I saw it sitting on a corner lot, a little Hobie Cat with a “For Sale” signed tacked to it.
Sailing…. What A GREAT IDEA. A simple, elegant sport, fun for the entire family and SO MUCH CHEAPER than wakeboarding! I just KNEW that they’d share my enthusiasm. That evening I gathered them at the dinner table to share the wonderful news.
“It’s called a Hobie Cat,” I said. “And it goes so fast that it actually flies.”
“Is it a jet ski?” One of the kids asked. All four bobbed up and down with excitement.
“No, it’s a boat.”
“Oh.” They settled back in their seats.
“But they RACE them,” I added, “in regattas!”
“Can you ski behind it?” Amanda asked.
“It’s not a power boat.”
“A canoe?” Nicole said.
“Better than that,” I said. “It’s got the same technology that took ancient explorers around the seven seas!”
The kids looked at me blankly.
“Beans?” Rebecca asked.
“Not that kind of wind.”
“What happens when there’s no wind?” she asked suspiciously. “Do we row it?”
“No.” I assured her. “We just relax, drift, and wait to catch the next breeze.”
“Can we fish off of it?” Joe asked.
“Not exactly,” I said “It would tangle on the sail.”
“Bor-ring,” he said.
“No. It’s great,” I assured him. “You’ll love it.”
Karin looked at me doubtfully. “You’ve sailed before?”
I held up my freshly-purchased copy of “Sailing for Dummies.”
“It’s easy,” I shrugged. “A sailboat is just a pole, canvas, and some rope.”
“There called lines,” Karin said. “There’s no ‘rope’ on a sailboat.”
I looked at her suspiciously. “How do you know?”
“My dad had a Sunfish.”
I nodded, pretending to know what she meant.
“An open mono hull,” she added, “about 10-feet.”
I held my copy of Dummies, tempted peek at the index. But the problem was I didn’t know whether to look under marine life or contagious costal diseases.
“Yeah, you gotta watch out for those,” I bluffed.
“It’s a boat,” she said.
“I knew that.”
She shook her head, smiled, and put a hand on my shoulder.
“You’re taking lessons first?” she asked.
“Before you buy a boat and expect us to go out with you.”
I darted away from the window, hoping she’d not see my pickup, parked just down the street, with our new Hobie Cat in tow.
“No problem,” I waved my as-yet-unread book at her. “Gonna be a piece of cake.”
She sighed. “You already bought one, didn’t you?”
I grinned. “It’s used, but the salesman said the hulls are solid, and the sails aren’t torn. He even threw in a trailer for just a bit extra.”
“The trailer… was EXTRA?” She shook her head. “Oh, boy, he saw you coming.”
“Hey. It’s a great deal. All I have to do is fix the lights and repack the bearings and find a spare.”
Karin nodded. “Sounds like an ‘educational experience.’”
I was eager to test out my new catamaran the next day, but Karin was working. I decided to take her advice and leave the kids at home. That way I could master all the cool moves—stuff like flying the poop deck—to impress them. Besides, it was a great way to relax and get some alone-time.
So I went to the lake by myself.
The salesman had suggested that I launch from the marina on the lake’s north side. “There’s always someone around to help you get it in the water,” he said. “You can raise the mast, and have one of them clip the stays in place.”
It was true that there were people around when I pulled up midday, but all of them were either on the lake or staring into the bottom of a bottle of beer. I looked at the ramp, and it struck me that I could step the mast by myself if I pulled the trailer wrong way down the ramp, lifted the mast, allowed it to “rest” backward on three of the four wires, and then grabbed the remaining guy wire all by myself.
I wonder why no one has thought of this before, I chuckled.
To make this process easier, I tied a yellow polyester line to the steel cable I needed to secure, and then I was set to go. The whole process was going exactly as planned, and I was feeling pretty smug.
Until the wind changed.
I was tugging at rigging, trying to clip it in place, when it was torn from my grasp, performing a bit of cosmetic surgery on my hands. I recovered my senses barely in time to dash to the mast and wrestle it back into place. The wind buffeted the 21-foot-tall aluminum pole, so I stood there straining, like a scene out of raising the flag over Iwo Jima.
I heard a chorus of laughter nearby, and shouts.
“Need some help, captain?”
A deeply tanned man came over and smiled at my predicament. I could see white spaces in the wrinkles of his face.
“Yeah, could you, ah…”
Before I could finish, he grabbed the stays and secured them, and then he dashed about the rigging checking the tension on the turnbuckles.
“Thanks, Mister …”
“Frank. Just Frank,” he nodded while continuing to look over my boat. “Been a while since she’s been on the water?”
He looked down at my copies of “Dummies” on the canvas.
“First time out?”
“Yeah,” I felt my face go red.
“OK, but it takes two to step a mast.”
“So I see.”
I was nursing the cut on my hand when Frank walked over and slapped me on the back.
“Next time, just poke your nose in the cantina,” he pointed to a weathered shed. “Offer a brew, and you’ll have a crew.”
“Right. Can I get you a cold one?”
