I always wanted to be a sailor — owning my own little boat. The Bear would never let me.
“You can’t sit in the sun for 20 minutes,” she’d say. “How the hell are you going to survive on a boat all day.”
Of course she was right, she is always fucking right. After 3 decades, it’s just annoying.
But I dreamed of sun block that worked, or that medical technology would solve the burning issue with stem cells or pigment transplants. And I could grow up to be… a real sailor.
Then my brother, the organic plantation master, bought a boat. They truck their apples and pears over the Cascade Mountains and sell them in farmers markets in Seattle on the weekends. They need a place to sleep. House boats are cheap.
“We went sailing around Tahiti with a friend,” Brother John said. “So, we might as well buy a boat we can use.”
It’s not a yacht
They ended up with a 30-something-foot racing boat built in 1968 with a kevlar sail that may have won the race from San Francisco to Hawaii in 1972. It can easily sleep 6 and can crew with more.
I was in Seattle in late May on business, and he agreed to take me out for a few days sail.
I was thinking we would be out on the Pacific Ocean — just us against the elements. The two old men and the sea.
We never left Puget Sound or the sight of the buildings in downtown Seattle.
Day one we went to the grocery store and stocked up like a camping trip. Not nearly as much beer as I had hoped.
“We are not going to be able to drink all that,” Brother said.
He handed me a book on sailing. “Read that, you are going to need to know most of this.”
It was a fucking “Yacht Club” owner’s manual.
“Ohh we are on a yacht,” I said like we were ordering lobster and steak for breakfast.
“It’s a boat,” Brother said. “Don’t get excited.”
He fiddles for 4 hours. “No wind yet,” he said. There’s a lot of sitting and fiddling in the small spaces on a boat — waiting for wind or tide. Making sure all the ropes, gear and gadgets are just right. He gives me a mop and a bucket. That’s right, swabbing the deck, mother fucker.
I wasn’t learning shit about knots. Anything beyond starboard, port, aft and bow was beyond me.
We were in his “slip” surrounded by “house boats”. It was a floating trailer park filled with “lost boys,” who drink and smoke dope all day on each other’s floating monuments to hoarding. Oxy anyone? They share one shower and bathroom on shore.
Brother began to talk of the Ballard Lock.
To get his precious out of the lake, we must survive the lock. It’s a 20-foot depth change and the water rushes in — a modern Charybdis with concrete teeth, a whirlpool of destruction.
“It you don’t get the boat tied off right, it gets smashed to bits.”
How hard can it be to tie a rope? Jesus, I’m not a child.
First, we have to get out of the slip. He took the tiller and told me to shove off. It was an 8,000-pound boat. I bent my knees and elbows and shoved that damn thing like I was push-starting a truck uphill.
But boats float, dumbasss. Little resistance in water — that’s the whole idea of a “sail boat”. I almost couldn’t catch the boat after the push. I jumped and pulled myself up to keep it from getting away.
The boat immediately spun in exactly the wrong direction. It was going way too fast to manuever out of the tight slip. The bow was headed toward the rocks, and the aft was looming within inches of the floating future meth labs.
The lost boys stumbled out. “What the fuck are you two doing,” one said.
My brother was shouting instructions. I was running from side to side, grabbing other boats to slow us down and pushing off with my hands or a pole to keep the boat from ramming all the hard objects around us.
He had the little diesel engine in reverse and was spinning 360’s trying to get us out and keep us afloat.
Ten minutes later we were free and headed for the lock of death.
We get to the lock, and I missed the tie in the bow. The gates open and the boat starts turning sideways — the death spiral is coming.
I hear the panic, as Brother tries to run across the narrow deck. The dock workers are laughing. Apparently their only joy in life is watching yatchs smashed to bits in their lock.
I make one last frantic 10-foot toss of the rope and by some fucking miracle it wrapped the pier. I was pulling the rope tight just as Brother arrived.
He had no words. I nearly killed the “precious” twice in the first 15 minutes.
We were sailing — a slow crawl back and forth in the sound. The wind is light — Jesus could have walked on this water faster. All is calm.
“Sailing is like being a cop,” Brother said. “Hours of boredom followed by 20 seconds of pure panic.”
Panic sets in from the Ferry or container ships. They are “screaming” down the sound like Ferraris on the back stretch. Every couple of hours it was all we could do to keep from becoming the new PT-109. A minute later we were in the clear and if we were lucky, surfing on a wake.
Brother cracked open his first beer. I sipped mine too. 20 minutes later he stepped back to the swim deck to pee.
The wind picked up, the boat keeled over and finally we were “moving.” You better start running Jesus if you want to keep up.
Brother is balancing for his life on a suddenly slippery 45-degree swim deck and urine was flying in every direction.
“Steer down, Steer down” he was yelling like his life depended on it — because it did.
I was leaning my 250 pounds down on this damn stick and nothing was happening. Any harder and it was going to snap. Another rush of wind, and the boat leaned — were we going to tip over? Now going faster and faster. We left Jesus in our wake.
The water rushed by and under and over the back. Now this was sailing. This was what I came here to do — ride the wind and surf the waves like we were chasing Moby Dick.
Brother got his wee-wee back in his pants and just about smacked the smile off my face.
“Steer down wind,” he said slowly and carefuly as he eased the tiller toward him. The boat flattened out, slowed and returned to a soft glide suitable for a good piss.
That water was 40-degrees. If he fell in, he could survive for maybe 20 minutes. We decided he was a dead man.
What I don’t know will kill you
I didn’t know how to turn the boat. I didn’t know how to drop the sail. I didn’t know how to turn on the diesel engine. I didn’t know how to speed up or slow down so even if I got close, I probably would have just run him over with an 8000-pound hull.
“If I fell in, what was your plan,” he said.
“I’d call 911 on my cell phone and ram the boat straight into the nearest rocks and walk to shore,” I said.
He was not impressed with either idea. But I’m pretty sure he was more disturbed by the smashing his boat. We are brothers, I’ve left him for dead before. (Hey, I know what you are thinking and fuck you. If you have not left all of your brothers and some of your friends for dead before, you are a total pussy.)
He spent a few hours a day over the next few days showing me how to dock, teaching me how to start the engine and a little of how to steer. I spent more time drinking beer.
I say a few hours, because we would tie up to a dock on one of the islands in the various state parks about 4 p.m. each day and go for a little hike — maybe a piss and a shower on shore. We grilled on the beaches — boat camping.
Some 16-20 hours later we might get back on the boat – fiddle with shit for a few hours and head out to sail around noon — maybe 1 p.m. . Some 3 hours later, back on the dock.
At the last dock, he picked up another friend. She knew how to sail.
“This is so much better,” Brother said. We made it home 2 hours later without a drowning.
I haven’t asked to go sailing and Brother hasn’t invited me to go sailing.