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Barbara's Column
August 2003 #4

A restful summer of sail
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Friday, August 22, 2003

"Here lies the body of Michael O'Day,
Who died maintaining the right-of-way;
He was right - dead right - as he sailed along
But he's just as dead as if he'd been wrong."

Source: Yachtsman's Omnibus
By H. A. Calahan 1932, 10th Printing 1968

My partner, Chip Ford, remembered this quote after his close call with a yachtsman last week in Salem Sound. He and a friend were out on "Chip Ahoy," an old 22-foot Catalina that Chip spent much of his savings account and all of his free spring time restoring.

I'm not a boat person myself, but I thought it would be good for Chip to have a relaxing hobby.

What was I thinking? I'm the one who relaxes: a little of this, a little of that, make a salad for a cookout, plant a few daisies, then recover from all this effort in the hammock with a good book.

Chip does nothing halfway. One summer, with his first gas grill, he learns to cook meats and fish to perfection; another summer, he cultivates giant sunflowers then goes to war with the squirrels; this year, he bonds with his sailboat.

Also, I should have remembered, from my years being married to boat people, that sailing is not a relaxing hobby. My first husband and I raced a 19-foot Bonita in Greece; one day he hiked himself overboard and I was headed all alone full sail for Turkey until I noticed he was gone. Since I didn't know how to come about by myself, I just dropped the sails and waited for him to swim the half-mile to the boat. When I moved to New England I realized that if the wind died and I got seasick, I would have to swim to shore in icy water.

My second husband ran a boatyard, so I came to see the pastime as a work thing, not a fun thing. We sometimes went out in his grandfather's lobster boat, but I never got used to the smell of the bait, the fast-rising thunderstorms and the sense that our ancestors left the water for land, eons ago, for a reason.

But Chip spent his youth in large sailboats, restoring them with friends, sailing them to Florida and back, through storms, through fog, past creepy salvage villages, until someone stole his last schooner while he was away. Chip helped track him down for the joy of revenge, but didn't recoup his monetary loss. So he thought he'd gotten over sailing; I thought he'd gotten over the need for adventure and excitement. Wrong, both of us.

It took him until July to get the boat finished and in the water; then his hobby became "go down to Salem Harbor, bail out the dinghy, come home, pace, and watch the weather reports."

On the rare clear days, though he had never sailed a boat alone, he thought the best way to learn was to fix it up himself so he'd know the vessel well, then just head out of the harbor by himself. His first trip was to Scituate, where he met up with land-lubbing friends for dinner then slept aboard.

He'd return from his excursions tanned and bleeding, with stories of Boston Harbor attack-flies and powerboats driven by idiots intent on tipping sailboats.

An old friend came from Chicago to spend a long weekend sailing with his son and Chip to the Cape. There wasn't much wind so they played pilgrim, crawling into tiny Plymouth Harbor, though I don't think the pilgrims tried it in the dark. The vacationing guys spent a rainy day there, then made their way in a lightning storm back to Scituate for the next night, and back to Salem in a dense fog. Gamely, they planned to try again next summer.

Finally, a windy, sunny day last week. Chip and Dave were really cookin' when a much larger approaching sailboat almost ran them down. There was no doubt they had the right of way, but it wasn't doing them any good, so they tried to avoid it while the clueless other captain kept zig-zagging into their path. Finally they nearly swamped little "Chip Ahoy" avoiding this yacht that almost rammed them. I wasn't there, but I'll bet what Chip yelled was not "relax, you!"

However, I suspect the old type A Chip (before hanging out with me for nine years) would have, like Michael O'Day, crashed if not died maintaining the right of way, so he has relaxed a little. And he got me out of my hammock to sail with him one weekend afternoon.

At least this boat has a motor if the wind dies, and there's no lobster bait on board. Now if I just stop reading newspaper accounts about lightning hitting sails, pollution closing beaches, and a great white shark, I might actually get to like this hobby. Chip, I know, has learned to deal with the speeding power boats and the idiot yachtsmen - in a relaxing sort of way.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem News and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.

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