Running Free

As George Ellis was getting along in years, he sold his boat to a family up the Cove. A daughter, a few years older than I, had expressed an interest in sailing, so her father bought her the boat, and she became the second woman (her mother was the first) and youngest captain in the yacht club.

Because I had been with the boat for some years, the father asked me if I would stay as a crew member for the season. The daughter had a girl friend, who became the mate. I remained the jib kid.

The first race of the season found us in a pretty good breeze straight down the Cove, headed right for Hopkins Island. So, the first leg of the race was “running free” with the wind coming up behind us and pushing, with the sail and jib at right angles to the boat. The first buoy was right opposite “Cubby”Collins’s just beyond the Orleans Inn, and we were supposed to go around the left side, pull the sail in tight, and head for the other side of the Cove, where they had placed the second buoy.

The problem was that as we neared the buoy our sail was on the starboard (right) side (due to not having made a good start), so, at some point, we’d have to jibe, which in sailing parlance means to swing the sail from way on one side to way around to the other side, a fairly tricky move, as it’s possible that the wind will catch the sail as it comes around and push the nose of the boat down into the water, resulting in a swamping.

Further if you didn’t duck your head you could get a good whack from the boom as it passed over. Timidly, as I was just the jib kid, I advised that, though we’d lose a little speed, it would be better to attempt the jibe maneuver before reaching the buoy because not only was it a difficult maneuver to do at any time, it would be much more difficult to do while turning around a buoy, as other boats would be closing in on the same buoy along with you.

My suggestion wasn’t accepted. There was daughter with her yachting cap and v-necked sweater to match, sunglasses and her shiny new stopwatch in all her authority as captain of the vessel, and there was I, barefoot, torn-off short pants, no shirt, hardly the image of anything but a jib kid.

Everything was working fine, except her ears. Knowing that we were in for an “experience”, I hinted to the mate that when the sail came around, she should catch it amidships and let it go out gradually as we made the turn, and then gather it back in to “close-haul” as we began our run for the next buoy.

She heard the first part, in that she caught the sail amidships, but froze it there as we made our turn. The wind knocked us right down, and in no time we were swamped. Both girls were on the down side of the boat and were dumped into the water. It was a sad sight to see, the two of them drenched to the skin with all their starched clothing sopping wet and their properly coiffed hair with the drowned-rat effect.

As the boat went over, I kept climbing for the up side, staying practically high and dry, but just in time for Hamish Gravem’s boat to go around us, him with that “look” again, inquiring as to what our strategy was.

I retired from the jib.

Sam Sherman