Small Boat, Big Jib

by Mandi Sorg

     By this point in my life I have traveled for a year on a sputtering 2 knot research vessel (okay, okay… it was a motorized canoe with a tuna tower), single handedly jibed and tacked a hobie cat in the Keys, spent a few days on a chartered sailboat, and have done the generic lounging about and wheel steering on various friends and family members boats. But never once had I tried to sail a boat.

     It’s Brian’s birthday and his brother, and niece are visiting from Maryland.
     “Let’s rent a sailboat and go sailing and bring my brother and bring my niece and celebrate the day away!” says Brian with his quick talking excitement… and so, naturally!

     We convince his brother and niece that, yes, in fact this is actually a great and safe idea! We rise early for the hour ride to Cape Canaveral. After an intense pleading from me, they make a pit stop so I can pick up some Pub Subs. We fill up the tank at a questionable gas station where I purchase even more questionably crusty lidded beers. And after some phone calls, and about five U-turns and wrong turns, we’re rolling over the crunchy sand of the marina’s off-beaten road.

     It’s a quaint marina – a soft yellow building, isolated by hugging palm trees. We walk around to the back where we are met by the couple whom we are filling out the rental forms with. The woman refers to me as Brian’s wife, and Brian and I give each other side glances, brimming with silent giggles. Albeit wrong, I’ll take it – it’s a flattering misunderstanding. With signature’s squared away, the four of us haul our coolers and bags filled with boating paraphernalia – aboard the 23’ Hunter we go! Yeah, we’ve done this before… please, we’re pros!… (this is sarcasm).

     The boat’s sails are not yet set up. Brian and I head down to the cabin that’s only equipped to fit one human, where the sails are being stored. We practically drown as we sprawl out through the heap of sails and lines until we choose the ones we’ll use. Our thinking was these are clean, therefor will work best… because that’s how sails should be chosen, right? (Wrong). Sun beating on our shoulders, and oh how I love it’s warmth!, we clip in the sails to the appropriate places. We notice our boat neighbors are looking at us inquisitively. Our body language must have insinuated a “please tell us what’s on your mind” vibe, because they ask “why are you putting up such a large sail?”

     “It’s was the best option below deck”, we tell them.

     The neighbors do a slow nod and shrug of the shoulders, and we do the same. Hindsight says, look further in to their questioning us. That could have saved us a little anxiety; you live and you learn.

     The man who rented us the vessel walks up the dock, gives us quick directions out of the marina to the river, and sees us off. Tyson, Brian’s brother, is put in charge of steering the tiller. He starts the motor and we begin cruising at a soft and sweet 4 knots down the canal, out towards the Banana River.

     We could not have chosen a better day for sailing. The sun was shining, the air warm and comforting, and the winds blowing strong! We finish motoring mid river, just before the bridge, when Brian instructs Tyson to turn off the engine. Brian has become captain, and the three of us sit alert and are intently waiting for our instructions.

     “Let’s unleash the sails!”, exclaims Brian in his best pirate voice, tinted with major excitement, “Tyson, grab a line and hoist the main!”

     Tyson grabs a line. Wrong line? Wrong line! Incoming! A line flies through the air via the hand of the captain himself. Tyson snatches it before it sideswipes him. He pulls the line and the mainsail inches its way up the mast. Brian raises the jib, handing one line to Hayden and one to me. We stand there, lines in hand. Are we to wrap them around the wench? Yes! Yes, wrap them around the wench! I wrap mine on port, and Brian helps show Hayden how to wrap hers on starboard.

     A gust of wind blows in and the sails come to full life. We’re sailing now! Hayden laughs, pulls out her bag of pretzels, and sits back and enjoys the salty treats and our movement over salty water. How truly zen it is to take in life while you sway with it. This is about the time the guys got hungry, and me never forgetting to plan a meal, I pass the subs around and we scarf them down.

     Barreling on at a satisfying pace, we begin to approach the bridge on the edge of the river. “It’s time to tack”, the captain yells out, “take your places.” Unsure quite of what to do, we each get back to the spots we had become accustomed to holding. Brian gives Tyson a point of reference on land to steer us towards. Tyson, hands firmly on the tiller, guides us. Brian climbs to the bow and acts as a conductor to his orchestra. Hayden and I prepare for a starboard tack; I pulling my sheet and she releasing hers.

     The fluid motions seem to insinuate a successful maneuver, when suddenly the boat tacks with such a force that the jib smacks against the mast, getting snagged between lines. Sheets are flying from not being taught, the sail makes an intimidating grumble as it luffs in the wind, and we begin to heel abruptly. Tyson has steered us past the point of reference and we are forced in to a gybe. Brian tries to relay instructions, but no one seems to understand what is being asked – everything is happening so quickly! Nervous eyes dart around as Brian runs up the side of the boat to release the sail from its entanglement. In a whirlwind of corrections and headspins, we find ourselves coming back to a normalization.

     The heeling settles, and so do we. For a moment I wondered what Hayden must be thinking, to be in a small vessel that seemed as though it should tip. Knowing we would not be in true peril, I was not too worried; but we all were a little shaken from the snafu.

     We look ahead and… what, a squall?! A storm had been brewing behind us, and was just now revealing to us it’s dark clouds and rumbling nature. The winds begin to pick up, right on cue. We decide a few more tacks, avoiding reefing all together, before we begin cutting our family fun day short. With each new tack, we become more fluid, understanding that someone (being Brian) needs to unsnag the jib each time. We sit on deck, enjoying the company and what’s left of this sunny day.

     After quite enough lightening strikes, and booming thunder not far off, we decide it’s time to turn the vessel around one last time.

     We draw up the sails and crank the motor. Tyson relieves himself of his tiller duties and I take his place. Steering becomes very strenuous, and difficult for me to maneuver the boat. Quickly I step down from my duty as the captain takes over… whom then also just as quickly agrees with the tiller’s onerous plight. We equate it to the current of the canal, and continue our way to the marina, with a grunt from captain here and there.

     In to the slip we slide. During the time it took us to slowly motor back in, the skies opened again to show us the sun was still shining behind the clouds. Disgruntled that we are already tied to the dock, we decide to hang back and enjoy the boat a little more. We wipe off the questionable crud off the lids of the beers and crack them open. It is now that we realize the jib, the sail that was continuously getting snagged, was not the small jib we were wanting at all! What we had chosen to use was a genoa – a larger jib that extends past the mast. Oi vey! Now an understanding as to why our neighbors were so perplexed at our sail choice…

     Cheers to family outings, learning new things, and to growing the love of sailing!