I remember fumbling through the pages of the American Sailing Association manual on the way there. Trying frantically to absorb everything at once and get my head wrapped around all of these foreign terms, like leech and luff, beam reach and close haul. I figured if I sounded like I knew what the hell I was talking about, they wouldn’t see right through me. It was my first time setting off on a real, live sailboat. My excitement gripped my neck and tasted like iron in the back of my throat. I kept swallowing and biting my lip, without even noticing it. And Poor Phillip. I’m sure after the first few times he asked me anything and I burst and gushed all over him, answering two-word questions like, “You excited?” with paragraphs, pages, complete monologues, that he decided it best to not engage me. That’s when he shoved the ASA manual in front of my face and said I should bone up. Smart move. That shut me up. (I highly recommend it, though. I learned a good deal of the basics from that trusty little manual).
When we got there, we were greeted by the seller’s broker, a ruddy, raucous man with a scar that traveled from the corner of his mouth up and around, almost to his nose. Although it could have been the product of him falling off the swingset when he was a kid or a stupid bar fight when he was a young lad, I imagined, of course, that it had to have occurred when he was a grown man, full of grit and guile, and out on the open sea. It was probably a big fish hook that got caught in his mouth, and he yanked it out without flinching, slapped some bait back on it and threw it back out in the sea, all while battling an angry storm and crashing waves. Of course. Anyone qualified to sell a sailboat must be this kind of character. Or so I thought.
But enough about the broker. You probably want to know about the boat! Yes, the boat, that’s why we were there. Not to set off on a sunny day with sexy man, with the wind whipping through my hair. It was all about the boat for me, I can assure you. It was a 2001, 34-foot Pacific Seacraft, an exceptionally well-built boat, with a low maintenance package. There wasn’t a speck of teak on the deck. I imagined all of the time I would not spend sanding and re-finishing that damn wood. It was a clever design too. The engine was fully accessible through removable panels in the cockpit and under the companionway and there were many user-friendly features throughout the boat that just told you whoever designed this boat had really put some thought into it. And all of the hinges and doors and latches fit together like dovetails and felt like they were hand-crafted by an old oil-soaked carpenter in Italy. You could feel it when you touched anything. It was our first real prospect, and it was definitely a quality boat.
But Phillip and I were new at this sailboat-shopping enterprise, so we brought a ringer, a friend of a friend who knew a guy who knew a lot about boats. And, boy did he. We spoke on the way there of boats he had worked on, boats he had owned, engines he had re-built, systems he had designed, etc. I was thrilled he was there. He was going to really kick the tires (yes, the imaginary boat “tires” that you kick when you’re contemplating the purchase) and look under the hood. (Same thing – they’re imaginary like the tires – just go with it). Funny thing was, the broker noticed it too. After a few short exchanges, he could tell our “friend” was truly far more, a sharp eye hidden under an old college tee and sneakers. He stepped up to the front of the boat to ‘take a phone call’ but instead he got the seller on the phone and let him know what was up. Phillip and I and the Ringer smiled slyly at each other and enjoyed watching him squirm for a minute.
But, it was just a minute. He must have got the go-ahead from the seller to really show us what this gal could do. If this broker was anything, it was ballsy. He jumped into the cockpit and cranked the engine and began to set sail. There was no offer on the table, not even a dollar figure discussed and this guy was willing to take us out on the open sea to show us “what she could really do.” A free sail? Fine by us. Let’s go! And go we did. We puttered out into a little harbor and everything was smooth and calm, a nice, peaceful day sail. That’s how it started at least. But that all changed as soon as we made it out into the bay. It was gusting that day, around 25 mph. Our sails were all the way up, and the wind found us. The boat heeled over instantly and the sails popped and pulled taut. Luckily, I had found a good nestle spot port-side in the cockpit and had my arms leisurely draped on the lifelines, merely out of comfort, but this proved to be far more prudent than I realized when the boat kicked over and I gripped those puppies for dear life. I remember we tilted over so far, I looked over my shoulder and watched my lipstick fall out of my pocket and sink fast into the sea. I was thinking I would jump in right behind it if the boat tipped completely over.
Our Ringer had the helm and he shouted “I’m buried to port!” I had no idea at that moment what that meant, but I was sure it was important and I was sure it was not good. I thought about shouting it, too, to make sure Phillip and the broker heard. “Hey, did you guys hear?! We’re buried to port!” (I know, now, that would have helped none, but it was the first thought that crossed my mind). But I didn’t say a word. All of those cumbersome sailing terms had completely escaped me and were replaced with expletives and things you shout while jumping out of a plane. I looked down the side of the boat and saw the railing on the deck was underwater. Then it hit me. Buried. To port. He couldn’t turn any further to right us.
Yes, I found time to take a picture. If you’re going to tip a 34-foot sailboat over, you might as well document it. I can assure it was the most useful thing for me to do in the moment.
But, thankfully, others were far more sea-savvy. The hook-mouth broker jumped up to the main mast and began reefing the sail, casual as ever, laughing and saying, “I always say: Reef often, reef early.” Phillip and I exchanged a look that said Yeah buddy, a little earlier next time. But, we weathered it out, got the sails down a bit, fell off the wind and got things under control. If that broker did anything, he certainly took us for a kick-ass day-sail. Much like the broker, I was hooked! It came out later, during our small survivors’ celebration on the way back to the marina, that this was my first sail. The men looked at me with surprise and told stories of girlfriends, former of course, who had experienced something similar and threw up or demanded dry land immediately. I figured if the only thing I lost that day was a tube of Revlon Colorstay, it was well worth it. I was sold. We were getting a boat, one way or another. Money be damned!
It was a great sail and a great day that told Phillip and I that sailing was going to be, had to be, a big part of our future. We didn’t end up getting that boat. It was a bit out of our price range and while probably worth the money (that was a quality vessel), it wouldn’t have left us much cash in the kitty to sail on, and that was a real concern. We wanted a quality boat, one that would take us out on a quick weekend sail as well as quench our thirst for blue waters, but we also had a budget. As our broker explained to us later, “That’s the Mercedes. I can find you a Toyota you’ll love just as much, if not more.” It was a novel idea in the moment. One we had not yet fully considered. An older (cheaper) equally trusty boat. A … Toyota? We decided to ponder it a bit. The main focus was finding a good, stout, quality boat. Because, if you’re going to set sail to a warmer climate, you certainly want to do it with two, solid, dependable ladies. The kind that really perform – and don’t need the lipstick.
And, as always, post-drinks (or drink, if it’s big enough) to celebrate the big day. Cheers!