I was in 6th grade, last week of school. A friend and I were out on the playground leap-jumping over 3-foot posts planted in the ground. I ran, jumped, cleared the post every time…until I didn’t. My foot caught the edge of the post and I went over shoulder first, landed on my left elbow, and broke my arm.
I came back to school the next day with a cast. I was miserable. School was out at the end of the week and summer’s July and August were ahead. Summer at the beach and the doctor’s orders – don’t get the cast wet.
Long story short, my dad could see how dejected I was. He suggested I retrofit one of my row boats as a sailboat. I protested, “I’ve only got one good arm!” He said, “I’ll guide you, do what you can and I will assist when you’re stuck or need an extra hand.” July and half of August was slow boatbuilding. Mast, sail, stays, rudder, and paint. The third week of August the cast came off and we were ready to launch.
I remember that day, strong breeze off the land, grey skies, dark grey to the west. Tide was high, full-moon flood high on the docks making it easy to slip the boat into the water. I was concerned about how dark the sky was in the west and the increasing strength of the wind. It had been a long, boring summer, a lost summer.
I launched the boat out on the bay, I learned as I went. I could hear thunder, saw lightning. The wind was great, the boat small, and highly responsive. I was out in the middle of the bay when a fierce gust caught the sail and I felt it. I felt the power of free, could feel the surge, the wind in the sail, the boat cutting through the water, the boat creating a path, the boat making waves. I felt the pressure on the tiller. That day, those minutes in the push, the surge – I felt the essence of sailing. I’d like to say it made up for a summer in a cast…it came close.
By the time I got back to the dock it was raining hard. If I were to remember anything of that year, it was the last jump over the post and seeing stars, and two minutes racing ahead of a thunderstorm. – R.H.P.
There was a kid on the other side of the tidal marsh, his name was Jimmy. For a birthday he got a sailboat made of white Styrofoam with an aluminum mast, blue sail. The boat was 10 feet long. When the moon was full, the tide would flood the marsh and sweep right up on his lawn. He went solo sailing everyday in the blue waters of the bay. Because his boat was Styrofoam, it was light and went fast. For two summers he was satisfied to sit, then in the third summer he stood up and sailed, holding the mast, a rope to the tiller and steered by leaning. This was the late 1950s, no one had ever seen anything like it, him or his boat. He was the Hermes of the waves, a Greek god, he had wings on his heels. He flew across the waves of the bay. As I watched, Jimmy was the closest I ever saw man to sailing at one with the wind, sail, and waves. He was the essence of sailing. – R.H.P.
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