Departures: The Very Boring 2001 Sailing Travelog

It was a weekend day in late April, 2001. I was at the ATM machine kitty-corner from the Raintree Cafe in San Francisco's Inner Sunset district, getting some breakfast money. A couple of shopping carts, piled high with belongings, sat nearby. I was surprised that there wasn't anyone watching the carts.

I broke my fast at the Raintree. The people behind the counter were grumbling over some disruption; movie people had taken the place over early in the morning, hoping to use it as a setting for some movie version of the Spirit. I settled in to breakfast.

Two guys further down the counter were talking, so I eavesdropped. One guy said that "they" had found a dead homeless person nearby. He hoped it wasn't Terry or Franky; Franky was 2/3 blind. The dead homeless person had been found next to an ATM.

I thought about shopping carts.

(Later, I learned that the dead homeless person was Dennis Hillard, 54. He had been shot in the head and chest. He had been found near my ATM machine. In the days that followed, people left flowers at the place where he used to sit.)

* * *

I stopped thinking about shopping carts and started thinking about sailing. I finished breakfast, left the Raintree. I picked up a coffee-to-go from the Beanery, carried it back to my apartment in a lidless cup. I walked carefully, not spilling a drop. It was training, training for sailing.

It was going to be my first sail of the year. I was going to be rusty. Maybe walking with a cup of coffee for a few blocks wasn't the best training, but it was something.

Back at my apartment, I couldn't find my Croakies. I thought about the time that Scarlet's glasses fell off of her face during a sail. Those glasses were gone forever. I couldn't find my Croakies. I finally rigged something up from the neckstrap of an old Cirque du Soliel VIP pass. It wasn't the best glasses-strap, but it was something.

* * *

Piaw and Lisa picked me up. We were the lead car of a two-car caravan to Sausalito. I had never met the people in the following car. And no wonder; they weren't from around here.

A while back, Piaw and Lisa had gone on a tandem bicycle trip in South Africa. They'd seen nature alive with trees and lizards. They'd seen city streets littered with way too much broken glass. They'd seen the Southernmost laundrette on the African continent. And they'd visited a bit with some relatives of their friend, Radek Aster.

Now those relatives were vacationing in the area, and we were going to take them sailing.

Oh no. These people were Radek's relatives? I resigned myself to a day spent weathering harsh insults, a day spent restraining these people from mooning other boats, a day spent fleeing from angered locals armed with torches and wooden rakes.

* * *

The cars made their way along 19th Avenue, along the Park Presidio, across the Golden Gate Bridge. I guess we got separated on the bridge, or a little after. We were in the lead car, Radek's relatives were back there somewhere. We looked for them, couldn't spot them. And then we took the exit to Sausalito.

We were a ways off the freeway when we had a chance to pull over. We looked back at what we could see of the exit; there was no sign of the other car. Through a break in the trees, we could see just a glimpse of highway traffic sluicing along.

And then, through that gap in the trees, we saw a car going the wrong way. The car was going in reverse, going slow, backing its way up the hill. Our visitors had missed their exit, but had also made it.

We made it the rest of the way to the sailboat rental place without mishap. I got a chance to meet Jimmy and Yanna and their mother Danke. Maybe this was my best chance to find out about life in South Africa at the turn of the century, but I think we mostly talked about their vacation plans in the states.

* * *

It was the first sail of the year, a time to re-learn the routines. After Piaw had the boat checklist from the rental place, he handed it to me; I was to start checking stuff off while Piaw did more skipper-ish paperwork at the office. I went down to the boat, and realized I didn't have a key to get into the boat. Chalk it up to first-sail-of-the-year. I hung onto the checklist until Piaw was done with his paperwork. I asked him about the key. Piaw pointed out that this boat, like all the others we've sailed on, had a combination lock, with the combination written on its clipboard. Oh yeah. Chalk it up to first-sail-of-the-year. I was off to a brilliant start.

* * *

The sailing itself went well. At one point, someone pointed out that things seemed to be going well. I said, "No injuries so far." Jimmy said, "Well, none aside from this," and then held up his hand. Part of his thumb was missing. I looked close. There wasn't any blood. I couldn't figure out what could possibly have happened to it. That, he explained, was because he'd lost the tip of his thumb years ago. I felt sheepish. If his injury had been recent, I would have done him no good, capable only of a puzzled stare.

We sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge. We did not go out so far that the tides might prevent us from returning; We did not go out so far that the insurance would no longer have covered us; we sailed back into the Bay proper.

We sailed by the San Francisco piers. We may or may not have spoken of a restaurant on a tiny man-made island by Pier 39. We may or may not have spoken of sea lions.

We swung by Alcatraz. We may or may not have pointed out the notice warning us not to approach too closely (lest guards think we were abetting fugitives). We may or may not have yelled back at the rangers giving tours.

* * *

At some point, Lisa went below to make sandwiches.

Did I mention that this was Lisa's first sail? This was Lisa's first sail. On your first sail, everything is difficult. And, of course, on your first sail, you don't know which activities are difficult. Making sandwiches on a moving boat is difficult. It's not super-difficult, but it's more involved than you might think.

While the sailboat is moving, things move around a lot. If you're in the kitchen, you move around a lot. You bump into things. Things roll around and make messes. You're probably breathing a lot of diesel fumes. My favorite recipe for making sandwiches on a boat is:

Ingredients: sandwiches

  1. Unpack the sandwiches that you made ahead of time, when you were on land.

And, in fact, that's what I did. I wished that I had prepared more sandwiches; Lisa looked as if she was getting bumped around a lot. We ate our sandwiches.

* * *

We motored into Angel Island where there was, surprisingly, an open slip. We parked the boat, tied up, paid the ranger a parking fee, and set out walking around the island.

Angel Island, with its nasty history, is a good place to talk about the USA's racial problems. After we'd talked about that for a while, the South Africans were sufficiently desperate to change the subject such that they talked a bit about Nelson Mandela.

They said that Mandela was doing the "P.R. thing". They said said that he was old, and that he walked, he needed someone to help him. But that he nevertheless walks. They sounded proud of him.

We hiked up; we hiked down; we got back in the boat. We brought the boat back to the rental place's dock.

* * *

Lisa and I were cleaning up the kitchen. I picked up the knife with which she had been cleaning sandwiches. Lisa was saying something. I repeated what she was saying while idly wiping the knife clean on my sleeve. I repeated what she was saying: "There should be a tissue around here somewhere."

Suddenly, I realized what I was doing, realized why she'd mentioned the tissue. Only a barbarian would wipe that knife on his sleeve. I quickly glanced at the knife, saw that it was now clean; I quickly put it into its holder, hoping to do so before Lisa realized what I'd wiped the knife on. I looked up. Lisa was looking at me funny. I hadn't cut myself; there was no gangrene; nonetheless, mortification had set in.

We had dinner at the India Palace in Marin County. We had dessert at Golden Island.

* * *

Does this sailing travelog seem a bit more disjoint than the others? It very well might. After the trip, I jotted down some notes, but not many. I didn't figure I'd do a full write-up of this trip. I just jotted down notes, in case one of them turned out to foreshadow something that happened later in the sailing season, something worth writing about.

I was determined to write something about sailing, after all.

But I never came up with anything more interesting to write about. I don't want you to think that sailing is boring. That's not true. The thing was, a few days after this trip, some moron drove their car into Piaw. Piaw spent the next few months, most of the sailing season, in a hospital bed, in pain.

He mostly recovered, thank goodness. Dennis Hillard, age 54, should have been so lucky. But the thing is, I didn't do much sailing in 2001. So this is all I have to say.


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