Dave Barry

Your key to happy sailing

This Dave Barry column was originally published March 6, 1983

You should go sailing. Nothing is more relaxing than getting out on the open sea, far from the workaday world and decent medical care.

One of the most rewarding experiences of my life was the time I sailed with a group of friends from Florida to the Bahamas, which is a distance of about 75 miles by airplane and about 325,000 miles by sailboat, due to the large amount of going up and down and sideways. Seconds after we left the dock, all of us started to feel queasy, except for my friend Buzz, who felt hungry. Buzz went downstairs and came back with the largest, greasiest plate of corned-beef hash, enough to feed a rural Peruvian village for a year, which he decided he didn't want to eat right away after all, so he set it down, waiting for his appetite to come back, and we all sat around watching it congeal under the Florida sun, until we realized that we were too sick even to commit suicide, at which point the captain, who had been looking at some nautical maps, announced that we would come within sight of the Bahamas in another eight to 10 hours. It was so nautical and rewarding that to this day I cannot think about it without having to sit down and put my head between my legs.

If you really want to enjoy sailing, you'll need a boat. The major categories of boats are schooners, tankers, galleons, bowsprits, ketches, windjammers, whalers, pirate ships, catamounts and liners. They are all basically the same. The best kind of boat is one that:

* has a bathroom, and

* somebody else has paid for.

The second feature is very important. Boats are extremely expensive, and you don't want to spend a lot of your own money on something that is likely to crash and sink. So you want to hang out where wealthy, boat-owners hang out, such as horse shows or the State Department, and persuade one of them to lend you his boat. What you do is you sidle up to a likely prospect and engage him in a conversation wherein you subtly display your knowledge of sailing:

You: Hello there. It certainly is a fine day, isn't it?

Wealthy Person: Yes, it certainly is.

You: Belay those scuppers. Nor'easter off the starboard job. Avast.

Wealthy Person: Say, would you like to borrow my boat?

Once you're on the boat, you should observe safe nautical procedures. This means that, at all costs, you must avoid moving the boat. Moving the boat involves steering and raising the sails and tying knots and so on, all of which can lead to property damage and death. So the first Sailing Rule of Thumb is: Always keep the boat firmly tied to a large, immovable object or better yet, on dry land.

If you absolutely must move the boat, check to make sure that the wind is blowing in the right direction (horizontally), then raise the sails. As they start to fill with wind, the boat will gradually start to move majestically in some random direction, and you will experience the thrill of traveling in the same manner as Ferdinand Magellan and Captain Cook, both of whom were killed by savages on wretched little islands.

Once the boat is under way, your job is to issue commands to the crew, in which case you should fire a few marine flares at nearby boats to let them know you need assistance.

If you do have a crew, you must remember they are depending on you for their safety and well-being. You must be ready to issue commands clearly and quickly in the event of nautical emergencies. The most useful commands are:

* "Here, you steer the boat."

* "Why don't you steer the boat?"

* "It's perfectly all right with me if you steer the boat."

While your crew is steering the boat, you should locate the horizon, using a sextant or marine calipers, then set a course that will get you back to land as soon as possible without hitting anything. Bear in mind, though, that under International Sailing Commission Rules, you are not allowed to sail directly toward anything. If you want to go in one particular direction, you are required to sail in some other direction. This is called "tacking, " and if you fail to do it, you could be torpedoed by Coast Guard patrol boats.

The best place to sail to is a yacht club where the owner of the boat you are using has a charge account. Sailing into yacht clubs can be tricky, because they usually contain a great many boats. So you, as captain, will have to call on all your reserves of nautical skill and leadership. Look the situation over carefully, gauging the wind and the current, then issue this command to your crew: "Sail into that yacht club over there and stop the boat without hitting any of the other boats." Then go to the downstairs part of the boat (in nautical terms, the "downstairs part of the boat") and rummage around for the wealthy boat-owner's liquor until the boat is safely anchored or has run into the land.

(c) Dave Barry

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