FORT LEE, Va. (Sept. 4, 2014) -- “How do I look?” my husband asked, putting his hands on his hips and strutting down the marine supply store aisle snuggly strapped into a new life vest. As if he was on a runway in Milan, he stopped, pivoted, and looked at me with a “come hither” stare.
“You’ll be the envy of everyone in our sailing class,” I lied.
Along with our new life jackets, we bought sailing gloves, non-marking deck shoes, sunglasses straps, waterproof phone pouches, and a humongous chart of the entire Narragansett Bay. At home, we assembled the rest of the recommended sailing apparel: hats, quick dry shorts, breathable collared shirts, waterproof watches, and gadgetry like pocket knives and compasses that would never see the light of day.
We had no idea how to sail, but goshdarnit, we were going to look the part.
Besides, when military folks like us move somewhere new, we try our best to experience the local customs. Before the end of our tour of duty in Rhode Island, we will guzzle gallons of “chowdah,” stuff ourselves with “stuffies” (stuffed clams), and learn to love “lobstah” rolls. We will hike rocky coastlines, wade through cranberry bogs, and snap photos of squatty lighthouses. We might even start saying things like, “Hey, I have an idear…let’s go downcity for a gagga and a beah.” (Locals’ way of suggesting hot dogs and beers in Providence.)
And in a state like Rhode Island, where there are more boats than human beings, we must learn how to sail.
Last week, we showed up at the Naval Station Newport Base Marina on the first night of Basic Sail Training Class, with naïve visions of cruising on the Narragansett Bay in a 40-footer named something like “Moon Dancer,” my husband at the helm in his polo sweater, and me lounging in the cockpit with a glass of chardonnay like Jackie O.
About 20 of us – mostly middle-aged with a smattering of 20-something single sailors – mustered on the deck of the tiny marina office. We sized each other up while we waited for the instructors to show.
One by one, the volunteers appeared to give us instruction. They were all older, seasoned gentlemen, one of whom smoked a calabash pipe and seemed the incarnation of Hemmingway’s Santiago from The Old Man and the Sea.
They broke us into smaller groups, and after discussing rigging, points of sail, knots and right of way, our minds were swimming with new terminology. Clew, cleat, cunningham, close-hauled. halyard, heel, helm, hull. batten, beating, boom, beam-reach. leeward, leech, luff. starboard, stern, spreader. shackle, shroud and sheet.
By the end of the first night, the only term I could remember was “S.O.S.” I wondered, after 20 years as a Navy wife, am I too old to learn something new?
Our next lesson was “on the water,” but thanks to torrential downpours, it was more like a reenactment of “The Perfect Storm.” Although I had faithfully read my instruction manual and practiced my square knots, cleat hitches, and bowlins with a length of rope while watching “Deadliest Catch,” my waterlogged brain went blank when I took the helm.
I yelled “Jibe Ho!” while tacking, I shouted “Helms-a-lee!” while jibing, I let my sails out while close-hauled, I sheeted the sails in on a broad reach. And during the man overboard drill, I ran right over the floating dummy.
My husband and I thought our instructors might ban us from the marina, but interestingly, they kept showing up to teach us, and eventually, we learned to sail.
Sure we went a little overboard with our sailing attire, and we had to let go of our dream of Kennedy-esque yachts, Egyptian cotton sweaters and fine wines. But my husband and I are now qualified to rent a small boat from the base marina, and sail like real Rhode Islanders.
We may not be salty, but there’s no denying it: these old dogs have learned a new trick.
Lisa Smith Molinari is a military spouse and humor columnist. More of her articles can be read at www.themeatandpotatoesoflife.com.