One fine summer afternoon we arrived at
our sailboat Wind Dancer. It was a name we
inherited from the previous owners — not
our choice — but actually quite accurately
descriptive, given the way the wind catches
the bow and wants to turn it with cheerful
disregard of the helm. How could anything
go wrong on such a nice day for a sail? We
opened the boat whistling a little sea shanty,
loaded our gear, and chatted with folks on
the docks near us, the usual prelude to a
carefree day on the water.
I should describe Wind Dancer’s helm.
One wheel is all there is, not the double helm
as on the “midsize” sailboats of today. Nor,
need I add, do we have joystick docking.
On the left is the gearshift. Up for forward,
down for reverse. To the right is the throttle,
a setup not atypical on boats from the 1980s
to 1990s. On our boat you actually need
three hands to manage everything at once.
Our throttle lever is cranky. In particular, it
is quite stiff and requires a good hard push
to get it moving forward, which results in it
going too far, with too much acceleration,
that then requires a hard pull back immediately, to adjust. But we took the admonition, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” to heart,
You May Get
and have sportingly dealt
with our minor problems by ignoring them.
So our throttle lever isn’t
broken, but it doesn’t
work the way it should,
either. Trust me, all this
We untied as usual, with no
premonition of danger at hand. I was
at the helm. Diane was handling the dock
lines. I’ve since given up trying to dock
and undock our boat. Diane does all of the
helming around docks now. The truth is, I’m
stronger and more agile than she is and it just
makes sense for me to do the untying, boat
handling, and stepping from dock to boat as
she pulls it out of the slip. She’s the brain.
I’m the brawn (such as it is, which is not
much in my case).
But back then, before we knew better
(and we were younger and both more agile),
I was handling the wheel and Diane was the
boat handler. So let’s go back in time to that
I pull out smartly backward reversing to
port, the only way Wind Dancer will go in
reverse, as Diane gracefully steps aboard. I
back up to get the bow point-
ing down the alley toward
the entrance to the mari-
na, with very little room to
spare. I have to get the boat
moving forward sharply so
the stern doesn’t hit docked
boats behind us. After stopping
the sternway by pushing down hard
on the throttle to bring our boat into forward
motion, we still have three turns to make to
exit the marina. The turns are between lovely
expensive yachts docked in slips all along the
way. It’s not far, but it’s crammed with boats,
docks, pilings, and dinghies, and we have to
twist and turn through a maze to reach the
open lake. Usually, it’s no problem.
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