The art of sailing
July 04, 2004
A three hour trip,...that was the plan

My husband and I finally had found a sailboat. We’d been searching for just the right one since we moved to Grand Lake o' the Cherokees in Oklahoma several months ago. This one was perfect. Old, but very clean and seemingly in excellent condition. It was berthed near the Pensacola Dam. We just had to get it to Honey Creek, approximately 20 miles away. However, the motor that we bought with it was not at all reliable, and, so, first order of business was to get a new one.

About ten o’clock, on a beautiful Sunday morning we headed out to trade the old motor for a rebuilt one. We owned the boat, we purchased a "new" motor, but we forgot a gas can and had to ask the man from whom we bought the motor if we could borrow one. He loaned us one with the assurance that it had enough gas in it to get our boat home.

I knew absolutely nothing about sailing, but my husband assured me that he did. Afterall, I had heard his “sailing” stories for over 5 years. He never owned a sailboat before, but apparently was quite at home sailing the Chesapeake with his buddies. The only experience I have ever had was sailing in the Virgin Islands was with my ex and a friend of ours who was an accomplished sailor. I vaguely remember our friend, after our futile attempts to help, saying something like, “You guys just go down below 'til we’re under sail”.

Gary brought his cell phone. I made sure we had two life jackets aboard. I mean, I have been boating on this lake for 45 years. I DO know a little bit about preparation!

Our plan was to motor from Rapier Hollow to Honey Creek. Gary was hesitant to put the sails up because he wasn’t sure how the boat was rigged. Apparently that makes a difference. I just sorta sat with my thumb in my ear. As we approached the mouth of Rapier Hollow, Gary, being new to the lake, asked me which way we should turn. Well, I wasn’t sure. Was that the main lake or another large cove? Hmmm...well, I’ll just look at a map, that is, if we had one. Using my incredible powers of deduction, I insisted we turn right. Good guess. We were on our way.

We were putt, putting along at about 10 m.p.h., the sun was shining brightly, the wind was at our back, and we were actually talking about getting back in time to return the gas can. Life was good, I was going to like this thing they called sailing.

About an hour and a half into our three hour run, I noticed that Gary was very, very quiet. Knowing this man quite well, I asked him what was bothering him. He looked at me, and said, “I think we’re going to run out of gas.“

“Yeah, right”, I said. “We can’t run out of gas. The nice man who sold us the motor said we would have enough gas!

I suggested we actually put up the sails. The wind was strong. Very strong. Gary reluctantly agreed. (He reluctantly agrees to lots of things I suggest.)

At the tiller, he instructed me to unsnap the sail cover. Maneuvering around the sailboat was new to me. I had visions of falling off, but I was quite proud of myself in actually learning my first thing about sailing…unsnapping the sail cover. Wow, this is cool, I thought. We’re going to sail!!

I then took over the tiller. Gary told me to turn the boat around so it was heading into the wind, which at this point was a sort of gale force. I was trying to see the little arrow "dealie" on top of the mast. But the sun was right in my eyes and then the sail was blocking the view. Just as I’d get that little arrow pointing straight in front of us, the boat would lurch to the side.

Well, the sail was half out; something was caught somewhere. Gary was struggling, trying to get that something uncaught and meanwhile, I just remember watching him trying to jump up after some other little "dealie" hanging from the top of the mast that had gotten away from him.

He soon decided to rewrap the sail. We continued on. Running out of gas was now a major possibility, but I was in denial. Afterall, the nice man had said we wouldn’t.

Putt, putt, putt, pu, pu, pu, ppppppp……silence, agonizing silence. Hmmm…interesting.

We still hadn't reached the Shangri-La water tower. We were between two very, very shallow shores.

Gary threw out the anchor which didn’t even hit the bottom of the lake. Meanwhile, the wind seemed to turn "tornadic."

How could this happen??? Why didn’t Gary know how much gas we needed? Why did that crummy man that sold us the motor tell us there was enough gas when there wasn't?

Without a boat in sight to come to our rescue, I, interestingly not Gary, had to make the dreaded embarrassing phone call to a friend at Teramiranda and tell him our little "predicament."

“Well, kid," he said, "if you’re in a sailboat, you don’t need a motor!” (He always calls me “kid”...I love it!) Would he have laughed if he knew how much we understood about sailing?

Tom told us that it would be about 30 minutes before he could get someone out to us with some gas and oil. The wind was slowly blowing us to the shore, thanks to an unsecured anchor. But this wasn’t Gary's biggest worry. Keeping me from taking him by the throat and slowly strangling him was. I mean, here we were on a SAILBOAT for Heavens sakes and we were waiting for gas. I guess one doesn't have to be a rocket scientist to realize that something is very strange about that.

Finally, two "local" guys ("local" guys are easy to spot) happened by in one of those Speedy-Gonzales fishing boats. They offer to get us some gas but not oil from a self-serve station that apparently is hidden in a cove only 600 feet from where we are. At least we know that if we’re never heard from again these guys could attest to our last known position.

Not long after they left, what can be seen elegantly about to glide past us but a beautiful 40-foot sailboat. As it came alarmingly close to us, the captain asked if everything was okay.

Gary held up the gas can. The captain gestured that he understood and the next thing I know, he is lowering his sails, turning around his beautiful boat and motoring over to us.

Horrified, humiliated. I tried to hide. Gary was on his own this time.

This man enjoying a day of honest-to-goodness sailing was willing to bring down his sails to help out two pathetic, wannabe sailors....But the boat from Teramiranda was approaching.

So the double-time-Sunday mechanic, as I lovingly refer to him, somehow transfers a 5 gallon gas tank to our boat in incredibly rough water. I ask him if it's mixed with oil, and he says, "OH!, hold on”, and he's off again.

Gary is now up front willing the anchor to grab hold. The boat was rocking in the swells and I think I said to him, yeah, I did say to him,“If you fall off this boat, I’m NOT coming in after you.

The double-time-Sunday guy finally returns but by this time can't get up close to our boat. He has to toss the oil can 20 feet to my outstretched arms.

We fill the gas tank and resume our journey now in its sixth hour. At this point, I am beyond mad sitting huddled in the damp evening air, making horribly snide, rude, comments to Gary all the way home. I vaguely remember saying something like, "Oh, YEAH, big Mr. CHESAPEAKE sailor!!!

My anger did give way to compassion after we docked. I offered Gary a beer as a truce. Then I proceeded to tell him how I thought those dealies should be put back in their places.

copyright © 2004 Susan Richardson

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