My friend Carol laughed when she heard we had decided to take up sailing. She said that we could probably duplicate the whole experience without paying out large sums of money or expending much time and effort. “Just put on your warmest clothes, your rubber boots and stand under a cold shower in the bathtub. While there, rip up a number of $100 dollar bills”, she directed in a sarcastic tone. There was some wisdom in her suggestion.
On a bitter March morning, rain poured. I assembled my foul-weather gear, loaded up the Datsun and drove to Granville Island for the first on-board lesson. On the way there I kept my hopes up for a minor change in the weather, but the rain didn’t let up. This was not exactly an auspicious start to sailing lessons.
On the island, it was unusually easy to find parking near the Market, a short walk to the docks. The weather kept shoppers at home. On the grey wooden walkways to the docks seagulls huddled, miserable, balanced on one webbed foot, their necks hunched down into their bodies. They couldn’t be bothered to move as I squeaked by in my loud yellow slicker, bibbed overalls and flashy gumboots, trailing rivulets of water in my wake. Up ahead, my fellow students – the lady pathologist, turned out in a fashionable red outfit, and the gay couple, natty in blue one piece rain gear – were gathered, dripping, near a white fiberglass sailboat moored at the dock. Somehow it was appropriate that the four of us were clothed in the Primary colours – red, blue and yellow, for our lessons in mastering the basics of sailing. We introduced ourselves and chatted in a low-key fashion , and getting even wetter while waiting for our instructor to show up.
Shortly, a young chap bounded down the dock toward us. He seemed totally at home in the rain. ” Hi! I’m Bob!” he called out. “Let’s get going.” He unshackled the lifeline near the cockpit and ushered us aboard the boat. (Good! I thought. He is going to take us down into the cabin and get us out of the rain.) He took a seat at the tiller and invited us to sit on the lazarettes. (What? He’s got to be kidding!) So he began to quiz us about the various parts of the boat, pointing here and there and asking how the designated part functioned. (My glasses kept getting fogged up; rain was making steady inroads through my slicker and down my neck. I knew exactly how those wet seagulls felt – discouraged, miserable, soggy!)
After quiz time Bob unlocked the cabin, reached inside and hauled out four white fenders. Handing one to each of us, he instructed us to check out how the fenders had been attached to the side of the boat next to the edge of the dock. He then had us attach our fenders using the correct knot and obtaining the right height to keep the edge of the boat from chafing the dock. We squelched our way to our positions trying not to slip on the wet deck, grasping onto the lifeline. Bob was not satisfied that we could do this little chore adequately until we had repeated the task over and over numerous times. The rain didn’t let up. We might as well have jumped into the water because we were as wet abovedecks as we would have been were we fullly immersed in the ocean. The fenders sure looked clean and glossy white, being as they were slick with rain! (My sweater under the slicker was getting wet near the armpit area – yuk! The lady pathologist looked quite comfortable and she didn’t squeak every time she moved, unlike me. The gay couple looked quite snug. They also didn’t squeak. I wondered if their armpits were getting soggy yet. Nah! But I didn’t dare complain!)
Next, we climbed back into the cockpit. Bob showed us how to start up the inboard motor and explained the mechanism of the tiller. ” Now go and pull in the fenders and we’ll practice leaving the dock,” he announced as he stepped off the boat to unmoor. We each had to take turns undoing the mooring lines on the dock and handing them in to boatmates, then step back onto the boat. This looks easy, but to someone with balance issues this can be slightly problematic. I absolutely hated to get on and off the boat, while my boat-mates seemed not at all tentative in doing so. When it came to my turn to cast off and hop aboard, I did so very awkwardly and caught the red and blue sailors rolling their eyes.
Then Bob steered the boat out of the dock area and took us into False Creek where he had us practice turning the boat, steering, slowing down, stopping, backing up. There were not many boats out on the water so we had ample room to manoeuvre and even got our chance to bring the boat into a dock on the other side of the inlet. We practiced coming into dock at the correct angle and speed, took turns reattaching the fenders, stepping off and tying the mooring lines correctly. I really liked to bring the boat in, using the tiller and feathering the engine, but the stepping off part continued to be problematic. (In fact, standing up in the boat was a problem for me as I couldn’t manage to stay upright and would bash into the winches whenever not creeping about on deck like an octogenerian – a wet one!)
Our lesson for the day was soon over and we headed back to our berth. Here we got opportunity to practice, yet again, proper docking procedure. Bob bid us goodbye and bounded away from us into the misty reaches of the dock. My fellow students expessed a desire to repair to the Granville Island Pub to decompress, dry off and bond with each other. My sweater, by this time had become wet right down to the waist at front and back, and the prospect of being sociable while sitting in soaked clothes was not particularly attractive, so, expressing my regrets and need to go home and dry off thoroughly I bid my companions in fun and misery goodbye.
On the drive home it was difficult to keep the truck windows from misting up in spite of the heater going full blast. My glasses also kept fogging up, but at least the rain was outside where it belonged. It occurred to me that learning sailing on a day like this dreary, unrelentingly wet one was a special form of Hell. But at least I didn’t rip up any $100 bills.