Turtling your dinghy is one royal big-assed pain in the butts. For those who don’t know what the heck I’m talking about… A well designed boat, when capsized will rest a beam on the water, the balance of buoyancy in the hull to the configuration of the rigging allows the mast and sail, now resting in the water, to prevent the boat from turning past 90 degrees. Righting a typically simply capsized boat is a snap; simply crawl out onto the centre-or-daggerboard and and let your body weight bring the boat upright… most people can with very little skill or effort... Many of us, eh-hem can capsize and right a Laser without getting wet. Heck we’d capsize our boats between races take a breather, rest and eat on the board.
Turtling is when the capsized boat tips beyond 90 degrees… Think, mast pointing straight down, centreboard pointing straight up… To right a turtled boat, you basically have to stand on the gunnels, jump up and down and reef on the centreboard with all your strength… I’ll give you a pointer here, for future reference, if and when you go and… turtle: try positioning the boat in such a way that the waves will hit the boat perpendicular, assisting in the righting motion… meh, I’ll let you figure that out.
Given the extra beam and the extra weight and extra stability of the Arrow; it really wasn’t that fun a boat to sail for an exceptional sailor, definitely not so in lighter winds. In heavy air, it could be a good ride, probably even better for the little kid joyriding while his dear ol' dad set out and ended up on a honking reach; planing, maybe catching the odd good wave and doing a bit of surfing (reaching is a point of sail, tenfold more exciting on a Laser)… I don’t recall too many time my dear ol' dad taking me out in a good fresh breeze but I do remember one time more than the others…
I recall it was a gloriously sunny day in late spring. My dad had had a few extra beers; I never recall being all that concerned whether dear ol dad had had too many or two few beers, to me my dad, most men in may family and those in and around the place where either drinking a beer or working on something, or at work... Beer was at the "head-end" of that most consistent and enjoyable of assignments growing up… Forget mowing the lawn or shovelling the snow, chores I actually adored “…get me a beer” was the clarion-call, an invitation to "be involved" that I could hear from anywhere in the yard, down the lane or three, four houses down at some buddies place... the call to grab a cold one from the fridge, run it over to him, or maybe struggle with three or four for him and his pals; AND get a great big thank you from the guys... Most e-specially to get that big ol’ thank-you from that one guy who ultimately was at the absolute dead-center of my entire my existence, my universe… What Canadian boy doesn’t enjoy getting his dad a cold beer.
The fateful day we went for "that sail", that gosh darned damned n' glorious day the wind was blowin’, the sun was shiny; I helped best I could as my dad rigged up the Arrow. I most likely would have already squeezed into the old keyhole Kapok life jacket…
…and, any good sailor can capsize a boat. Its not the end of the world; the boat tips, you get wet, right the boat and sail on. Heck, we’d do it ten times on purpose, simply for fun later when we’d go for a sail after sailing school class or before the start or after the finish of a race… (note to the land locked; many of whom can only imagine a tipped over boat an ultimate disaster, get over it, it's called taking a swim).
My dear ol' dad claims that the hiking straps popped loose, and that he unexpectedly flipped off over the side of our Arrow; who knows, over we went. Now, this claim of a some part breaking; it’s happened to me, AND considering the chain of events that happened next, is an absolutely believable claim; one I will testify in support my dear ol' dad over to this day.
My father has made even wilder claims about even wilder accidents in his life; some, well one surrounding the wilder events in which his neighbour lit his garage on fire just as my father noticed the ninny was using an electric pump to drain the gas out of the tank in his car in order to effect some repair or that that or what not… That claim, which I also support, resulted in my father’s leg looking like a side of beef after 3rd degree burns and months of skin grafting surgery professionally meted out by the medics at the Canadian Armed Forces base in Calgary… So… my dad's bigger than YOUR dad, AND my dad’s not one to make false claims.
...oh right, over we went.
Like I said, no big deal; ‘cept for the Arrow, as you recall, being the worse piece of naval architecture described earlier, beamier than expected… Rather than a fun little dunking on an otherwise enjoyable day of a sailing with dear ol' dad… It was... heck, I’m probably certain sure my dear ol' dad could have righted even the beamy ol' Arrow quickly if he didn’t first have to collect his boy. Me, the boy, now floating around in the Bay of Quinte, bobbing around like the town drunk in a puke orange torture devise; able to kick my legs but no more than half heartedly flap my arms. Perhaps if I could have actually moved these arms, I may have been able to either keep hold of, or swim back to the boat on my own. Yet still, I was already a great swimmer, well on my way to my winter's career on the life guard chair; if I weren't wearing the damned so-called life jacket... As I was being collected by my dad, the Arrow turtled.
