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Important Lessons Learned While Sinking a Sailboat

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Summer officially ends in less than a week. Many changes come with the transition to autumn, among them cooler weather and an ever earlier setting sun.

One staple of adolescent summers is visiting the lake. As a teenager, I never went to the lake with the alarming frequency of some of my peers, but the few times I went were all memorable. One lake visit stands out in particular, for reasons that will become apparent.

The summer before I entered high school I journeyed to a lake for a weekend retreat with a church youth group. With plans to tube, sail, and in all other ways have an outstanding time, I anxiously awaited the trip. When the morning finally arrived for the voyage to begin, my excitement was barely containable. Something was going to happen that weekend, I could just tell.

Upon our arrival at the lake, we quickly scoped out the surrounding area. Our accommodations were nice and the weather was gorgeous. I felt an inner longing to be on the water, as if Poseidon himself was beckoning me.

The first day of the retreat came and went. I rode on a motorboat and was ferociously slung about on an inner-tube. Fulfilled after a full day of aquatic activities, I remember gazing out at the lake that night. The moon’s ghostly reflection illuminated the tranquil surface.

The following morning, Mike, an older high school student I greatly admired, invited me on a sailing expedition.

“You wanna come sailing today? I’m going to destroy that buoy in the lake,” Mike declared.

“Absolutely!” I responded, shocked at my good fortune.

Mike and I recruited a few other crew members for our voyage, and I remember him assigning us Moby Dick characters in a Reservoir Dogs-esque moment.

Sam, a snarky freshman who idolized Mike even more than I did, was rookie whaler Ishmael. I was deemed Queequeg, the savage cannibal known for his harpoon skills. I was naturally very pleased with my adopted persona. A girl named Whitney went with us, but since we could not think of any women in Moby Dick she sort of got left out of that part.

The sailing trek began as we tacked towards the looming Styrofoam buoy in our sleek vessel, anxious with anticipation of our conquest. While none of us was an experienced sailor, among the four of us we had passable knowledge of how to sail. As we neared our target, our fates took a turn for the worse.

Trouble first arose when our boat capsized. We had properly inserted the dagger board into its slot, so flipping the boat right side up shouldn’t have been a problem. The dagger board is a long wooden slat that fits into a hole and extends beneath the sailboat. If your boat flips over, the dagger board is used to get leverage to easily flip it back. However, we struggled mightily for some time to get the boat turned over. When it finally turned, we noticed it was resting much lower in the water. It wasn’t long at all before it turned over once again. At this point the first inklings of panic began to inch into our minds.

No matter how many times we turned the boat over, it repeatedly rolled back upside down, each time taking in more and more water. We had begun to accept the possibility that the boat would sink, when we caught a lucky break.

A nearby fishing vessel came to our aid. Captained by a wily old pirate who looked like a cross between Captain Barbossa and Billy Bob Thornton in Sling Blade, this old seadog latched onto our boat and saved the vessel from a watery grave. His bumbling grandson reminded me of a teenage Barney Fife. He tried to offer assistance where he could, but he mostly got in the way and was subsequently scolded by his buccaneer forefather.

With the boat’s future secured, we now had to find a new way back to dry land. Thankfully for us, a luxury yacht happened to view our spectacle of a rescue and stop about 100 yards away. The commander of that vessel got on his bullhorn and invited us to swim over to the yacht.

When we boarded this architectural masterpiece, we were shocked at both the scope of the boat itself and its passengers. The boat was a fully loaded multiple-storied luxury yacht. The owner instructed us to wait on the lower deck as he piloted back to the dock, but in our brief interaction I got a very distinct organized-crime vibe from him. The fact that the boat was full of gorgeous exotic women half the age of all the hairy, middle-aged Italian men on board lent some credibility to my theory.

The luxury yacht pulled into a dock, where we saw dozens of yachts anchored, each more elaborate than the last. I was positively shocked. Looking back, I should’ve contacted the authorities to investigate a potential drug trafficking ring operating out of this innocuous rural lake, but I was just happy to be back on solid ground.

We returned to our headquarters to see that Blackbeard and teenage Barney Fife had successfully salvaged our little boat. It turns out that one of the storage hatches hadn’t been properly sealed, so every time the boat tipped over it took on more and more water.

A minor technical oversight had prevented us from achieving glory. At least that is the way I looked at it at the time. Now, I see it as an unbelievable story about a particularly memorable summer lake trip. Mike, with tyrannical vengeance that would make Ahab proud, vowed to one day return to the lake and sack the buoy. Hopefully after our last adventure together I have earned the right to be first-mate.

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About Daniel Terracina

  • Amy Terracina

    What an enjoyable piece! I doubt I would have enjoyed it as much at the time. You’re lucky you didn’t drown.

  • http://www.whalertly.com/wordpress Robert M. Barga

    I loved the lakes as a teen, and the people i would go with

    good times, good memmories. Thanks for bringing them back