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Martinique Anchorage
~ Martinique Anchorage ~
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Spinning Yarns
Mother, mother ocean – I have heard you call
Sailors thrive on overcoming the taunting obstacles the universe scatters in our paths, perhaps because we view them as fodder for some later entertaining conversation. I've been privy to so many wonderful tales of dangers survived, implausible accomplishments achieved, foolishness observed and wonders beheld. Most yarns are spun with comic relief and, though they are other people's stories, I'm often tempted to circulate some of them here. I could not resist sharing the story we were recently told of how Hank and Dottie became sailors.
A Chance Encounter
I have a vague memory of anxiously entering a local boat chandlery, approaching the first kind face I saw, and imploring him for help in making sense of the live-aboard life I had just begun. Thus was how I met Hank. He shared in my enthusiasm, and was genuinely welcoming when he learned we would be living in the same marina as he and his wife Dottie. I admired his demeanor as he graciously assisted me in my quest to demystify our then new home, as well as the unassuming way in which he provided his opinion about all things marine.
Grenada Anchorage
~ Grenada Anchorage ~

With each subsequent encounter, Don and I grew to view Hank as one of the most reliable sources of boating knowledge available to us, and as dock mates we became fast friends with both him and Dottie. Like us, they had left the Midwest to move aboard a vessel very similar to ours. To boost up their cruising kitty, Dottie continued her work in the medical field and, though over qualified as a retail sales associate, Hank had positioned himself to take advantage of an employee discount from the one place they'd be spending most of their cash.

Though our lifestyles eventually had us journeying in opposite directions, we continued to stay in touch. One such opportunity arose this past Monday evening, as Don and I had decided to spend some time at anchor just outside of Hank and Dottie's current marina. We met up for a meal, and during the course of the evening our conversation wandered to the subject of how each of us first became sailors. In her usual, effervescent manner, Dottie obliged us with the following side-splitting tale.

Two Ships in the Night
Dottie and Hank had been married for 20 years, and were at that time living in the heart of corn country. They were raising 2 teenage daughters, but one July 4th holiday found them unencumbered by parental duties. On a whim, they decided to attend a local boating event to fill in their free time. While watching a regatta, Hank wistfully mentioned that he'd always had a desire to learn how to sail. Dottie was stunned! She too had possessed the same aspiration, but they agreed what was most astonishing was that after decades of marriage this secret was just being revealed.
Bahamas Anchorage
~ Bahamas Anchorage ~

Per Hank, that disclosure occurred on a Tuesday. Three days later found them in a sporting goods store where they purchased, as he put it, "a boat in a box". It was a little 12' day-sailor with a center board, a main sail, jib and tiller. With their new treasure strapped to the top of the station wagon, they arrived home to an enthusiastic greeting from a neighbor kid who apparently also wished to answer the call of the sea. He sprinted over to help unload the cargo, and they all began assembling the little ship in the front yard.

Cruising the Midwest Suburbs
Soon, the neighborhood laid witness to three people sitting in a little hull intently studying the included sailing instruction manual and futilely tacking and jibbing on the front lawn. Dottie supposed they must've appeared crazy. Upon their return home, their daughters declared they were crazy and concluded that "mom and dad should never again be left alone for any length of time".

Dottie confessed to having some initial difficulty in understanding how wind direction coincided with the points of sail, and was confused with which way to turn the tiller in the mix. In an effort to resolve her perplexity, she and Hank spent many nights practicing in the living room, with Dottie steering a broomstick and Hank running past her, mimicking the wind. At this point in Dottie's story, tears of laughter were escaping from all our eyes. But the humorous pinnacle of their initiation into sailing was yet to be revealed.

St. Lucia Anchorage
~ St. Lucia Anchorage ~
2 with a 6 in a 12
While visiting, Hank's brother-in-law teasingly asked "So, have you had it in the pool yet?" Hank was game, so they hauled the little 12' vessel into the back yard. Hank hopped in with a six pack, which was all it took to entice Buzz into the insanity. Before long, the two skippers were sailing round and round in the 20' diameter above-ground swimming pool. The vision of Hank and her brother zooming across the backyard was one Dottie claimed would never fade from memory. Hank insistently added "We got a lot of tacking practice that day."

Feeling confident that the time had come to reach beyond the security of the front lawn and the backyard pool, Hank and Dottie headed to a nearby lake for some real open water sailing experience. The enthusiastic neighbor kid, who I'm certain at this point wished to be adopted by the eccentric yachtsmen in his midst, joined the adventure.

Becoming Captain

Referencing the recommendations of the 'Boat in a Box' sailing manual, Hank chose the windward shore from which to launch. Per the instructions, this was a "guarantee that you will be returned to land, should you find yourself unable to control your own direction of sail". At this point, Hank interjected Dottie's account by stating that he laid out clear orders to the crew. "The neighbor kid was to handle the jib, Dottie was to be positioned at the tiller, and I was going to push them off and climb aboard."

Dominica Anchorage
~ Dominica Anchorage ~

The memory of it caused Dottie to laugh so hard she had difficulty continuing. Their first launch resulted in the boat making the promised 180 degree turn back to shore, and gained the attention of some nearby fishermen. Hank tempered his impatience with further clarification of his orders, but feared he had lost control of his crew as they seemed unable to repress their giggles. The second launch provided the same results as the first, and Hank's ego was being deflated by the laughing audience whose full attention they now had.

Hank's annoyance at the crew was made evident in the third attempt, as he pushed off so far he ended up chest deep in the lake. He nearly tipped the boat over trying to climb aboard, and in some misplaced logic the neighbor kid decided diving into the water was safer than being at the mercy of an angry captain.

Answering the Call of the Sea

Fast forward 20 years and we find ourselves in the company of accomplished sailors. They had recently returned from a yearlong cruise through the Caribbean, and were back to stocking their cruising kitty for their next adventure.

Knowing the origins of their sailing experience has not diminished my judgment of Hank and Dottie's sailing knowledge and opinions. Rather by humbly revealing their unsophisticated beginnings, they bolstered our confidence in our own abilities to achieve our cruising goals. If two fully matured, terra firma type people can go from floating in a backyard pool to crossing the deep blue sea, than surely so can we!

Many More Yarns
We've met so many wonderful cruisers with many more stories to tell. Below are links to just a few of our favorites.
"Don't be dismayed at good-byes. A farewell is necessary before you can meet again. And meeting again, after moments or lifetimes, is certain for those who are friends.” ~ Richard Bach