Sailing Along with Friends

Leave it to friends to push boundaries. My friend and flight instructor, John Collins, invited Hubby and me to accompany him and his wife P.D. on a weekend sailing in Tampa Bay. I told him not to be offended if I stayed in a lifejacket the whole time. As someone who drowned at age thirteen, I get a teeeeensy bit anxious on boats beyond sight of land. Tampa Bay offered sailing within my panic boundaries, so I packed a bag.

John and PD love to travel. Hubby and I have accompanied them to remote Bahamian islands, to New York City, to the Albuquerque Balloon Fest, to the Blue Ridge Mountains, to Carlsbad Caverns, to Lajitas Resort along the Rio Grande in Texas, to Triple Tree Fly-In, and to Oshkosh Wisconsin for the World’s Greatest Aviation Celebration. We’ve hiked, biked, spelunked, flown, snorkeled, danced, and motor-boated with them before. Sailing would be a new experience to share.

Sailing with John and PD

Sailing with John and PD

Hubby assured me we’d be fine. His ulterior motive included sailing lessons in our future. So we loaded food and supplies in the rental boat and John talked Hubby through motoring out of the marina. ‘Captain’ John recited terminology we’d need to know. Being a visual learner, I created images to remember them: as the bow (bowing forward), aft (using the other name for donkey), port (as if holding a glass of it in my left hand), and starboard (telescope in my right hand). Tacking, jib and mainsail were explained while I was gaping at a Mooney taking off from Albert Whitted airport over our heads.

Gently gliding by red and green channel markers, we set out on a sunny, breezy Saturday morning. A Blues festival played in the background. I tamped down anxiety by remembering how I had faced the fear of drowning by learning to swim. Even became a lifeguard in high school. Swam a mile two days a week while Hubby was in grad school. Learned to waterski and even barefoot skied. Okay, well, the barefooting experience meant six seconds of glory followed by six weeks of physical therapy. Ever get a brain enema from getting slapped by a lake? Eyelids flipped back. Later discovered why the fall hurt so bad. During my wipeout–the one Hubby still regrets he didn’t capture on video–my feet hit the back of my head. The essence of slapstick comedy is watching someone else  get hurt….

About the time I was remembering the joys of physical therapy, we passed the last channel marker and John unfurled the sails. With Hubby at the helm, the boat accelerated and started to lean a little. Then more. Then about thirty stinking degrees starboard.

sailing sideways“Can this thing tip over?” I ask, climbing up to the port side.

“Now we’re sailing!” John’s grin didn’t comfort me. I bet it used to unnerve his mother and his sisters. From stories I’ve heard, John enjoyed pushing boundaries as a child, too. He probably started a few stunts with, “Hey, y’all watch this!”

Hubby with John and PD

Hubby with John and PD

I wrestled my camera out for distraction. Hoping that sitting on the bow would minimize the sideways feel of the experience, I groped railings to the very front. Look at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Look at the shoreline. Look at the other pretty boats. Look at the fin jutting up from the waves ahead. Eeeep! “Uh, John? I saw a big dark fin.”

“Probably a dolphin.”

Probably. The fin darted through waves and circled around toward the bow. Please be a dolphin. Please. Please. Please. It raced alongside the port bow close enough to hear me thank the Lord. Three more joined in as if nearsighted and trying to identify the white object cutting through waves without a motor. And THAT was the moment sailing became fun for me. That was the moment I smiled back at John, P.D., and Hubby for dragging me from my laptop into daylight.

Joni sailing for a moment

Joni sailing for a moment

It was worth spraying on sunscreen. It was worth risking nausea and facing an old fear. It was even worth admitting to ‘Captain’ John that sailing was more fun than expected. I even tried the helm for while and let the sail fill and tilt the boat. Lyrics from a Styx tune played in my head:

Sailing near Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Tampa Bay.

Sailing near Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Tampa Bay.

Come sail away, come sail away, come sail away with me.

Thanks to John, PD, and Hubby, that song no longer sounds like a threat.