The Man Who Would be Captain
By Edward Borella
It was 1976 and my wife Lynn and I had just moved into our first home on eastern Long Island. I had just changed jobs and as a result we had some extra money every month coming into our bank account. Never ones to save when we could spend we decided to buy a sailboat. I always wanted to be called Captain. The fact that neither one of us had ever sailed or had ever been on a sailboat didn’t even enter the thought process. The closest I had ever come to a boat was the few times my father took me rowing in Central Park. My wife had absolutely no experience in a boat but that didn’t stop us or raise any concerns. I borrowed a book on sailing and read it cover to cover. The book seemed pretty thorough to me but then again I didn’t know the difference between a tiller and an oar.
We looked in Newsday and found a slew of boats for sale. We figured that it would be best to start with a boat on a trailer that we could store in our driveway. I think we looked at a grand total of two boats. The first one had so many ropes, wires and pulleys which I did not recall from my extensive research into how to sail that we decided we were not yet ready for a probable burial at sea. The second boat was more our style. It was 16 feet long and had a minimum of ropes and wires. It also came with a really cool looking engine called a British Seagull. The only problem was that the current owner’s last name was Sax and the boat was called the Sax Pot. Not a big problem we would just remove the name and change it later. I guess I missed the chapter in my how to sail book about sailor’s superstitution and the bad luck that changing a boat’s name may bring.
We had a trailer hitch put on our Capri and picked up the boat the next weekend. That Sunday we drove to our town’s public ramp on the north shore and started the process of trying to put the boat together. Once complete I deftly maneuvered the car and boat to the ramp and slowly backed into the water. I stopped when the water level reached the midpoint of the trailer wheels and put the brake on. I looked at the boat and decided that all that was needed was a good push and the boat will float off the trailer. I gave the bow a hard push and watched as the boat started to move. The problem was that the boat was still on the trailer and the car and trailer were really moving down the ramp. Did you ever notice that sometimes in high adrenalin situations time seems to slow down? Well it didn’t in this instance and our car seemed to pick up speed as it went to take a swim. I jumped in the car and pulled as hard as I could on the parking brake. The car stopped as the water crested the top of its rear tires. The boat floated free and promptly drifted back up on to the ramp.
It was about this time that we noticed that everyone around us had stopped what they were doing and were enjoying our aquatic ballet. We were undeterred by our newfound fame and decided that we would go sailing at all costs. I’m sure our audience appreciated our decision. We managed to get the boat off the ramp and into knee deep water along the dock. I gingerly pulled the car away from the ramp and parked as far away as possible. We got on the boat and immediately noticed that it was definitely not a stable platform. (Note to self, next time get a boat with a keel instead of a centerboard and don’t gloss over those portions of a sailing book that discusses stability.)
We got ourselves organized and prepared for our adventure. I pulled the chord on the British Seagull and it roared to life on the first pull. Obviously our luck was changing. We motored away from the boat ramp and out into the harbor. So far so good. I now gave the order to my cute first mate to raise the sails. The book had clearly stated that the main sail was the first sail raised and the last one dropped. What I didn’t realize was that when I was putting the sails on I had connected both the main sail and jib halyard to the main sail. When Lynn raised the main sail the halyard for the jib was also raised. We would just have to sail with the main sail alone; no big deal. I turned off the engine and we realized that there was almost no wind. Welcome to the north shore of Long Island in the middle of a summer afternoon. We basically drifted for a while and ended up approaching a beach that had floats defining the swimming area. We decided to start the engine and motor away from the beach. No matter what I did the engine would not start. By this time our centerboard started to scrape across the bottom, we were drifting into the swim floats and drawing the attention of the lifeguards. The swim boundary floats were about 50 feet from shore. Whistles blared to alert anyone who had not been watching this slow motion entanglement that the beach was about to be assaulted. As Captain it was my duty to abandon ship into three feet of water and walk the boat away from the swim area. While I was walking my boat I notice that a slight breeze was starting to blow. To make matters much better it was blowing right towards the boat ramp that a short time earlier had tried to suck my car to a watery grave. I pushed my boat out into the harbor and with the grace of a seal out of water threw myself over the side of the boat. I landed like a 200-pound tuna on the floor of the boat. I swear I could hear laughing coming from the cursed beach but I had other things on my mind. Like trying to get back to the boat ramp with as much dignity as possible.