Learning to Sail

When i was a child, I spent every summer with my grandparents who lived in a cabin on the Chester River in Chestertown, Maryland. I had a ten-foot hand-made rowboat which could be transformed into a sailboat by stepping the mast and the sail. But I was content to row my boat, take my grandparents out and have picnics in the evening on the river. My grandmother always made deviled eggs and chicken salad-my two favorite things to eat. Today my best childhood memories are the times I spent with them.

My parents usually came down on the weekends with my brother and sister. We spent our days swimming in the river, catching crabs and playing baseball. But one weekend when I was ten, my mother decided it was time for me to learn how to sail. She assured me that she was an expert and would teach me everything I needed to know about sailing. On Saturday morning, she, my little brother in his life-jacket and I set out so I could “learn how to sail.” She stepped the mast and hoisted the sail and off we went heading east. There was a gentle breeze, the sail luffed in the wind. We were sailing! She explained how she was able to steer the boat by changing the angle of the sail to catch the wind which controlled both the direction and speed. We were moving along at a good clip and were having a grand time. My mother noticed my brother was beginning to get sunburned. He is a red head with freckles. This was before the time when people were aware of the dangers of sunburn and the importance of sunscreen.

My mother explained how we were going to “come about” and head back. She did manage to turn the boat, but we continued to sail east even though the bow was heading west. She tried everything she knew but we continued heading east at the same speed. She finally realized we had been riding the tide, not really sailing. By then my little brother was getting redder by the minute. We covered him with towels. We had to do something before he was blistered. The river had little traffic so hailing another boat and getting a tow or ride was not an option. My mother suggested that maybe I should get out and swim. I tied the bow line around my waist, jumped into the channel and started to swim toward home. It was rough going as I was not only swimming against the tide but also towing the boat with two passengers. It was exhausting. I was finally able to get close enough to shore that I could touch bottom and pull the boat rather than swim. The bottom was squishy over sharp rocks which were rough on my feet. We finally made it back! We tied the boat. With my mother carrying my brother, we walked back to the house. My little brother had blisters on his face and shoulders, and I was tired out. From that time forward, when my mother suggested we go sailing I always declined the offer.

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