Schooner or later

Here’s a fun series of questions:

  1. When was the first time you went sailing?
  2. When was the last time you went sailing?
  3. Have you ever sailed on a schooner?

As I write this, I am on a boat, one that is firmly aground, with 7 sturdy jackstands beneath it and an 8-foot wooden ladder between me and the rest of the world. I go to sleep at night in the v-berth, my face just a few feet beneath the forward hatch. Before I close my eyes, I look up and see the stars and moon.

But I miss the motion of a boat. I miss the sound of water against the hull. I’ve gotten used to being on a boat-with-no-motion, but there’s definitely something wrong with it.

In the past year, we’ve visited friends whose boats are in the water, to remember the feeling. Stepping aboard Ocean Gypsy, I love the way the side deck gently dips to accept my weight. When we rode out to Honey Moon in the dinghy in January, I just wanted to throw my head back and holler “Yee haw!” as we zipped across the anchorage. A moving boat is a wonderful thing.

It’s moving. But it’s still not sailing.

In January, we took a day to help our friend Dick motor up to New Bern in his steel schooner, Ula G. It was fun to get out on the water, but Dick picked one of the coldest days of the year. We joked about the cold as we huddled on deck, wearing every scrap of clothing we owned. In our foulies and hoods and gloves and PFDs, Dick could hardly tell us apart, although Barry does have a lower voice and I giggle more. At the time, I thought about how nice it would be when the weather warmed up and we could actually sail.

Yesterday was the day I’d been hoping for. We had originally planned to drive up to New Bern and help Dick take his parents out sailing. That plan fell through when they left a day early, but we decided to go up anyway.

With the help of Dick’s friendly neighbors to cast off the lines (the freeboard on this boat resembles that of a container ship), we headed out the Neuse River.

Back when I learned to sail on a simple catboat with one sail, I had jib-phobia. I was intimidated by the thought of a boat with more than one sail. I was also petrified at the thought of operating a boat bigger than 20 feet.

Now, here I was, aboard a real schooner, almost fifty feet long, with five tanbark (Dick calls them orange) sails to choose from (we used three), and all the attendant lines and strings to play with. I no longer have jib-phobia, having sailed on sloops and ketches and yawls and junk rigs. I’m not afraid of really big boats, either. Seems like all our friends have ’em.

I laid on the bow with my head hanging over the bulwark, mesmerized by the bow wave as the hull sliced through the sparkling blue water. The sound of the water was like celestial music.

Back at the wheel, I sat astride the helmsman’s seat, and I did throw back my head and let out a hearty “Yee haw!” Dick laughed and teased me about my “shit-eating grin.”

For Dick, it was a whole different experience from taking his 79-year-old parents out the previous day.

“Was this the first time they’d seen your boat?” I asked.

“It was their first time on a sailboat,” he admitted.

That made me pause. The first time they went sailing? Friday. The last time they went sailing? Friday. Their first time on a schooner? Friday.

The funny thing is, only one of my answers is substantially different.

The first time I went sailing? 1982. The last time I went sailing? Saturday. The first time on a traditional schooner? Saturday.

There’s one more question to ask, and I suspect that here, our answers will diverge greatly. How often would you like to go sailing?

I suspect that Dick’s parents are content with the amount of sailing they’ve done in their lives: Once.

But I want to go sailing again. I want to hear water against the hull, want to sit at the wheel and go “Yee haw!” I want to hang my head over the side and watch the water flowing past for hours — every day.

(There’s a related limerick: “News of the Neuse.”)