Ryan and I are both relatively new to sailing in the sense that neither of us grew up on the water, though Ryan arguably grew up near water, considering England is an island. But Ryan’s interest in sailing didn’t bloom until his father bought a 23′ keelboat when he retired and started taking Ryan out for day sails in the North Sea whenever he came home from traveling in Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Hong Kong.
When Ryan first introduced me to sailing, we were living in Doha, Qatar, on the topaz-blue Arabian Gulf, teaching English. It was our second date and he wanted to impress me by renting out a little Hobie Catamaran for an afternoon jaunt. It was impressive; especially the way he knowledgeably handled the sail in such strong gusts of wind. He seemed to know exactly what he was doing. Which is why I didn’t panic…even when a heavy gust and a drastic turn seem to lift one half of the Hobie completely out of the water. I looked quickly at Ryan the way an airline passenger would look to an air hostess for a reassuring expression of calm during turbulence… and I could just make out the words “OH SHIT” on his lips before the mast went completely over and we were in the water.
So there we floated, laughing and waving for help while standing on the bottom of our upside-down Hobie Cat in the middle of the Arabian Gulf, wondering how we were going to get home. And then I remembered how clever I’d been to pack my cell phone in a zip-lock bag, in case we got wet. “We can call for help!” I said, pulling open my submerged backpack.
It turns out, however, that zip-lock bags aren’t waterproof. It also turns out that motor boaters in the Gulf aren’t helpful. We waved our arms frantically at every passing boat, but they must have thought we were just waving to say hello because no one even tried to slow down.
Finally, one boat slowed down, then sped up, then slowed down again and reluctantly came over to us (probably after the captain’s wife forced him to). Feelings of relief, however, turned out to be premature, as the “rescue” played out like that scene in The Full Monty, where two guys are standing on the hood of a car that’s slowing sinking into a lake somewhere in northern England. A guy walks by with his dog, sees the guys sinking and says, “Alright?!” One guy responds, instinctively, “Not so bad.” So, the dog walker keeps walking on, without a pause. Then the other guy on the car retorts, “Not so bad?! Not much of a chuffing SOS, is it?!”
Similarly, our British motorboat guy pulled up and said, “You two all right?”
I thought, “We’ve been standing on the bottom of a capsized boat for the last 30 minutes because no one’s come to help us…not so bad!” But instead I said, “Um, we flipped over.” To which Ryan added, “Would you mind throwing us a line? We could use it to right the boat.”
“Good idea!” I thought. “So obvious!”
But, instead, the dry fellow in his speedboat shook his head and said, “Oh, I don’t know ’bout that. It’s a bit risky. Could you call someone?”
I was now staring daggers at Full Monty Man whilst holding up my sopping wet sandwich bag. “I WOULD call someone,” I said. “But we’re under water. Could you call the club, perhaps?”
“I don’t know the number. Do you?” said an unfazed Mr. Monty.
Again, I held up my dripping phone in a sandwich bag phone and said, “Maybe you could look up the number and call them for us?”
Full Monty sighed like I was holding him up for a hot date and I imagined what I would do if I found him shivering in the North Sea, having capsized his little motorboat. “Alright?” I’d say to him, and drive off in my shiny mega yacht.
And the daydream continued until someone from the Diplomatic Club, where we rented our Cat, came and rescued us. Full Monty guy didn’t stick around to make sure we were okay, as expected, leaving as soon as he got confirmation that someone else knew we were stranded. So Ryan and I just waited it out and laughed at our misfortune. Luckily, it was one of those experiences that turned a good date into an extremely memorable one. It turns out capsizing with your future husband isn’t such a bad thing.
And because that date went so well, it wasn’t long before Ryan threw out the idea of doing a basic keelboat course together. I agreed, as it seemed like a novel and wonderfully impractical idea to me at the time. And impractical ideas are the most fun when you’re only 27.
Manning the tiller on the Colgate 26 we were learning on, I thought it was so calm and peaceful to be on the sparkling blue water in the mid-day sun, floating around in the Gulf… and then a bark from my instructor would jolt me out of my reverie, prompting me to get the boat back on course (though I could never quite tell what the course was). I wished the instructor would stop making me tack and jibe every five minutes, and just let me relax. Maybe I should have signed up for a day cruise, rather than a keelboat course… but then again, I really liked Ryan. And we were in that giddy early phase of dating when you think every idea your date has is genius.
At the time, I also remember thinking that I’d heard about people who had sailed around the world, which led me to think of that frightening fishing book I’d once read, The Perfect Storm – a bad idea, in hindsight, as scenes from the book now form my nightmares about being at sea. Sitting in the uncomfortable cockpit of that little Colgate 26, looking down at the spartan cabin below, I could only think to myself, “There’s no way in hell I could ever live on a boat.”
That was 2004.
Never say never.