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Sailing in February

I have a thing for boats. Especially sailboats. I get on a sailboat and I’m relaxed for the rest of the day. If you’ve read Sunshine Jen words before, this might not be a big surprise. You probably remember my Ireland boat adventure last September or the white water pictures from last summer.

Recently I got the idea in my thick skull (which is getting thicker all the time) to take a Sailing I class. Even though I knew port from starboard and the bow from the stern, I felt I was lacking some basics and confidence to skipper a boat on my own. I felt like a composer who could write a symphony but couldn’t read music, and I was irked by the holes in my knowledge.

Sure I had learned a lot just by being in boats, but I wanted structure to my learning. Sometimes I actually learn things better when I’m in a strict and structured environment. My brain actually perks up and focuses. I guess my need for structured learning comes from Catholic school. I still haven’t decided if this is a good thing or a bad thing.

As I started seeking beginning sailing classes in LA, I quickly discovered that they were super expensive. I eventually landed on the UCLA Marine Aquatic Center because it was cheap. . .and well, cheap. I had ridden my bike past the Marine Aquatic Center a thousand times, but I always figured it was just for UCLA students. I sometimes wondered if I would have hung out there if I had been a UCLA student. Would I have been on the sailing team or the rowing team? How would my life have been different if I had moved to LA at eighteen instead of New York? Usually as I was pondering these other possible lives, a big nasty gust of wind would hit me and I’d have to focus on keeping my bike on the bike path.

Fortunately, even though I was an old woman with my college days long behind me, I was able to take a sailing class at the Marine Aquatic Center. In fact anyone could take a sailing class there if he or she was willing to get wet.

I signed up for a class scheduled for the last two weekends in February. Now, I am aware that most of my NoHem readers are reading this as they look out their windows and exclaim Sailing in February? Have you lost your mind, Sunshine Jen? Remember, this is Los Angeles. Even though the winter weather can be more temperamental than a starving actress drinking diet coke, it’s usually reasonably nice. Besides, I could layer.

I was excited about sailing class. I was gonna sail a fourteen foot Capri and learn points of sail and right of way and rigging, and this time it was going to stick in my brain. Plus, I’d get two free hours of boat rental time after the class was over. Free is a great motivator.

On our first day, we had classroom time mixed with time on the water. I got to rig the boat and learn knots. I learned how to not crash the boat into the dock. It’s very important in sailing to not crash into the dock. There are many ways to achieve the state of not crashing. Unfortunately, sailing around forever is just not an option.

The first day was awesome, and that evening, I met up with my friend, Spider Monkey, to see a bad play and drink beer afterwards. I talked about my day on the water in such glowing terms that Spider Monkey declared that she wanted to sail too. Yes, I was a sailing crack dealer. How good was it? Well picture either the best meal you’ve had, the best wine you’ve ever drunk, the best sex you’ve ever had, and remember how good you felt and how excellent the world looked afterwards, well that’s how I was on Saturday night. Oh yes, I was in bliss.

On Sunday, the wind was gusting at 12-15 knots with grey clouds, grey air, grey water. Yep, the weather had gone to shit. Instructor John announced that we were gonna do capsize drills. I gulped internally.

I hate capsizing boats. Yes, I know that it is important to practice capsizing in controlled conditions, so that one knows what to do in an emergency. Yes, we were all in life jackets and wet suits and only a couple of yards from the dock. Are those white caps out there? I hate capsizing. The purpose of boating is to go somewhere on the boat and not to capsize it. I hate, hate, hate capsizing. Yes, I know that hate leads to the dark side, but the Jedis had space ships. You can’t capsize in space. You’re either pressurized or you’re not.

We got into wetsuits because in addition to being salty and polluted, the water in Marina del Rey was also freakin’ cold. By the way, if you put on a damp wetsuit, the suit might seem cold at first, but the dampness quickly warms up and forms a layer of mushy wet warmness next to the skin that’s sorta pleasant in a weird way.

We were a class of six, so two at a time we tipped a sailboat intentionally and made it right again. Each team capsized twice, so everyone got to capsize as skipper and crew. I was part of the last dynamic duo. We tipped the boat, we righted the boat, we got back in the boat, we did good. We just had to do one more. One more for Olympic gold or a hot shower which was more appealing to me.

We tipped the boat again. We ended up in the water. I went under water, and when my handy dandy life vest tried to surface me, my head tapped the side of the boat. Ouch. I found the end of the boat and surfaced just as the boat righted itself on its own. Huh? My head hurt like hell, but we got back to the dock okay. I knelt in front of a Teaching Assistant who said I wasn’t bleeding and asked me who I was and where I was. I knew everything about myself and my surroundings. I was focused. I was okay except. . .except. . .the horizon line was bobbing up and down. Oh no, my perception of the world was shifting. Then I remembered that I was on a floating dock, bobbing up and down on the waves. I was fine, and I got my hot shower. As I stood under the water, I wondered if my head had righted the boat. I didn’t know. I’ve been called a hard headed woman on many occasions.

When I got home that evening, I was starving and ate several pieces of fruit in rapid succession as I camped out on the couch and watched the US beat Canada in Olympic hockey. The next weekend, Canada would beat the US for gold in apparently the greatest hockey game of all time which I didn't see because I was on the water.

On the morning of the following Saturday (aka day three of sailing class), the big earthquake hit Chili, and the web was all a twitter about a tsunami heading toward Hawaii.

I got to the Marine Aquatic Center in time to see a lot of water flow through the channel. The tsunami wasn’t a huge dramatic wave, but it was a lot of water coming in very fast. It was like the channel was a huge bathtub and someone had turned on the tap.

It was another grey and crappy day with ominous low hanging clouds. We did not have to do any more capsize drills, but we did get a chance to go out and toodle around with three in a boat. Occasionally, some more of the tsunami came through, and we sailed on the tsunami.

I like to tell people that I sailed on a tsunami even though it brings up images of big devastating waves. Still, a tsunami is a tsunami, and it was some pretty funky water to sail on. Because the wind was high and nasty as well, we were the only boats out. Yep, it was a little bit crazy, but just a little.

The wind picked up even more, and the rain splashed down sideways. We headed back to the dock as the wind slammed in from the southwest. The Capri bucked like a mechanical bull next to the dock and water splashed out from under it. I got splashed then whipped by the ropes and sails then splashed some more. I actually didn’t mind it that much.

On Sunday (the final day of sailing class), the sun was out and conditions were perfect. We got to spend at least four hours on the water. On the final run back to the dock, my boat mate and I noticed a lot of boats docking at the same time, so we decided to go out and come back to the dock when it was less crowded. Well, we spent a little more time out there than planned because we suddenly heard a booming GET BACK NOW from the dock. We came in and did not crash the boat. Safety, we’re all about safety. Awesome safety.

By the way, I did learn the basics, and I aced the written test. The capris are fun to sail, but now I want to get back on bigger boats. Always bigger she wants, as Yoda might say. I got a taste for the sailing again, and it’s a good taste to have.

Wait, there's more! I have a picture.

Here is one of us out on the water on day three. I'm the one in the red/pink jacket with gold life jacket at the tiller. Note, I am wearing my lucky grey hat.


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