“Later date,” he said. “And don’t take ‘er down alone, either.”
Frank left. I turned my rig around and backed it down the ramp. I released all the straps so the Hobie would float free of the trailer once it hit the water. I’d even tethered the boat so it wouldn’t float away.
Oh the cleverness of me.
What I didn’t know was that ONE of those straps actually held the twin rudders up. As the trailer bounced down the ramp, the rudders popped out of their worn locking mechanism and fell to the ground. The fiberglass howled like pistachio shells in a Cuisinart.
I stopped and looked in my rear-view—the Hobie was standing almost on-end.
Then I heard a whole new wave of laughter from the spectator gallery. I leapt out of my truck, and went to investigate. I’d flattened the fiberglass fins in just a few feet. Frank rematerialized with an even bigger smile.
“Ouch,” he said, and then poured over the rudders and steering mechanism. “You’re lucky. No worries here.” He pulled the rudders up, locked them, and secured the retaining strap.
“Now I owe you a six pack,” I said, shaking my head. “Guess I’m through for the day.”
“Naaaw. Bit of a scratch,” Frank winked. “Just sand and seal it when you get ‘er home.” He motioned towards the lake. “Got a fair wind. Best get to it.” He waved and was gone again.
I managed to back it down to the water without breaking anything else, and floated the Hobie off the trailer. I beached it, parked the truck and returned. I could see the men nearby watching, and I was determined to move out with style. I studied the Dummies diagram, summoned my courage, and set forth.
The wind was up, so I played it safe and paddled out clear of the shore and the dock, lowered and locked the rudders, and pointed the craft into the wind. I hauled in the halyard to raise the mainsail, and THOUGHT I was set to go.
But as I grabbed the tiller, the wind shifted and caught the sail. The boom swung around faster that you can say “thar she blows.” I ducked, saving my head.
But I hadn’t released the jib or the traveler.
This meant that the main sail didn’t feather back into the wind but slammed to a stop. Its 118 square-feet of energy-absorbing-surface-area catapulted the boat and its sole occupant into the classic “keeled over” position.
I released the tiller and clung to the trampoline. The Hobie teetered for a second, turned a bit, and plopped back into the water. I was unharmed, and far enough out in the lake that I didn’t have to listen to Frank and his crew’s laughter. But my sunglasses and the Dummies book were now in Davy Jones’ locker.
Undaunted, I experimented with the controls, releasing the traveler, setting the jib, trimming my sails, and tweaking the tiller. I made the Hobie scoot to the middle of the lake. Now THIS IS SAILING, I thought.
Then the breeze stopped.
No problem, I adjusted my hat and released the controls. I stretched out in the shade, looked up at the colorful sail, and relaxed. Piece of cake, I thought, and drifted off to sleep.
I awakened a short while later, chilly water lapping at my backside. I sat up and saw that the trampoline was submerged.
I was sinking.
HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE? I thought. The hulls are watertight! I rolled off the “tramp” to take a closer look.
MAYBE I HIT A LOG WHILE I SLEPT?
I swam alongside my stricken craft, running my hands along the solid smooth surfaces. Then I came to the back, and noticed threaded plastic gizmos dangling from holes.
Oh… yeah. A vague recollection stirred. Those pre-launching instructions had said something about plugs. I don’t get ear infections, I thought. So I turned the page.
I screwed the plugs in place, and tried to climb aboard, but the boat heeled, threatening to capsize.
Just then, the wind came up, and I could feel the little catamaran tremble. It was trying to move, but water-logged to the max. Floating behind, I grabbed the rudders and turned them, pointing us to the shore.
A l-o-n-g time later, I reached the shore, beached the craft, and drained the hulls. It was getting late. I’d been out longer that I’d planned. But I still had to sail, against a stiff headwind, to get back.
Alas, somewhere out there was Chapter 5, “How To Sail Into The Wind.”
I did my best to remember the instructions. I tacked—or tried to—to and fro, but I kept getting blown further and further from the marina.
Eventually, a power boat came by, and I discovered that the reason sailors wear funny hats. It’s so they can hide their faces when they’re being towed back to port.
At least Frank and his group were gone.
It was dark by the time I had the boat back on the trailer, so I called Karin to let her know I was OK.
“How’d it go?” She asked.
“It was… ah… memorable.” I looked at my watch. “Did you guys eat without me?”
“No problem,” she said. “Dinner’s still on the stove… And we saved you a piece of cake.”
Robb has enjoyed writing and performing since he was a child, and many of his earliest performances earned him a special recognition-reserved seating in the principal’s office at Highland Elementary. Since then, in addition to his weekly column on A News Cafe – “Or So it Seems™” – Robb has written news and features for The Bakersfield Californian, appeared on stage as an opening stand-up act in Reno, and his writing has been published in the Funny Times. His short stories have won honorable mention national competition. His screenplay, “One Little Indian,” Was a top-ten finalist in the Writer’s Digest competition. He has two humor books in print, The Doggone Christmas List and The Stupid Minivan. Robb presently lives, writes and teaches in Shasta County, Northern California.