Again, NOT that big of deal. My dad being quite a burly man and “way stronger than your dad”, could have easily stood on the gunnels and yanked the Arrow back upright with little effort.
Here’s were things started going somewhat more wrongly than would be expected…
First off, the mast step on the Arrow proved to be, well lets just say, quite horrendously flawed. The mast step on a Laser is a 14 inch deep hole in which you put the ‘stay-less’ mast and tie it down with the cunningham which, working double duty as a devise to allow you to control the luff tension on the sail AND hold the mast tight to the boat. The mast step on the Arrow, was a ‘deck step’; a small pin held the mast to the deck, tensioned into place, theoretically by the shrouds and forestay… theoretics where at play when our mast popped out of its step, and although not separating itself from the boat, basically sank to act as an anchor helping to keep us, upside down.
Add to this the centreboard falling out; AND it funny enough, not being made of something that might float, it sank… Then, me, being a wee little guy, how could I NOT assumed we were in quite a jam; AS a matter of fact, from what I’ve been told, I did what any just barely 9 year old kid would have done; even if that barely 9 year old kid weren’t being held in bondage, strapped into the terror device now soaked through, weighing twice it’s weight in kapok and probably no more able to keep me afloat than say, one of the empty beer bottles I had neatly stacked back into its case on the way to getting my old man and his buddies another couple of beers before we went out for this damned sail… what any barely 9 year old kid would have done... I started crying; AND, from what they tell me, I started crying out for help!
I’ve always counted myself lucky. I grew up with great friends in a great small town; surrounded by about 10 gazillion things to do and parents who basically not only let me do them, but suggested that I give each and every one of them all a try. I’m sure I’m not the only boy who can remember his dad being the absolute center of their universe, I think I may be a bit luckier than some, not as lucky as others but, either way, I do remember the exact moment that this center of this universe of mine was shaken, turned if not upside down, then kinda sideways; the exact moment I began questioning just how stable this bloody universe of mine was.
Here I was, wet, weighed down, crying and crying out for help while our disabled vessel of doom bobbed up and down in the waves. To me, the outlook appeared pretty grim and just a little dim. Our chances of survival, quite bleak; here I was, most likely assessing the situation and realizing the chances of ever enjoying mom’s Friday night’s Mac & Cheese dinner to be pretty much… nil. AND then, here’s dear ol dad… bobbing around with the boat, telling me to STOP crying, AND “stop calling out for help, ya ninny”! WHAT??? I’m basically a goner, a universally tilted dead man-boy and this crazy old fools using his last gulp of breath… his dying words, to call me a ninny! Some universe this turned out to be…
…in the end; indeed, me and my dad survived the ordeal. As my father knew all along; we simply floated up on the far shore within’ a half hour or so of our home on the other side of the great little lake we called the Bay of Qunite. He collected and stowed the various bits and pieces that remained of the Arrow, disengourged me from my (near-end-of-life) jacket and walked up to the house of the folks on whose shore we’d washed and call my mom. He had her bring the car around, she'd hitched up a the trailer, and we carted the whole mess, including poor little old me... home.
It was probably on my dad’s recommendation that the club NOT buy Arrows for the Junior sailing program, but instead bought a fleet of six Lasers. Six boats I’d grow up on, have a blast on, while screaming down the waves on a scorching plane on… Six boats, I’d capsize a hundred thousand times, 99,467 times of which, not even getting myself wet. Six boats, I’d later use along with the rest of the fleet when I ran the sailing school as head instructor for years. I’d later buy my own Laser with the money I made teaching sailing and campaign it at regattas across the lakes and waterways between Hamilton and Brockville Ontario… I don’t think they made too many Arrows... the ones in our backyard where soon disappear.
The day after my dad and I capsized the Arrow; he went out and bought me a ‘Stearn Life-Vest’. As it sounds, this was a snazzy little life VEST, zipper front, four small foam panels sewn into light weight nylon fabric, held together with light weight mesh. The back panels where black; the front red; there was a “Stern” crest on the front; all the hot sailors at our club wore stern life vests… the day after we capsized… I stopped being afraid at all of the water under any circumstance (I wasn't that too afraid before); became an the avid sailor and swimmer my dear ol' dad had hoped I'd be, AND if I think about it, perhaps the day after we capsized the Arrow was the day my dad stopped being the absolute, rock solid center of my universe and became, simply the biggest, smartest, strongest, (and at times scariest) man I’d ever know.
I recently found out the child inside my love, Roberta is a boy; he’ll be born soon… then he’ll be one, two, three… NINE, I have a huge responsibility ahead of me, AND, I know I have enormous shoes to fill!
I only hope the things we do together are as... fun as sailing.