Confessions of an Unnatural Sailor

July 5, 2013. I had my first formal sailing class today. I hated it. I probably shouldn’t say that, given our planned trip. I’m hoping it is a short-term reaction to being overwhelmed. We were supposed to sail from Annapolis, MD up to Chestertown, MD for the sailing class. Instead, because of the condition of the boat (water, toilet and fridge all not working), we decided I would drive. I arrived in good spirits and excited to figure out this sailing thing. After being lectured for about 3 hours in what seemed like a foreign language (e.g., instead of a boat having a right and left side, it has a port side and a starboard side), five neophytes finally got on the boat with the instructor (I’ll call him ‘The Sargent’). He tried to seem easy going but he was pretty uptight – rather understandable given that he is trying to shepherd five beginners through the intricacies of undocking a large boat that costs much more than I make in a year – while at the same time keeping us from ramming said boat into other, much more expensive, boats.

I should say that I have some trouble in the physical world. I’m usually in my head, rather than in my body. I’ll find bruises on my legs and have no idea how they got there. I recently gave a doctoral student a ride and found myself going around the same level of the parking garage several times before I realized it. I have no sense of direction and don’t react well if I don’t have time to plan. This was well-illustrated the time Matt and I were hiking and came upon a 400-pound bear. I turned the corner first and stopped short in surprise. Once the shock subsided, I was then trying to figure out how to respond. What went through my head was that bears have terrible eyesight but an excellent sense of smell. Therefore, we needed to be upwind of the bear. I then began walking back and forth trying to determine if we were upwind or downwind of the bear and wondering how one determines the direction of the wind. Matt, being much better in emergency situations, simply grabbed my arm and got us AWAY FROM THE BEAR. Similarly, sailing requires immediate responses and is very much situated in the physical world. There can be very little time to plan. Like the time a boat was headed right at us during class and Sarge is screaming at me, “Steer to port! Steer to port!” – apparently thinking that the louder he is, the better I will remember the earlier lecture. What I yell back is something like “Just tell me ‘left’ or ‘right’!” Follow-up confession: I still can’t remember!

If we ever figure out how to connect our boat GPS to our blog map and you see the boat has gone in a series of small circles in the Atlantic, you’ll know I was on night watch.