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August 23rd, 2009

Capsize! Man overboard!

Today was the final day of my sailing lessons.

We got to work straightaway, headed down the channel toward Haine's Point. We made it there fairly quickly and then commenced our man overboard drills across from the airport in the open water where the wind was stronger. The instructor tossed a cushion over the side and one of us had to yell "man overboard!" and then point toward the cushion till we retrieved it. In order to safely save the overboard cushion, we fell off downwind until the cushion was a few boat lengths distant behind us. Then we turned up around through the wind and headed back upwind for him. Going upwind meant that we could travel quickly, but also slow down in a pinch. We watched our speed and let the sails out very far to slow down just before we reached our man.

I missed the cushion the first time, as he got right in my no-go zone in the source of the wind, but I got him on the second pass. The drill seemed to go smoothly for all three of the sailors in my boat. We returned to the tent dock right on time for the written test. It felt pretty weird to write my name on a paper test. I haven't had to do that in a while!

After the test was handed in, we all gathered chairs around to go over the drill for recovering a capsized boat. Then, we got to watch a demonstration of the process. It looked easy enough. Of course, it was a bit more challenging out on the water! They motored us over in pairs to one of two Flying Juniors where we were to perform the drill.

The first step was to flip the boat on its side. That was easy enough - all we had to do was stand up and lean together on the leeward side of the boat. All of a sudden the air felt dense and wet. Oh, I am floating! Since the water and air temperature were about the same, and I was dressed in my everyday clothes and sneakers, it was a really weird sensation. I kicked about, feeling my shoes heavy with water. My lifejacket kept me bobbing easily up and down while I waited for the skipper to reach the jib line and flip the boat over. My job was to grab onto the hiking straps inside the boat and allow myself to get scooped up into the boat as it turned rightside-up. That was easy and rather fun! I gave the skipper a hand back into the boat and then it was my turn to do the hard work.

Over we go again! Now, I had to swim around the boat and take the jib sheet. The idea is to brace yourself with your feet either against the hull or the top of the centerboard (sort of like a keel) and then to lean back, pulling on the jib sheet, so the boat will come back rightside-up.

I first tried to brace my feet against the hull and shimmy my way up the side of the hull to get enough leverage to pull it over. I could feel that this was not going to work very well. Slippery hull and slippery shoes did not provide me much traction. So, as I took a step up along the side of the hull, I suddenly threw a leg as high as I could to hook it over the centerboard - which was probably 2 feet higher than the water level. The upper half of me was meanwhile underwater, like a big see-saw.

In coming back up, I saw that, err, I had gotten one leg over, but I was a bit stuck! I was clinging to the jib sheet with one leg over the centerboard and the other half of me in the water. Somehow - I don't even know how - I got the rest of myself on the centerboard and found myself sitting up there with the instructors applauding my efforts. I had to catch my breath there a moment. Then, carefully - carefully! - I stood up on top of the centerboard and looked over the gunwale to let my mate know that I was ready to scoop her up. With that, I got a good grip on the sheet and leaned back. One second, two seconds, and the hull of the boat started shifting and rightening. I was back in the water, but my mate was safe and sound in the boat. I swam around the stern where I got a tug on my lifejacket to pull me in the boat. I was tired and so as soon as the upper half of me made it over the transom, I let myself fall limp for a moment to rest, sliding around so my head was not under the water in the bottom of the boat. My legs were hanging over the side of the boat as my mate and I sighed relief at our success. We did it! I was glad to get shuttled back to the tent dock after that.

My little red small boat sailing booklet is now complete. I am going to mail it in to US Sailing to get my certificate. And once I pass the check sail, I'll be able to rent the small boats and sail them around on my own. It's too bad that the sailing season is just about ready to come to an end.

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Future dream

When I was in middle school, people asked me what I wanted to be in the future.
When I was in high school, people asked what I wanted to do in the future.
When I was in college, people asked me what kind of job I wanted in the future.
When I was in grad school, people asked me what career goals I had for the future.

Well, I never knew how to answer them. Now, though, I am getting a little daring and starting to let my dreams take shape as they are informed.

It looks like I will be able to continue working this current web analytics job for the next few months and possibly into next year. Metrics is a pretty interesting field and I've been able to utilize my information science background there. The projects have been keeping me busy and I've been able to work with some great software companies. I hope to continue in this field and in this area for a time. During the warm season next year, I plan to again volunteer as a crew member on the Spirit and to continue building up my skills as a sailor. Eventually, once I am skilled enough, I'd like to volunteer as a sailing instructor for the adult sailing classes on weekends. I really love helping others to make sense of new information. The key is presenting the information in ways that are simple, clear, and useful. Even a basic framework can begin to provide a learner with clarity and confidence in approaching that knowledge area if that architecture is carefully constructed. It's very much like good web design or good poetry. I just find that it's fun to help open eyes and doors to new concepts that seemed too distant or blurry before.

Eventually, though, if I could pursue my greatest dream, it would be this: to work as a sailor-educator aboard a tall ship. Ever since I stepped foot on the ships at Mystic Seaport, I've longed for the comfort of a prism glass-lit bunk among a crew of fellow sailors. There was just something about that place that felt right to me. There was a strange balance between myself and the space, as though I fit there. It was like being home, even though it was a completely foreign location. I've traveled to all sorts of places and lived in all kinds of houses with various families, roommates, classmates, and friends, but nothing besides home in PA has ever been quite like those ships to me.

So I am going to continue where I am as I am with that dream in the back of my mind. It will be the runner just ahead who unconsciously spurs me on to a faster pace. Perhaps I will catch that dream. Perhaps I will not. Perhaps God has other things in store. Or, perhaps this is the path God intended for me from the beginning of time. No matter what happens, I am at peace because I know that God is the one in control and that He cares for me. The merchant sold everything he had to buy the precious pearl (as told in Matt 13:45-46). I am in good hands. "And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, That in my flesh I shall see God" (Job 19:26).

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