2012-01-12 / Outdoors

Learning from life’s experiences: The naked truth

We sat up with a start, not knowing what we would see on deck. The loud crack and the boat shuddering and vibrating was not a good sign. Had our anchor dragged? Had a tall Australian pine tree fallen on our deck? Did the mast fall?

Many disastrous thoughts went through my mind.

Ascending the companionway, I threw open the hatch as Nancy flipped the the deck lights on. A roller furling jib sail was wound around the headstay, the wire running from the bow of the boat to the top of the mast. It was obvious that if we didn’t take action, we would surely destroy the headsail.

Many cruising sailboats employ a system by which captains can unfurl the sail, as well as furl — or roll it in again — from the cockpit.

This way, in rough weather the crew (that’s Nancy) doesn’t have to go forward on deck and risk going overboard.

There is a drum-shaped cylindrical piece at the base of the forestay that is controlled by a furling line and led back to the safety of the cockpit, snubbed off through a jam cleat so as to keep the sail from unfurling on its own. Apparently I must have accidentally released this line during one of my nighttime walks on deck. With the hard gusts of 30-knot winds catching a small portion of this sail, and the furling line being free running, the sail snapped open fully, exploding with thunderous force.

I quickly forward, cold, naked and drenched, to grab the sheets swinging wildly like bull whips. The sheets are lines attached to the clew of the sails, the aft most part, to control the set of the sail when under way. As I fought through these lines, I had Nancy haul on the furling line to roll the sail. I looked back and under the dim deck light there she was, with a camera! Trying to maintain the calm, cool, collected demeanor I am known for, I exclaimed in high decibels, that the furling line needs to be pulled tight, “NOW!”

When this was done and we doublechecked all lines on deck, we left the 50-degree air and went below into the nice warm cabin. Refilling our mugs with hot chocolate and Baileys, our core temperature slowly began to rise. All was comfy again.

I have been sailing for close to 50 years, and it is always an adventure. No matter what your experience or skill level, you are always going to learn more — sometimes not voluntarily.

Always educating yourself, no matter what you do, is good for back-ofthe brain knowledge.

Knowledge reduces the risk, and experience is the test. I have sailed oceans, bays, rivers and lakes. There is an inherent danger in many outdoor activities.

There are several great quotes about taking heed: “Learn all you can from he mistakes of others. You will never have time to make them all yourself” is one. Another is, “The trouble with using experience as a guide is that the final exam comes first, and then the lesson.”

And my own philosophy is this: “Experience is the act of making fewer and fewer mistakes as you grow older — but not being dissuaded from acting young.”

Next: Island Discovery. To be continued.

Fair winds and calm seas. ¦

— Capt. Dennis Kirk has been traveling the Peace River since 1979. His life adventures are written from various chapters in his three decades of experience in Southwest Florida. He is part owner of the Nav- A- Gator, a riverfront restaurant and marina in Lake Suzy, just off Kings Highway. For more information, call 627- 3474.

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