Women can do anything a guy can, well almost, as discovered during this singular sailing adventure along the California Coast.
I always knew men had certain advantages in life. I just never thought that standing up while taking care of nature’s call was a skill that I would ever envy. That is, until I bought my sailboat.
I have loved sailing since I first took hold of a tiller as a teenager, and one day I found a lovely little 18-foot sloop at a bargain price. It was of indeterminate age, but it looked to be in good shape, and it was in the water, floating. So I wrote a check, and she was mine.
My first challenge was to get my sailboat 40 miles down the California coast, from Newport Harbor to Oceanside, where she would be moored. My sailing experience at that point was limited to tacking across bays and harbors. I was not ready to take on the open sea by myself, so I searched for experienced help. Serendipity brought me two expert sailors for the trip.
The boat would have to be moved from its slip in Newport Harbor soon. While at the dock trying to figure this out, I saw a young man in a launch, herding a flock of children who were maneuvering tiny sailboats into a corral-like dock. As soon as his charges dispersed, I ran down the ramp to talk to him. Jason agreed to help me and suggested that I also hire his friend and sailing instructor, Berkeley. Thus, I found my crew.
The day before our trip, Berkeley and Jason helped me check out the boat and fill the gas tank for the outboard motor. The sailboat has a cabin, but no head. So I bought a camp toilet, which amounted to a large plastic box with two chambers. I stowed it below, in the cabin. There was no suitable place for it. The floor space is small, and the seating area is covered with long blue cushions. It would be awkward, but there was no choice. The trip down the coast would take ten to twelve hours.
Next morning, as the quiet waters of Newport Harbor turned pink with dawn, we set out to sea. We would have to motor much of the morning, because the winds do not usually pick up until later. I was at the tiller as we turned out of the mouth of the harbor and headed south. Swells lifted us up and pushed us along. I held the course. The morning air was cold, but I had dressed in layers, had gloves on my hands, and a broad smile on my face.
Cruising about half a mile off shore, we could see landmarks that I had seen only from the land side before. Recognizable buildings at Laguna Beach appeared and then were behind us. As we passed Dana Point, the view opened up to a broad expanse. The coast that Richard Henry Dana described in “Two Years Before The Mast” was gliding by me. A sea lion surfaced nearby, then dived and disappeared. Pelicans skimmed the surface of the water, not minding that we were a mere 20 feet away.
After a couple of hours, Berkeley took out a sandwich and asked for a bottle of water. He had suggested I bring plenty of water aboard, because we needed to stay hydrated. I had brought the water, but I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be fully hydrated. I had limited myself to one cup of coffee before leaving home. The three of us ate sandwiches. I took a few sips of water—no more than absolutely necessary.
I had taken a break from the helm, but I was back at the tiller when Berkeley announced that he was going to use the head off the starboard side, and I could look off to port for a while. I was not expecting this. I glued my gaze to the coastline as he took care of his business off the side of my boat. So this was the way the guys do it. I attempted to appear casual, engrossed in the view off the port side.
Later, Jason took advantage of his natural ability as well, and I once again stared at the coastline. I started thinking about that plastic box below. Since my companions had taken care of things so easily, using the box seemed all the more cumbersome. For privacy, I would need to slide the three sections of door in and pull the hatch cover over. I would need to rearrange my clothes, bending over because the ceiling was low, and sit on the box, which would probably be wobbly on the cushion. No. I would wait.
By around noon, we hoisted the main sail, though there was still not much breeze. Passing Camp Pendleton, we had to head farther out to sea. The Marines don’t want random sailboats getting involved in their amphibious exercises. We used the motor as well as the sail, in order to maintain our speed. We wanted to reach Oceanside Harbor before dark, and sunset would be at about 6 p.m. Once again I thought about the box, waiting below, unused.
Berkeley asked for another water bottle. I handed him one and checked the level on mine. I had drunk about a third of it. Don’t think about water, I told myself. I focused on the sea.
Sailing at about three miles offshore slowed our progress down the coast, but we were still confident that we could get into a slip at the harbor before nightfall. By mid-afternoon, Berkeley suggested that Jason hoist the jib, and we could see if there was enough wind to sail. I went forward with Jason, sitting on the deck and holding on to a strut, watching as he attached the jib and hoisted it into position near the top of the mast. Then I went back to take the tiller. The sails were filling with wind, so I shut off the motor. The noise that had been constant all day stopped abruptly. The sudden quiet sent a breath of relaxation through me. We were finally sailing. Water slapped gently against the hull, and there was no other sound. We were all grinning now. In my pure joy, I temporarily forgot about the box.
By now we could see a high-rise condo building that I knew was at Oceanside Harbor, and we realized we had time to play before dark. We sailed this way and that, tacking toward the open ocean, enjoying the silent freedom of the wind and water. Finally we headed toward the harbor. The entrance here is not a straight line. It requires first going straight for a short distance, then making a sharp right turn, being careful to stay in the area between the red and green lights. Straying on either side would take us into shallow, hazardous territory. We were back on the motor now, for better control. I steered us into the harbor, then continued on to a slip. Berkeley and Jason stood ready to step onto the dock and secure us.
We had arrived after ten hours on the water and were now safely tucked into our new harbor. My sailboat was home. But I could not stop to revel in the moment. I had to go. I dashed up the ramp in search of the nearest restroom. I could be skipper on my boat. I could be part of the crew, but I would never be one of the guys.
Copyright © Donna Lawrence/2014 Singular Communications, LLC.