Prune is no Popeye but he doesn’t know these sailing terms: ‘Stay’ ‘on’ ‘land’


by Todd Sharp

I set sail on my maiden voyage in 1978 with the Davis sisters, pushing off from a dock on the south shore of Green Lake.

It was a steamy, hot, sunny, late summer day with a spirited southwesterly breeze.

I was excited and nervous.

As a 16-year-old with the ability to swim, I was oblivious to the idea anything bad could happen.

Everyone remembers their first sail. There was an excitement of new adventure.

Tossing off my shirt, leaving only my cutoff jean shorts on, I dove in.

I hopped up on the sailboat and the three of us started downwind, across the lake on a two-person sailboat.

We made it to the middle of the lake as a gust hit the sail and we capsized.

We struggled to get righted leaning on the gunnel and pulling on the mast. Using all the leverage a bunch of skinny teenagers could muster, we flipped the boat upright for a few minutes and over it went again.

We tried a few more times, but it continued to topple back into Green Lake as the wind pushed over the sail. I don’t think we knew how to lower the sail. After much trial and error, hollering and yelling, we lost the battle and started swimming the boat back toward shore with the sail waving and drifting behind in the water.

We didn’t get far before a mermaid floated by and offered us a tow back to shore. Thanks Alex.

After resting on dry land, we realized the dagger board was lost.

Whether we never put it in, it had slid out and sunk to the bottom of the lake, or just floated away we’ll never know. We did spend the rest of that beautiful afternoon driving from marina to marina, looking for a new dagger for the borrowed boat.

The narrative of the story has taken on larger meaning than it did the day it happened.

When I was 6-years-old, my family had tried to drive to the top of Pike’s Peak but turned around because it appeared too dangerous to continue.

I went back and made it to the top 40 years later.

It wasn’t until this past Sunday, 39 years later, that I took the opportunity to give sailing another try and attempt to turn over another unfortunate adventure in my life without capsizing.

Buoyed by a friend and her father’s zest for racing sailboats, we launched an AMF Sunfish from the docks at county park.

It was 81 degrees with a 10 mile-per-hour wind out of the southwest, competent experienced sailors and a full belly of oatmeal.

I was ready to try this again! Sailing looks so serene and peaceful. It was a perfect day to take another try at this silent sport.

The language sailors use has nothing to do with swearing like a sailor.

There are differing terms to use for common, everyday words like “right” and “left,” “starboard” and “port.”

“Mast,” “sail,” “boom,” “dagger,” “rudder,” “stern” and “aft.”

“Jibs,” “jibe,” “tack,” and one I already knew and didn’t want to repeat — “capsize.”

I already knew how to swear like a sailor.

The ride was pleasant as we set out downwind, turned and tacked back into the wind without turning over.

I was delighted to see how fast sailboats get going against the wind.

There were a few nervous moments ducking the boom, switching sides and the added excitement of getting up on the edge or hiking out.

Finding the tension of the sail, the rudder and the wind is what sailors try to accomplish: their sweet spot.

I even had a chance to try my hand at the rudder and the main sail, searching for the balance of wind and sail.

I can’t say I found it yet, but I‘d like to give it another run, even if I do capsize.

Editor’s note: When being a “landlubber,” Todd Sharp is an advertising sales prune for the Green Laker, Express and The Ripon Commonwealth Press.

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