Stories With a Lesson...

Sailing with Walter, Life Lesson One:

I owe a lot to the Sea Scouts...

Ship Three, Medford, Oregon.  Through them I got a love for water sports, especially sailing. It was by them I gave Walter his first and perhaps only sailing lesson.  (The way he sailed would lead one to believe he stopped learning after his first lesson.  But that’s another story.)  And on that first sail Walter gave me a lesson, too.  

We got permission to take out a recently donated new boat, purchased by a generous lady. I can almost hear the salesman’s pitch, “This boat cannot sink!  Look at this…it has not one, but two hulls, one inside the other!  Now that, Ma’am, is safety on the water where kids can drown. There could not be a safer boat to impart important life skills to our most valued treasure…the youth of America….  If Ship Three gets this boat, it will make all the other boats they have obsolete.” The boat was sky blue with a white liner, fiberglass, about ten feet long, cat-rigged, with a dagger board.  We got permission to take it out. The brand of the boat, and other details have mercifully been  erased from my mind.

It was a fine spring day...

and our goal was little Agate Reservoir.  The boat was fairly light and quick to load into the back of Walter’s ’52 GMC pickup.  He had rebuilt that truck from stem to stern…and then painted it with green house paint using a big brush. I was always hoping that the girls wouldn’t see me with him in that truck.  That truck was not “cool” then, in about 1969.     

Walter caught on fast on how to make the boat go.  And I taught him about “draft”.  That is how much of your boat sticks down into the water.  Like all sailboats, this one needed some means of not slipping sideways.  Being small, it had a fixed dagger board.  Having enough water to sail in is especially critical in boats with fixed, immovable dagger boards sticking down into the murky depths.

Agate Reservoir was tiny, but that wasn’t its only problem.  When they made that puddle of a thing, they left the stumps quite tall—the stumps that were now underwater.  One had to keep some distance from shore--this meant a small area to sail in.  I did figure out how the high stumps came about. It had to have been the humor of the guys cutting the trees as they prepared the space for water.   
Ralph: “Hey George!  How do you find stumps in a reservoir?” 
George: “I dunno.”
Ralph:“With bare toes!”  “Ha, ha, ha.”
George: “Yeah, let’s cut ‘em tall!”

What harm could there be in taking a little snooze...

with Walter at the helm?  He was doing well. Hadn’t I warned him to stay away from shore?  The warm breeze…birds singing…scent of spring blossoms…water lapping a sweet melody on the hull. ZZZzzzzzz.  Too bad I didn’t remember that Walter was hard of hearing when it came to listening to instructions. With instructor asleep in the bow, newly commissioned Captain Walter grew tired of tacking and jibing around the middle of that puddle and took the scenic tour close to shore.  The next thing I knew was terror. BOOM!!! With my head and body against that hull, our immediate stop along with the sound and shock of our dagger board solidly hitting a stump was transmitted from boat to my bones and soul.       

It must have been quite a sight—me with eyeballs popping, clawing in the air as I awoke with heart pounding like a bass drum and blood rushing in my ears.  (Apparently it was very funny, because Walter laughed very hard for a very long time—a lot longer than I thought necessary.  Hours later he was still glancing over at me kinda’ sideways and then he’d start shaking with laughter again.)  It wasn’t really how one thinks a “sailing instructor” should be treated…. 

Over the next minutes dread came upon me...

as the boat began to sail slower and slower and was sinking lower and lower.  We had cracked the hull in the dagger board well and the space between the hulls was filling with water. With great teenage wisdom we decided to get to the landing.  The wind was dying, the boat was hardly moving, we had no paddle, and the Spring water was too cold to swim the boat in. 

It was a slow trip to shore, shoving that tiller back and forth for some propulsion.  I was overcome with dread over cracking the hull. The boat was now so heavy that we could barely drag it out of the water.  Our hopes of getting that shiny, pretty boat back in the truck and returned shipshape were sunk. We watched it for awhile to see if the water would leak out, but it was like a lobster in a trap: easy in, but not easy out.  We finally borrowed a trailer we could drag it onto.  The water sloshed in between the hulls.  We took it to my house to try to get the water to leak out.  After a couple weeks it was much improved, and we fixed it as best we could.    

Yes, the lady had bought a crummy boat. It’s amazing how some ladies just don’t   appreciate how quickly and thoroughly teenage boys can ruin things.  All these product failure tests could be performed much better and cheaper by teenage males.  And they’d have the enjoyment of breaking something, too.    

I thought I was the instructor that day, but Walter taught me something by what annoyed me the most. Walter kept laughing about the incident over and over.  For weeks. He had seen me wild-eyed and clawing at the air and he was going to enjoy it.  Friends, we must laugh at ourselves.  I’m glad Walter got that laugh. Not long after this Walter contracted a rare disease while serving Uncle Sam in Southeast Asia.  It cut his life very short.

But there was another lesson:

it is unwise to snooze when you ought to be paying attention. This is a good lesson for life: are you snoozing in regards to the words of Jesus?  And basic things, like paddles, are important.  You are going to die.  Have you included in your life what you need for that journey?  Jesus is the only one who died, was three days in a tomb, and rose to life.  Are you listening to him or snoozing?

c. 2009 Burton W. Lowry, Ellsworth, Maine.  All rights reserved.

Sailing with Walter, Life Lesson Two

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