23 Nov The Squall – Part 1
Back in high school, my junior class was forced to take a Mechanical Aptitude Test. I remember staring blankly at that test, feeling as if I was reading a foreign language. Honestly what was the difference between a Phillips and a Flat Head screwdriver?
My life at that point was completely consumed by college prep classes and a competitive gymnastics career; things of a mechanical nature just didn’t exist in my frame of reference. It definitely wasn’t a surprise then, when my aptitude score came back as something like, “Be prepared to spend the rest of your life getting taken advantage of by shady mechanics.” Haha. I can’t claim that the years since would have improved my score either. I got my BS in Political Science and my MBA in International Business before settling down to work in finance, none of which offered me any opportunity to pick up a screw driver.
I am honestly the last person who had any business buying a barely functional 40 year old sailboat! But life has a funny way of getting involved in your business sometimes and throwing it for a loop, which was how, in October 2014, I ended up the not-so-proud new owner of a 1970 Columbia 26 MKII.
The boat had been a desperate purchase, an impulsive attempt at a cheap living situation when my personal, family, and financial lives all very suddenly crumbled around me. I had no intentions of sailing the thing. In fact, I hardly even thought of the thing as a boat, more a tiny floating apartment where I could store my belongings and cry myself to sleep until life somehow sorted itself out again.
It was an extremely dark and difficult time for me, so needless to say, I didn’t like the boat much back in those early days. The broken lights, the broken water pump, the scraped off paint and exposed fiberglass, the rotten wood, and the overwhelming chaos created by suddenly stuffing the contents of a two bedroom house into a 26 foot space – it was all such a painful reminder of everything I had lost and the raw, broken, rotten, chaos that had taken its place. I hated the lack of space and the lack of convenience. I hated the clutter and the grime. And most of all, I simply hated the fact that I was there. I hated waking up every morning and coming home every night to the reality of my horrible, messy, broken life.
I sulked in that hate for quite some time. For the first several months that I lived on the boat, I didn’t do much in terms of organizing, cleaning, or caring for it, simply slinking through the mess, trying to make it through another day. And it might have gone on like this indefinitely, if it hadn’t been for New Years Day, 2015. No, I hadn’t made any dogged resolutions the night before about improving my life and living situation; New Years was simply the day I got suckered into taking my boat out on the water for the first time. A boating friend of mine had been pestering me for weeks to go sailing, and that day, having nothing better to do, I finally gave in.
At the time, sailing was just another screw driver. I had no real knowledge or experience with it, and so I simply watched nervously as my friend strutted about the deck untying things, taking off covers, feeding mysterious lines through mysterious pulleys, and struggling to get the old outboard motor started. Eventually it chugged to life, and after extracting multiple promises that my friend knew what he was doing (because I certainly didn’t!) we set out. Without event, we were soon cruising down the basin towards the main channel of the marina, carefully weaving our way through the hordes of holiday boat traffic.
Because it was so busy that day, and because I was so inexperienced, my friend decided that we should put up the sails only after we were all the way out in the ocean, where we would have more space to maneuver. I thought this seemed like a safe option as well, and so for the next few minutes we enjoyed a relaxed, slow putter up the main channel towards the ocean.
And then, the puttering stopped.
Right there in the middle of the channel. My friend frantically cranked and yanked the starter rope on the motor but it would do nothing more than sputter and cough up steam. And we were adrift.
“What should we do?” My friend yelled at me.
“What do you mean, what should we do!” I shot back, horrified. “I don’t know! You tell me!”
“I – I” he stuttered, his eyes wide, and his mouth gaping open.
I could feel my own eyes growing wide as well. My entire life was in this boat! “What do we do?” I shouted again, trying to rouse him from his frozen panic,
“You’re the captain,” he snapped back, “It’s up to you to decide!”
But that wasn’t the deal! I didn’t know! And so I just stood there, thinking frantically, as my entire life, however horrible and messy it might be, floundered beneath my feet and dozens of boats bore down on us from all directions…