Sailing: Under Easy Sail, Part 1

When Piaw sent me mail to the effect that he and some friends of his would be setting out from Sausalito on a sailboat on June 15, 1996, I said I would go as long as some conditions were met. I would need to be back by the next day. I would need rides to and from Sausalito. There would have to be lifejackets on the boat. Piaw assured me that I need have no worries in this regard.

Lifejackets were important. I'd never been sailing before, and Piaw had told me about some of his spills when learning to sail. I'm not exactly the figure of grace; but I figured I'd be okay as long as there were lifejackets aboard. I was more than okay; I was mildly psyched.

So at nine o'clock on a Saturday morning, I was lathered with sun block and in a car full of drowsy people from the South Bay. Sy (Piaw's brother) drove us up to Sausalito where we were to meet the rest of the crew. I'll just introduce the whole crew at once.

The Crew

Piaw is a former coworker; we've kept touch, and he occasionally convinces me to try new things. Sy is his younger brother. I never learned much about Jason; he stayed below for most of the voyage, and didn't talk much when we were together. Yu Shen is a windsurfer. Jessica is a co-worker of Piaw's, a system administrator with sailing experience. Tim works at a software house called Lighthouse. Stephany had some small boat experience at some lakes in Idaho. All I knew about boats was what I'd learned from books. I guess you could say that the crew consisted of a few Mpath employees, plus some of their fringe.

Mpath is a company that runs an internet network called the Mplayer GameWay. These are a bunch of server machines that administer multi-player computer games over the internet. Piaw worked there at the time of the voyage, as did Sy and Jessica. I was a beta tester. I mention all this now so that later on when someone says, "Like we never see you on the GameWay," you'll know what I'm talking about--it's a sort of AOL-chat like system where you can hang out and talk to people; unlike AOL, you can then launch multi-player games with these people.


The trouble with engines

We arrived at the appropriate marina, and Piaw started dealing with paperwork. The other carload of people arrived, and we spent some time failing to make much in the way of chitchat. Soon Piaw was done with paperwork and we made our way on board the boat we were renting, a 35' sloop named the Affinity. I took blue pieces of waterproof cloth off of various ship fixtures, unbattened the hatches (well, unsnapped the covers from the skylights, which is the closest one could come to unbattening hatches on this vessel), and helped stow stuff belowdecks. In the process of stowing stuff belowdecks, I went belowdecks and found that this was a nice boat. It had a kitchenette. It had places to sleep. It had a bathroom with a flush toilet. This wasn't exactly the Spartan existence I'd been imagining. We soon had our full contingent of crew aboard.

Piaw set about getting the motor started. The Affinity was a sailboat, make no mistake. However, it's tricky to get out of a marina under sailpower. You know how you have to tack into the wind, and that involves zig-zagging? Well, the gates to a marina aren't that wide. You don't really want to be at the mercy of the wind while you navigate them. Piaw said some people could handle it. But we were going to use the motor, and wait until we were out of the marina proper before raising sail.

Starting the engine of the Affinity involved turning the ignition key, pressing the start button, hearing the loud tone that indicated that the "starter" motor was running off of battery power, waiting for the "starter" motor to kick over the main engine, then starting the main engine. Though perhaps you shouldn't take my word for it, because we never got the engine started. We did spend a lot of time listening to the loud tone. It seemed like the little battery-powered "starter" engine wasn't turning on. Various people had suggestions about what to do, but none of them worked. Piaw went back to the marina/rental office to seek help.

Harshing on George Michael

Meanwhile, some yuppies went onto the boat at the next berth. Berth? Slip? The neighboring boat. Whatever. They then proceeded to crank some George Michael on their stereo as they made ready. "Uhm, could we turn that loud tone thingy back on again?" I asked my shipmates. We decided against it, on the chance that it might damage the boat. Still, the idea was given due consideration. George Michael. Brrr.

A couple of men from the harbor office came out and started to fiddle with the boat. They tried various combinations of twiddlings with the ignition key, the start button, and the main engine controls. They couldn't get the boat started. This was something of a relief. I mean, our boat wasn't working, but at least we weren't a gang of idiots or something. One of them went belowdecks and started to poke around in the engine. His best guess was that a fuse had blown, but he didn't know where to find the fuse. So they went back to the harbor office so that they could call up the boat's owner and ask where the fuses were.

The George Michael fans motored away. This was a relief. Sitting on the boat in harbor was kind of nice, actually. The sun was starting to poke through, but the slight motion of the boat was kind of soothing. The harborfolk came back, wrestled with the engine some more, found the fuse, replaced it, and failed to make the engine work. Actually, I'm not so sure about the order of events here. I'm not so sure about the order of events for this voyage at all. I didn't bother trying to take notes (tough to do on the rough seas), and I'm now trying to reconstruct all of this a week later. I'm currently sitting here in an stupor, exhausted after getting over-ambitious on a bicycle trip yesterday. It's a week after the fact. You're just going to have to trust me on a lot of this--I might get the details wrong, but I'll get some of them right. What was the question? Oh, yeah, what to do now that we had determined that the boat was kaput. The harborfolk conferred and offered us a deal.

Waiting for Rescue

There was one other boat in the marina that was available for rental that was about the same size. We'd get that boat, at a discount, as soon as it was no longer in use for a water rescue class. We could see the boat. It was in the marina. Someone was standing on deck, giving a lecture to some people standing on the dock. Apparently, there was a rescuee in the water in a wetsuit, though I never saw him. We set about getting the Affinity packed up, sat for a while on the Affinity, wandered over to watch the lecture for a while, then ambled off the dock over to a lawn where we sat for a while.

The rescue lecturer had a styrofoam head on a stick which he occasionally gestured with. Its purpose eluded us.

We discussed recipes which involved Ritz crackers. Someone mentioned a recipe which seemed like it would not benefit from salt. I asked if Ritz Crackers had salt. I was informed that there were regular Ritzes, but there are other varieties as well. Low-salt, low-fat. Perhaps others. The decision is no longer whether or not to eat Ritz crackers, but which type of Ritz cracker one is to eat. Someone (Yu-Shen? Tim?) advanced the theory that Ritz crackers go well with any kind of condiment. We mulled over that one for a while. I was thinking of piping up to say that Ritz crackers don't go well with the null condiment, i.e., with the lack of a condiment, but I had a feeling that this would have turned the conversation into a strident debate on a topic I had no great interest in. Amazingly enough, soon after this, I coincidentally heard a recipe that used Ritz Crackers from a completely different source.

The lecture was dragging. A woman from the harbor office encouraged the lecturer to get off the boat and onto the dock and continue talking there. He complied, and we quickly boarded the 32' sloop Freyja, uncovered sails, stowed our stuff, and got the engine started (yes!). We were underway.


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