When I first arrived on the Gulf Coast and moved aboard a 31’ mid-’80s Pearson sloop, I brokered boats for a local yacht brokerage. I loved the work, but honestly, it don’t pay much. As a broker, though, I got a chance to look into the "hopes and dreams" of a lot of would-be boat buyers . . . and into the sometimes-broken visions of sometimes-disillusioned boat sellers.
This contact with bushy-tailed buyers and downcast sellers gave me insight into many things, one of which is the difference between people who come to sailing as adults and people who grow up with it. I fall into the second class. My dad sailed, so I grew up sailing Lasers (full rigs—I said Dad sailed; I didn’t say he was compassionate or reasonable toward a 110 lb. kid), Nacra catamarans, Flying Juniors, Snipes, 505s, 29ers. . . . I sailed in college, and I lived on a Ranger 29 when my parents got divorced. I windsurfed. As a teenager, and when I had to leave college to make some money, I coached sailing on the West Coast and in Chicago. When it was still an Olympic class, I campaigned a Europe dinghy. I’ve taught adults in Vanguard 15s, J boats, . . . even in stuff like Lidos and Rhodes 19s.
So today, The Bosun’s in the cockpit with Boat Dog. I go forward to get the mainsail set to raise for a jaunt from the Gulf back up Galveston Bay to Clear Lake and our home slip.
“Hey, sweetheart, don’t forget to get the halyard inside the lazy jacks,” The Bosun calls.
I give him a thumbs up and lead the halyard to the head of the sail.
The thing is, I can’t—on pain of the death of my very sense of self—fail to lead the halyard properly.
Because once upon a time. . . .
In a galaxy far, far away. . . .
In a world infinitely more painful than that of an adult attorney. . . . In a little boat bobbing on a towline near a regatta course off of some stretch of coast near Sand Diego. . . . With a crew she wanted so badly to have like her. . . . With teammates and race-committee members and competitors and coaches . . . with God Himself, one supposes, watching. . . .
An ugly teenager in ugly prescription sunglasses and ugly clothes (not from a sailing company, but rather, jury-rigged from stuff gotten at Marshalls) . . . this little girl discovered she’d fouled up when she’d fixed the main halyard in place at the dock.
Little girls like that only make mistakes like that once.
Mistakes like that don’t happen again. They can’t happen again.
One can only die once.