Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Sailing — really sailing — again

My time "afloat" during my stint in the Coast Guard consisted of one weekend training cruise on the USCGC Cuyahoga, a relic of the Coast Guard's battles against rum runners during the 1920s. The 125-foot (dubbed a "buck and a quarter") Cuyahoga had been converted to a training vessel stationed at the Coast Guard Reserve Training Center in Yorktown, Va. My cruise with a crew of officer candidates and a small number of regular crew members took me from the mouth of the York River up the Chesapeake Bay beneath the traffic-clogged Bay Bridge to Curtis Bay outside Baltimore. Bright and early the next morning, we began the trip back to Yorktown.

So when my wife and I were invited to sail — really sail — out of New Bern Sunday, it didn't take me long to accept the invitation. My time with a sailing vessel had been limited to a hot half hour or so in a homemade sailboat on Lake Norman, where the wind died and left us stranded.

Our friends welcomed us aboard their 36-foot sloop, and we motored out of the marina into open waters of the wide Neuse River. The guests got the sailing experience by hauling lines, cranking a winch, helping to rig the jib and the spinnaker and enjoying the quiet of travel powered by a light wind. The experience emphasized the work involved in catching the wind with the just-right combination of sail and rudder, the intricacies of rigging a sailboat and the confusing array of sailcloth and lines. Making motion from a light breeze is no easy task, even with modern instruments and equipment.

The enjoyable afternoon disabused me of any latent youthful fantasy about owning a sailboat. As enjoyable a hobby as sailing is, it's also a lot of work, and I have enough work to do as it is.

One footnote: Several years after my cruise on the Cuyahoga, a similar training cruise ended in tragedy when the Cuyahoga, with an officer candidate at the helm, veered in front of a cargo vessel, which plowed the smaller ship beneath it. Several office candidates died.

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