Friday, June 08, 2007

Role Reversal

There are two types of folks on a sail boat: those who twiddle the sails, and those who avoid it.

What is a sail twiddler, you ask? Well let me tell you. A sail twiddler is a person who can't leave the lines alone during a long tack. He trims the jib, twitches the main sheet, fiddles with the traveler. She constantly fidgets at the helm, adjusts the bearing and the course. His eye is always on the telltales and the knot meter, her attention never wavers from the GPS indicator for speed over ground. All of these actions are taken in the hope of coaxing additional teeny weeny fractions of a knot out of the sails.

A sail twiddler is the least relaxing human being you can possibly cruise with. The scenario looks like this: you are trapped in a boat with four people for five hours. The wind is 12 knots from the south 55 degrees off your starboard bow. Ideally, as helmsman you set the sails for a starboard close haul and put Auto in charge. Then you grab a good book, a glass of lemonade and a bag of pretzels, and settle in on the tramp, glancing up every few minutes to check for freighters, power boats, and stray seals.

But if there is a sail twiddler on board, you'll find that your starboard close haul is not the most efficient way to get from Point A to Point B. No, your boat is a catamaran and would go a lot faster if you were to fall off the wind a bit. Then you're going to let out this deelybob, slide over that thingamajig, tug on the other whatchamaclallit, and poof! now you are going at least a half knot faster.

The problem with this theory is that at some point in the not so distant future, you are going to have to tack. Tacking involves getting up off your cozy cushion on the tramp and shlepping to the back of the boat to mess with rope. There will be yelling even if everything goes well because that's what you do. You yell cryptic things like, "Helms alee!" and "Fire in the hole!" Then you yank on stuff. Inevitably when you get back to your cushions, the wind will have lost your page or knocked over your drink. But now you can sit, right?

Wrong. Because now you're whipping along in this broad zag toward a big rock in the middle of friggin’ nowhere and at some point you are going to have to zig to avoid it, then zag to get more wind and speed along, then zig to get back to your course, then zag into a tidal current, then zig to avoid running into an island.

And so on.

And the horrible thing to admit is that I always thought Dr C was a sail twiddler. I really expected him to be a sail twiddler. He sure as hell is an everything else twiddler. The man doesn't have the slightest clue how to sit still. On our first vacation down at his parents' cabin in Baja, I drank tequila on the deck and read romance novels for three days while Dr C moved the water tank and rebuilt the outhouse. His idea of relaxing at anchor is to install a new inverter.

So pardon me if my natural expectation was that I would expend a great deal of ingenuity conjuring clever methods to avoid helping trim the sails. He would twiddle, I would drink lemonade, and basically we'd do same ole' same ole' at the Conger household... except on a boat.

However, this pleasantly familiar scene does not play out on Don Quixote. Au contraire! Dr C has better things to do while we are underway. Take today, for example. During our three-hour trip from Seattle to Port Madison, Dr C reinstalled the galley foot pump, changed the lamp mantle, fixed the squeaky starboard doors, and installed a speaker for the VHF in the cockpit.

You know what I did? I twiddled the sails. And let me tell you, the pleasure I get from twiddling the sails makes it feels as pornographic as it sounds.

My name is Toast. And I'm a sail twiddler.

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