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Monday, July 16, 2012

Getting Started Part IV


Ok, so when we left this blog last, we had sold the house then it was not sold, placing us in a holding pattern until it sells.  Jo is ready to go.  She got fed-up with her job and officially started her retirement last week.  As for me, I am no longer Chair and Director of Theatre at Texas Tech’s Theatre and Dance Department and am living in self-imposed exile across campus; so all is good.  We, well I, did go through a period of self doubt, thinking that I should put this off another year (2014 instead of 2013) in the hopes our daughters would have a life path that wasn’t day-to-day, but I have come to my senses, so as of this posting we have 297 days left until I retire and depending of the sale of the house and purchase of a boat we will be wakening on water for the next ____ number of years.  Jo and I celebrated our 33rd Anniversary 14 July and hoped our next is celebrated on the hook somewhere out of the hurricane belt.  Come on funny feelin’
So where were we the last time I talked about sailing; oh yes I had just left graduate school.  Right out of school, I had four job offers, one in Green Bay WI, one in Westchester PA, one, oh crap I forget where it was, and finally one in Ruston LA.  Green Bay, although had a “great” lake to sail on was too cold; Westchester, well was too, hmm how do I put this, well let’s say not the right job; and Ruston, well although it was too hot (catch the Goldilocks thing?) the people there made Ruston just right.  The down sides of Ruston was the closest lake was: a.) a one-hour drive; b.) had alligators and BIG water moccasins; and c.) like many southern lakes was mostly filled with dead trees, good for bass, bad for gel coat.  However, it did have a small yacht club and a handful of catamarans.  This gave us shore side facilities (i.e. a head) that made the Admiral and the boy happy, so we put our name up for membership and scraped up the money to join.    We moved the Prindle and the Magnum 360 (windsurfer) out to the lake and worked to find the time to enjoy them.  I still did a fair piece of solo sailing but spent a lot of time on the windsurfer but despite my intense desire to “not suck” at it, like surfing, is not a sport for a 6’6” 280# man; but did get where I could sail out tack and sail back in without falling off. This was a good thing as one afternoon as I was holding on for dear life I noticed one of those afore mentioned water moccasins, about 100’, hmm… ok 4-5’ long just trailing along behind me hoping for a bite.  The group of cats did hold some Sunday beer-can races so that gave me the chance to perfect or improve on my sailing tactics. While in grad school in  IL,  there was a very active racing community.  Although I never won, never placed, or even showed, I learned about reading the water and that the shortest distance between two points may be a straight line but sailing where the wind was is the fastest.   So one Sunday afternoon while the fleet in LA tacked right (Starboard) for what looked like the best lay-line to the finish line, I tacked to the left (Port) and picked up a great breeze and beat the fleet to the finish line by several minutes.  I know for some the thought of watching sailboats race is as exciting as watching paint dry but do yourself a favor and on the you-tube type in Americas Cup 45 trials and watch some of the downloads of the AC 45 trials; what I did was just like that but without the carbon fiber, multi-million dollar racing boat, and true professional crew, but it was every bit as much wet and fun. 

