ETAK

“A trimaran sailboat is rather like a monohull sailboat with training wheels,” Jan would say of her boat, Etak.  “The main hull holds most of the living space while two outrigger hulls provide stability and storage.”  “This boat is like a sailing tennis court, wide and stable,” quipped her husband, Eric.

All the sailboats, but one, in Turtle Bay that windy Thanksgiving were monohulls.   While the monohulls pitched and bucked at their anchors, Jan and Eric’s  trimaran stood steady on her anchor bridle, offering a stable platform.  Cruisers are always looking for comfort.  Thanksgiving dinner, it was decided by the ex pats in the anchorage, was to be on Jan and Eric’s boat.

Dingys began arriving at four.  Wine, appetizers, side dishes and desserts were passed up to the deck, The happy guests climbed aboard smiling holiday greetings.  Everyone settled comfortably into the cockpit under the snug protection of the bimini, talking and laughing with the ease and familiarity of old acquaintances.  Appetizers were passed, wine was poured and toasts offered. None of them were with family that holiday, but they were with friends.  Cruisers become good friends quickly.  Sailing provides for many shared memories, common interests and experiences.  There is a short hand of understanding among sailors and an unspoken law.   Cruisers are there for each other.  To not come to another’s aid is unthinkable.  Sometimes the crisis is life threatening, sometimes, much less critical.   Jan met the crew of one of the boats when, in desperation, she rowed to their boat and begged, “Please, talk to me.  My husband has been reading for four days.”  The crew understood exactly and, without question, invited Jan aboard.  Cruisers are like that.

The sky was darkening quickly that Thanksgiving evening and a light mist had begun to fall.  Wind whipped angrily around the boat and howled through the rigging.   Grey clouds settled in threatening mounds, rain filled caldrons above their heads.  At the mouth of the bay, wind whipped surf pounded the narrow opening.  Storm powered waves collided with the rush of the outgoing tide in fountains of angry spray.  Beyond the entrance to the bay, high surf rocketed to the heavens as waves collided with the rocky breakwater which provided shelter to the bay.  It was ugly out at sea.  The cruisers felt grateful for the safety of the anchorage.

Six o’clock, everyone had arrived but Doreen.  Doreen was alone this holiday.  Her husband had returned to the states to purchase another headsail.  Theirs had been lost overboard in a storm coming down the coast.  In the distance, the party saw Doreen stepping from her boat into her violently rocking dingy.  Doreen fitted her oars into the oarlocks and started to row towards Etak.  With the last guest on the way, Jan ducked below to finish last minute preparations.  Glancing out the aft cabin port, she was startled to see Doreen’s dingy pitching at an odd angle in the choppy bay.  Doreen was not rowing, but waving to the partiers aboard Etak, in queenly fashion, as her dingy sped past Etak on the outgoing tide.  Jan saw immediately that one of Doreen’s oar locks had broken.  Without benefit of oars, Doreen was being carried with the fast moving tide and wind towards the opening of the bay and out to sea.

Above, in the cockpit, the party continued.  No one had noticed anything amiss.   Jan hurled herself into the cockpit and leaped over her laughing guests.  There was not time to think or explain.  She grabbed for the dingy painter and pulled the dingy to the side of the boat.  Jan rapidly untied the painter, leaped into the dingy and pushed off as she threw her oars into their locks.  On deck, laughing momentarily stopped while everyone took in the situation.  Seeing that all was well in hand, the revelry resumed as Jan bent to the oars and franticly tried to catch Doreen before she hit the surf at the mouth of the bay.  Cruisers are like that, too.

The wind and current were with Jan. She covered the distance between herself and Doreen just as Doreen’s dingy caught a tall wave which sent it rocketing towards the rock breakwater.  Yelling over the wind for Doreen to toss her painter, Jan angled her dingy to minimize the pitch, caught the painter and tied it off.  Back turned to Etak, Jan picked a point on shore as reference and again bent into the oars. Pulling hard against the wind and tide Jan rowed towards home.  It was exhausting work.  For every stroke forward she lost at least a half a boat length back.  There was nothing to do but do it, as is so often the case on a sailboat.  If Jan did not manage to get herself and Doreen back to Etak, they would be caught in the raging, wet mêlée at the mouth of the bay.  If they even made it though the crashing waves they would be swept out to sea but chances were, both dingys would capsize and be dashed on the rocky shore. If the partiers aboard Etak noticed in time and they might be able to get to Jan and Doreen in time, but it was unlikely.  Eyes on her reference point, Jan put every ounce of strength against the wind, against the tide.  Sweating in the stinging spray, drenched from the waves slapping into the boat, Jan gave it her all.  Just do it, just do it, her mantra.

After twenty minutes, Jan wearily looked over her shoulder to make sure she was still on course to Etak.  She was making headway, almost there.  Aboard Etak,  Eric and the other boaters waved encouragingly..  Jan glanced back at Doreen, expecting to see her paddling with her    remaining oar.  Doreen was not paddling.  Doreen was sitting tall and elegant, back straight, gleaming curls blowing fetchingly in the breeze.  Remarkably she was dry and unmarked by the struggle.  A lovely smile was painted on Doreen’s beautiful, full lips.  Unfazed, she was waving regally, with a queen’s elegant turn of the wrist, to the happy crowd aboard Etak.  Doreen was thoroughly enjoying the ride.  Jen squinted down through soggy, wet hair at her drenched clothing and back at Doreen’s beatific smile.  Briefly, just briefly Jan contemplated angling a giant splash of water at Doreen’s elegantly attired figure….by mistake, of course.