Back in 199o, Renaissance Man returned to live at home with us after a year up north at college. Rumpole and I had already moved to the Lower mainland that early spring, and we spent much of our leisure time wandering the many docks, looking at boats and ships of all types. Rumpole loves the things of the sea, most particularly the conveyances that ply the waters moving goods and people about. I love the character of the waters, their luminosity, reflectiveness and many moods.
In 1991 in anticipation of his birthday, Rumpole requested that we all take sailing lessons as his birthday gift. RM was delighted, but I was not too thrilled. Water is an essential and marvellous material, but I do not necessarily like to be on it!
We signed up for sailing lessons comprised of two months of classroom theory and three months of actual sailing practice. Off we went to buy the textbooks and sailing gear – yellow plasticized weather gear and gumboots. We took out many books from the library on sailing, read and discussed them after dinners, whenever RM took time out from his studies to relax with us. These two men christened me “Landlubber” for my known love of solid footing on land, I called Rumpole “Ahab” and Renaissance Man as “Boy”.
Sailing classroom studies in theory and sailing nomenclature were once a week in the dark of winter evenings. Along with a group of other eager learners we listened, made notes, tried to ask not terribly stupid questions. In amongst the motley group of classmates there was much competition to learn in theory what we would soon have to put into practice in a couple of months. There were only two women in our class, myself and a pathologist form the local big hospital; the male students tended to curl their lips at us, as if we just would never, ever, cut the mustard as sailors.
“You’r hopeless,” Rumpole would remind me. “You’d better study hard to pass the exam, Landlubber.” I read my notes carefully, constructing elaborate scenarios of sailing down a channel and trying to remember the sailing “rules of road”, what various channel markers indicated. Mentally I hoisted sails, read the tell-tales, tacked and jibed without getting swept overboard, being beheaded by the boom or ever being caught in that dreaded situation of “inadvertent jibe”. I studied the problems of lee-shores and how to stay well clear of them, how to read charts to avoid shoals and hidden by the tide rock outcrops that would sink the unwary sailor.
Rumpole and Renaissance Man, snug in their conviction of male superiority in matters pertaining to conveyances, largely ingnored me and went about their learning after their own fashion. They bet that of the three of us I would have the lowest score on the final exam. That was sure like waving a red flag under a bull’s nose – I redoubled my study efforts!
Came exam time. We travelled in the dark of a February night down to the classroom near the marina downtown. On the way there, Rumpole and Renaissance Man quizzed each other and would lob the occasional tough question to me. I felt serene and sure of what I had managed to learn. Nothing they could throw at me would phase me. After all I had played competitive tennis during my teens and knew full well the psychological games played prior to matches. And, this was no match among the three of us, I was just trying to pass the damned exam so I could get out on the water on a sailboat!
The exam was a long one, very thorough, taken very seriously by all the examinees. Rumpole sat next to me and kept his non-writing arm protectively around his exam papers, much like a dog-in-the-manger would protect his food bowl. As if I’d stoop to cheating?! Renaissance Man had his cute smug look while tackling the various questions. We wrote for well over two hours and then handed in our exam papers.
The following week we were to attend class once more to receive our marks and our practical lesson schedules. I was merely hoping to pass!
We attended the final class eager to hear how we did on the exam. We were also curious as to how we would be grouped for the practical lessons on boats.
I got the highest theory marks of the three of us, second from the top of the whole class. The lady pathologist got the highest marks of the group. She and I and a gay couple were slated to be boat mates for the sailing lessons on actual sail boats. Rumpole and Renaissance Man were really irritated by my test results.
“Good thing the four of you are together for the actual sailing,” grumbled Rumpole. “There is a lot more to sailing a boat than theory, Landlubber!”
This fact I was soon to find out, for myself.