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Destinations, May 1998
One Week to Skipperhood
If you’re seasick, drink ginger beer. The more things you can throw overboard to keep a drowning man afloat, the better. There are two kinds of sailors: those who have gone aground, and those who will.
Pondering the day’s lessons in the art of sailing, I sit alone on the deck of the Vixen under a darkening sky, listening to the melodious clatter of halyards and shrouds around me in the harbor. A week ago, I barely knew the difference between a port tack and a glass of port. But now my fellow Annapolis Sailing School students and I have successfully completed a rousing,
“That was a joy!” Rob cried, steering like a surfer down the largest waves. A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy now working as a venture capitalist on Wall Street, Rob had a humbling edge in seaworthiness over the rest of us from day one. But he carried his superior learning with grace. Even when I crashed into him while snorkeling one morning, he showed forbearance, unlike
Winds remained so brisk during our crossing that we hoisted only the jib and mizzen, the smaller sails at the bow and stern of the boat. Had we raised the mainsail, “the Vixen would’ve been overpowered,” Ingo Schlueter, our 27-year-old skipper, sailing instructor, cook, and calming presence told us. Built like a sturdy sea chest, with a goatee and a gravelly Popeye voice, Ingo
Now, safely anchored in Cruz Bay, our little group of sailors has dispersed. Ingo and Rob have tooled off in the dinghy toward St. John. Steve and Carol, a vigorous older couple hell-bent on mastering their newfound sport, have retired to their forward cabin. Studious, fortysomething Dave, a pilot for TWA, has holed up with various manuals and navigation guides in his cabin
But I’m not quite ready to stretch out on my bunk and stare at a ceiling almost close enough to lick. I’m still outside when a warm rain begins to fall. Taking cover under the blue canvas bimini, I watch the pelicans and consider how, today, I learned perhaps too much about the rigors of serious sailing. In the final stage of the day’s passage, Ingo let me take the helm.
Unfortunately, I misunderstood some crucial instructions about the engine, and after a couple of missteps with the throttle, I was kindly but insistently relieved of duty. Captain Ingo adroitly maneuvered our boat on into the crowded harbor, dropping anchor next to the purple-hulled sloop of a tattooed former topless dancer who lived on her boat with her dog.
I mention our neighbor because the Caribbean is filled with folks who might be described, not necessarily to their faces, as characters. It’s also filled with tourists, and finding the one without being swamped by the other is increasingly difficult. So it occurs to me as I lie on deck that bareboat cruising, although difficult and pricey compared to, say, bus travel, is
The rain continues to ping off the water around us, and I smile to myself. I may be Ingo’s least promising student, but I have managed to skirt Two Brothers and to avoid the jibe. Best of all, I think with satisfaction, I now have Ingo’s inimitable lessons to live by, my favorite being: When — as you will — you go aground, just be sure to get off the mud before your
Laurence Sheehan is the author of The Sporting Life.