we exchanged tacks with our competitors, we fell behind. I continued to badger my Dad with unwanted updates on his sailing incompetence. Finally, I declared mutiny. “Dad, let metake it.” “You think you can do better?” “You said yourself I handle the boat better than you when it’s windy.” “Alright, you take it, but be careful.” He surrendered the tiller, and I immediately tightened the main sheet and threw my weight out of the boat, almost losing control. “The boat has too much weather helm, Kevin. Ease the sail.” “Come on, Dad. Get up here. I need your weight on the rail.” “You’re going to flip us!” “No, I’m not. Just get out here so we can keep the boat flat.” I was too self-absorbed to realize that at 50, with a weak back, my father could not hang out like a contortionist to keep us upright, although his weight on the rail helped. We were on the final windward leg with four boats out front in a strengthening southwest wind and moderate seas. “Ease off, Kevin. Don’t sail too high. The boat will pound itself in this chop. That’s it!” The boat picked up speed and sliced through the water. Dad was right. Concentrate on speed; find the groove. Ahead, two boats moved on starboard tack while we sailed on port ready to cross. “You can’t make it. You have to give way. For God’s sake Kevin, you’re going to hit that boat.” See SAILING LESSONS continued on page 84
GOT A SAILING STORY? If you have a story about an incident that happened that was a real learning experience, or a funny story, or a weird or unusual story that you’d like to tell, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Keep them short—around 800-1000 words or less, maybe a little more. Photos nice, but not required. We pay for these stories. 86 February 2017
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