Though we’d dragged our 6,000-pound Balboa 26 over three mountain ranges and through seven passes, our pilgrimage from Colorado to Washington State had been relatively carefree. After that we’d spent three weeks in the Gulf Islands east of Vancouver, all without a serious mishap. Then, as we were moored in Oak Harbor preparing for the final leg back to Seattle, everything changed.
The first time I saw a spinnaker I was only a few years old. It was flying on the bow of a 35ft foot cruiser off the coast of Maine. A few years later, my father agreed to set the kite on our 50ft Hinckley, a rare concession.
The wind was too light to sail, so we started out motoring. Soon, however, my buddy’s motor started heating up. The access hatch was buried under camping gear, and he didn’t want to investigate right then, so he shut his engine down, and I took his boat in tow.
Gazing upon Cayuga Lake on a calm August day, I am struck now three decades later by my vivid memories of what must be every sailing instructor’s worst nightmare. It was supposed to have been a picnic, a final exam for the summer sailing program at the local yacht club. Instead, in less than 20 minutes, it turned into a terrifying, life-threatening maelstrom of wind and water.
“Wake up! Wake up! I think we’re dragging anchor!”
Peg’s words pierced my sleep like a needle popping a balloon. In an instant I was standing in the cockpit, face to face with the bowsprit of a large Island Packet that had been anchored three football fields away the night before.
In April, reader Dennis Michaud wrote SAIL complaining about the “glorification” of sailors “traveling on a shoestring” while he got a PhD, taught at university and is now about to hire 500 people and purchase a custom yacht—and “pay the onerous yard bills.”
I love this time of year. In Wisconsin, April is when people prep boats to go back in the water. It has been a long, hard winter of reliving last year’s races at the bar, reading magazine stories about other people sailing in warmer weather, visiting ocean racing websites and yearning. And now it’s time for the northern sailor’s rite of spring: getting ready to launch.
When I was a kid, I devoured Choose Your Own Adventure books. “If you think Marty should open the spooky door, turn to page 16. If you think Marty should run away from the haunted house, turn to page 23