Turtling the Lightning

May 26, 2014

“Whoa…kick out the main sheet! Davey Pat, kick out the main sheet! Hurry! Now! Kick out the main sheet! We’re going to flip!”


“I’m trying, I’m trying,” I shouted frantically.


I struggled but unsuccessfully fought to kick the cleated main sheet from its vicelike cleating. As the cold wind howled over us, the main sail remained tight and full in the powerful force of the chilly gale.


“I can’t get it out,” I bemoaned, “I keep missing it when I kick.”


“Oh, no, hold on, we’re about to turtle!” my uncle shrieked.


“Turtle?” I wondered as I exerted all my strength to hike, extend my body, over the edge of the nineteen foot Lightning sailboat as it fiercely tipped against the overwhelming wind.


My musing was violently interrupted when our sailboat suddenly flipped upside down in a powerful gust.


“Grab the centerboard!” my harried uncle and boat captain commanded. 


“I can’t catch it,” one of our two other companions lamented, “the securing pin must not have been properly placed, the centerboard fell inside the boat.”


We were coming about—turning around, in nautical language—headed toward the starting line of a sailboat race when our turtling incident occurred. Within minutes of scampering as far atop the ship’s hull as possible, we began to shiver in the frigid waters of the Traverse Bay.


“We’ll just have to wait it out until the judge begins the race,” my uncle and captain-turned fellow survivor decried. 


Meanwhile, his close friend and professional colleague, the fourth crewmember and only other adult participating in our boat's race that Sunday afternoon, declared with chattering teeth, "H-h-hey, I-I-I'm really st-t-tarting to get really c-c-cold here."


More than forty-five minutes later, after starting the sailboat race, the judge maneuvered his skip to our boat and rescued us from the chilly harbor waters of Lake Michigan. Barely eleven years old, this was not only to be my first sailboat race but also was my first sailing venture. After a brief introduction to the function of the main sheet which controls the main sail, as well as cursory training in handling the sheet, I was positioned at my station to perform my main sail management duties. 


Although our uncle and ship’s captain had directed my elder brother and I to read up on the basics of sailing, we were ill prepared for the blustery winds of that fateful afternoon.


Upon our return home, my aunt energetically inquired how well we fared in our first sailboat race. My uncle barely squeaked that unfortunately we missed the race in that we turtled the boat.


“You, what!” my aunt shrieked. “How did you come to turtle your Lightning?”


“It’s ah…ah….kind of a long story,” my uncle began.


“I can’t wait to hear it,” my aunt replied. “Just wait until my sister learns what happened to her sons during their first sailboat race in her brother-in-law’s boat.”


“Well, look on the bright side,” my uncle began, “we may not have been able to join the race, but at least we got our sails cleaned.”


“You bet,” my aunt wryly teased, “I’m sure they’ve never been cleaner. They must be squeaky clean—just like your reputation as a fine sailboat racing captain—squeaky clean!”

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