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Summer Sailing

I was first introduced to sailing when my father rented a Sunfish on Lake Phalen. My faded memory doesn’t recall a successful afternoon, but who knows? After that, I spent some time on his sailboards, and I always liked that while wanting for more control that my skinny teenaged body could muster.

A couple of summers ago, I took the sailing class offered by the Minneapolis Park & Rec board. That was a lot of fun as well as a good learning experience that I’d recommend to anyone. The same summer, a friend took me out on his catamaran on Mille Lacs Lake. We were cruising along pretty well, but found ourselves turtled in the very middle of the lake. The proper righting gear was not in place, and it seemed we might be stranded there all night. Not a boat was in site, and the middle of Mille Lacs is a long way from shore – not swimmable. We eventually recovered, but I have to admit it was scary.

Recovering from scary adventures is something I evidently enjoy, as I couldn’t wait to join the sailing club. After two and a half years dominated by grad school, I was excited by a summer free from school. Even better, I hired a lawn service. Looking for a fun way to fill that time, I’m really grateful that I found the Twin Cities Sailing Club.

The club is an awesome group for learning to sail and socializing with other like minded sailing enthusiasts. I’ve gone from being pretty green to “Skipper” status in the club: I can take out any of the clubs sixteen boats whenever I’d like. In return, I help other new sailors and join the club in maintenance days on top of a very reasonable membership free. It’s been great, and I look forward to many more summers spent sailing with them.

In the meantime, I’ve been enjoying a few adventures on my own. A couple of Fridays ago, I took a couple friends out on a C-Scow, a larger scow that I hadn’t previously skippered. I’d sailed the smaller MC-Scow many times, and this didn’t seem fundamentally different.

We enjoyed a few passes across the lake in lighter winds. In hopes of squeaking some more speed out of those slower winds, I asked my companions to sit on the leeward side of the boat to help us heel out of the water, reducing drag and letting us move faster. This was the key mistake on my part. An experienced crew would have been fine in that position, but once there it becomes very important to watch for coming gusts and shift weight accordingly.

A large gust came along pretty soon after that, and before they knew what was happening, the boat was on its side. I checked to make sure everyone was OK, and then reassured them that things were fine and that this happens from time to time. I’d done several capsize drills with the club, and I knew what to do in general. Unfortunately, I didn’t know what to do specifically for a scow. The capsize drills were all done on Catalina Capri 16.5s. The C-Scow is a different beast, and after a few attempts to right her, it was clear that I just didn’t know how.

A lot of helpful sailors turned up to give us a hand, but despite their best efforts we ended up swamping the boat. Around this time, I noticed some commotion at the nearby beach. There were, at least, one large firetruck, two police vehicles, and two ambulances waiting on shore along with a crowd. I saw this and said, “Oh man, tell me they’re not here for me.” Someone broke the news that they were. Despite our clear safety and the plenty of boats there to help us, someone on shore called 911, and the entire cavalry showed up. A police boat came out to meet us on the water, and there was another waiting on shore. They didn’t actually help us… just added to my mounting embarrassment.

In the end, a nice family helped us tow the boat to the beach where some club members and I were able to bail it out and get it seaworthy. I’m indebted to them and also to the experience as a whole. I learned a valuable lesson in crew assessment and scow handling in general, and we all walked away from it safely if a bit wetter than intended.

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