It’s just another typical day in West Texas, the wind is blowing over 50knts and the sky is end-of-the-world red/brown. I have just spent the better part of the morning in dream vs. reality world, or yachtworld.com and thought I might want to stop looking and dreaming and go back to something useful, like blogging; oh well.
|Note: Not us in the boat or our boat|
Where were we; oh yes I met a girl and she had a sailboat. We met in OK City where I was working as the Scenic Artist for the then, Oklahoma Theatre Center. I had gone from a lucrative job with an advertising art agency designing lighting systems for their installations, making serious coin for 1978 to basically slave wages in a job where we were happy when we got off early on our day off. Jo was working as a volunteer for the American College Theatre Festival that was being housed in our theatre, so that’s where we met. I asked her out and although she was seeing someone else she said yes. It was on our first date, she was late; a recurring theme I came to know as ‘Taylor Time’. I waited out front till she got home, met her roommate and saw the boat sitting there in her garage, a 16’ Sidewinder sailboat. The timing of when we met however was not in my favor for learning how to sail unless I stayed in her favor. You see it was late October (Halloween as a matter-a-fact) and that meant the air and especially the water was cold and if you know Jo she does not do cold. Since family and friends might be reading this I will spare you the details of the next several months but suffice to say something clicked because we met in October, were engaged in January, and married in July and will be celebrating our 33rd anniversary this July.
Ok enough with the true romance; this is a sailing blog after all. Once it got warm enough she introduced me the obsession that has lead me and others to question my sanity; she took me sailing. Another thing also conspired to lead me here --that would be Jimmy Buffett who I was just starting to really get into. There is a Gulf Coast singer, Kelly McGuire, who has a song “Blame It On Buffett”, his line: I had island dreams before I ever raised a main up a mast, well that kind of summed it up; I dreamed of tropical islands and sailboats. I don’t think Jo had any idea the inner Popeye she was unleashing; I know I didn’t. Actually, when it comes down to “blame” it really is her father’s fault, who bought the Sidewinder as an appeasement to his children after one his many moves when they were growing up. Ok, so summer finally came and we sailed. The job at the theatre ended and we sailed. I collected unemployment and picked up “off-the-books” jobs and we sailed. There were times when a meal consisted of a box of McDonalds cookies split between us but we found enough money for gas so, you know, we could sail. I learned absolutely no theory just practice. In Lake Heffner, where we sailed, no swimming was allowed and as cold as OKC got in the winter it was equally as hot in the summer. Because of the swimming ban the only way to cool off was to flip the boat. Now I didn’t know much but I did know that the wet side was supposed to be wet and the dry, well dry but amazingly enough if the dry side became the wet side it could be righted and become dry again; most of the time. Lake Heffner was perfect, a big reservoir with no speed boats (a.k.a. stinkpots) no skiers and it was before the cursed Jet Ski. There were small fishing boats but mostly sailboats. There were big monohulls from the Yacht Club; too fancy and expensive for us, and us the trailer-sailor crowd. The YC held races (regattas) which not being members we were not allowed to participate in, but we could sail through the middle of their course. Besides, as competitive as I was (ok am), Jo isn’t, so me going all captain on her, on her boat would have ended my days of sailing. The other things on the lake were boats I thought were relegated to the West Coast, beach catamarans. They were fast, wet, and way cool.
In the midst of this sailing fest we were enjoying I knew that I needed to get a “real job” so I sent out some applications/résumés to theatre companies looking for a designer/technical director and landed a position in Amarillo TX. Ok I know what you are saying, not much sailing in West Texas; and you are right, but there were a couple of small lakes and one big one and besides there was a sailboat shop there so how bad could it be? Well not bad but far, it was at least 1-1/2 hour to any water so our sailing was severely limited. Besides, I was working at a theatre as the does-everything-and-everything-else guy so free time was at a premium; but we did get out a few times a year. Once, when West Texas Sailing held an event on the biggest lake, Meredith (sadly now on its way to extinction due to drought and poor resource management), one of the boats out there was a catamaran, a Nacra 5.2; a cat built for speed, and we got a ride. Well Jo did. I took our boat out with a couple of buddies, and remember I told you I had learned no theory, well Meredith is deep in a canyon and the wind when it blows does weird things. The other thing I came to learn is you can not steer a boat that is sitting dead in the water and you are at the will of the currents, in this case the current created by the dam spillway. No matter what I did I could not get the boat to go anywhere except towards the spillway. A nice park ranger lady came out and told us we were not allowed where we were and left, so my two passengers and me used our arms to paddle back in. I learned many things that day. First if you don’t have wind you are going nowhere, if you don’t have an auxiliary engine get a paddle, and most importantly when you screw-up in front of a bunch of other sailors well you are the entertainment! Somehow we made it to shore, not being a graceful looser I was not at my best and somehow in the process I lost my wedding ring. Maybe I was not the next Dennis Conner (you just need to Google him.)
During our first year there a man I admired greatly passed away all too soon; my Grandfather. I went to his funeral, in Denver, and when I got back home the having children before we were too old to enjoy our grandchildren came up. Now mind you Jo was 26 and I had just turned 25 but it seemed old. If I had known how easy it was to get someone pregnant I would have been more carful in my youth. In November of 1980 Big E was born, premature and in ICU for a week. Now many of you know our son and I won’t spend time here visiting that subject but regardless of problems or not, a sailboat did not seem like the proper place for an infant, so sailing was curtailed. Plus, the life of a designer/TD demands an average 60+hour workweek, and we were broke. No health insurance and $30,000 in medical bills. The boat sat in the back storage shed and we did what we needed to survive.
After three years in Amarillo, working like a dog for slave wages (still less than I was making at the Art Agency out of undergraduate school) I realized that I needed to uproot my perfect little family and go to graduate school. With a Masters in Fine Arts in Design I could get paid by a university to design and more importantly have health insurance and besides, how hard could teaching be? I don’t know why but I decided that I needed to go to the University of Illinois and study at the Krannert Center for the performing Arts and believe it or not this is where our sailing life took another unexpected turn, a turn that placed it on a collision course with what’s coming next in our lives.