Erik kept sailing and still loved the water.  One afternoon he was in his regular position, leaning over the front crossbeam splashing in the water as we moved along at a safe speed, (important rule; no hull flying with the boy on board) when mom and I heard a splash and there was no Erik. As I was on the helm, which placed me towards the rear (aft or stern) of the cat and felt something moving under the trampoline and soon enough out the stern popped Erik.  I was there to snatch his PFD (lifejacket) hauled him back on board and he scampered right back into splash position, but this time on a tether that leashed him to the trampoline. Speaking of leaving the boat when it is not your idea or plan, in Part II of this blog I failed to mention a time early in my sailing life, when I went off the boat and almost never came back.  Jo was pregnant with our soon to be son and we were on our way to meet some friends to float a river in NE Oklahoma.  We had the Sidewinder in tow and I wanted to get some time on lake Hefner in.  It was early season and still cold so I was in jeans, a heavy sweater, tennis shoes, and NO PFD. Not only is a little knowledge a dangerous thing but also it can be a deadly thing.  The day started gray but they were high clouds and the wind was good.  I don’t remember how long into the sail it was but I noticed a helicopter with a red flashing light flying towards me and behind it a wicked black line of clouds.  Later I realized it was a squall line preceding a cold front.  Just about the time I realized I was about to be in trouble, I was in deep trouble.  The wind shifted 180° at over 40knots.  I went from a close reach to a run in a heartbeat and I tried to let out as much line on the mainsheet (the rope that controls the big mainsail) as I could sheeting out and trying to furl (roll up) the jib at the same time.  Poor line management led to a knot in the mainsheet and the mainsail stopped going out and the boat sped up until it pitch poled sending me flying into the water, panicked and cold.   The waves must have been 7-8’ on a shallow lake and I was in trouble.  At one point a feeling came over me that I could just let go and everything would be all right.  I don’t know if the bright light I saw was the other side or the sun above the water; see, I was under the water at that point.  Something told me to fight and the next thing I knew I was on top of the water hanging on to the boat with a rescue vessel on its way.  When I got aboard the rescue boat it had 4 big-ass outboards and as we cut across the waves the boat left the water completely, I was lucky to be alive.  Of course I was more worried I had lost my wife’s sailboat not that I had almost widowed her.  When I found the Sidewinder across the lake washed up on shore she was ok except for a broken u-bracket on the jib fuller.  A group of old fishermen came over and watched as I struggled to get the boat back on the trailer and after that was accomplished they came over to tell me they thought I was dead; it was at that point the gravity of the situation hit me; little did I know the worse was yet to come.  Jo was waiting on the front lawn of the house we were staying at when I pulled up and let’s just say it didn’t go well.  We all remember from our childhood any time our parents started counting, you knew if they got to 3 you were dead-meat; well this was event was 1.  #2 came several years ago when a building collapsed on me killing the person sitting where I usually did for lunch.  I won’t go into details but if you Google Little Panda, roof collapse, or go to: you can get the full story, and no I was not one who sued.  Having escaped virtually injury free I felt to sue would be slapping my good karma in the face.  Ok, enough with the disasters back to sailing.

We took one trip down to Houston while we were Ruston with the boat.  Jo’s brother Jon, as I mentioned in earlier blog entries, had a G-Cat and we hatched a plan to hit the dike at Texas City so off we went with beer, sunscreen, two cats and a windsurfer for my first taste of offshore winds.  They were nothing like the fluky winds on the lakes I had sailed they were constant and strong.  There must have been a hundred cats’ and half as many windsurfers, all out there to go as fast as possible.  For one run I went out solo and had strapped in the harness, legs extended fully off the port pontoon with it just kissing the top of the water, I was at maximum hull speed; damn I was on fire, then I decided to unpack the windsurfer, bad move!  Got caught in the flooding tide headed straight for the shipping channel unable to get back to the beach.  While technically I thought I had the right of way, I had yet to learn about the law of gross tonnage as well as their ability to maneuver in a restricted channel, I think that is #1 in the pecking order according to the Coast Guard Regs.  All around me kids half my age were zipping here-and-there, effortlessly.  Luckily my group on shore had had their fun with my circumstance and Jon hopped on his cat and came and towed me in; still the shore side entertainment!  I came to two conclusions that day, first, sailing on the “ocean” ok bay in the Gulf of Mexico beat lake sailing any day and second, I was never going to look good on a windsurfer.  I kept trying but was more realistic about my abilities.  Facing those kinds of realities, well lets say were not my one of my known qualities in my youth, luckily for all concerned, I have gotten better in that regard as my hair has abandoned me and what is left is gray not red.  We headed back to Ruston, sailed when we could, but with a Special Needs son LA was not the best place to be for his educational and developmental needs so we decided to move on.  

I started looking and again had several offers but decided on a position at the University of Wisconsin Lacrosse.  At that time (not now, sorry to report) WI had some of the most progressive Special Ed programs in the country, and it was on the banks of a wide part of the Mississippi River so we had a place to sail, the problem was the house we rented had no convenient place to park the boat so we did not sail one day in the 10 months we were there; it should be noted that i swear it was winter 8 of those 10 months and I wasn't ready to take up ice boats.  This led us to 1988, when I took the job that morphed into the job I am about to retire from at Texas Tech in Lubbock TX. There is a lot to recommend Lubbock but sailing is not one of them.  The lakes arre small and geared toward water skiing and fishing and within a year we sold the Prindle to an Airman from CA who was getting shipped back to San Diego from the local AF Base.  They say the two best days in a sailor’s life is the day they buy their boat and the day they sell it; well they got half of it right, the first half.  Selling the Prindle made sense but put an exclamation point on the end of our sailing life.  Now don’t ask me why I the never sold windsurfer, it eventually decayed in our back yard and the dream faded into jobs, kids, and life in general.

Next time, I’ll share how the dream was reborn, a dream that I know has saved both my sanity and so far my life.

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