Will a long history of sibling screwups be repeated?
For a few summers when our children were little, we vacationed on Chincoteague Island which is adjacent to Assateague Island National Seashore Park. This is where Chincoteague’s fire fighters round up the ponies on the neighboring island each July just like in Misty that our kids had read, culling the herd by auctioning off colts at the town fair.
In those years, the bidding never got too high, but the pulses of the little kids would go off the charts when they saw these scrawny, stumbling marsh ponies with their baleful eyes searching the crowd for a friend. As soon as the kids figured out that the whole point of this exercise was to give grown people a chance to buy these colts that don't look any bigger than a large German Shepard, they start jumping up and down, pounding on their parent's legs each time the auctioneer started in on a new pony.
It was entertaining to watch the crowd long enough for that sudden, brief moment when a bolt of overpowering pity ripped through a dad's chest like stray lightening on a sultry summer night. Frantic that everyone in the family have the best vacation ever and having had a couple of beers too many, his subconscious had dredged up all those sappy TV shows he saw as a kid about puppies, kittens and little bunnies left shivering in the cold, their parents shot dead by cruel hunters. With his power of reason temporarily short circuited, Dad stupidly starts bidding, the price actually seeming remarkably low.
The auctioneer's sixth sense was also working at the speed of light, and he instantly detected an anomaly in the fog of humanity swirling in front of him. Like an AWACS in the heat of an air battle, he centers this emotional irregularity on the glowing green scope and fires the closing gavel before sanity returns.
"Sold to the sentimental idiot in the back row, the guy in deck shoes, white socks with the double blue bands around the tops, the L.L. Bean tropic weight khaki shorts, the Eddie Bauer madras shirt, and the billed cap that says 'Tourista Trying to Blend In.'"
A delegation of smirking fire fighters walks over with Dad's trusty new steed in tow. One firefighter, after all, can be brushed off. The new owner is slapped on the back, handed the tether, and told with studied finality, "Congratulation. He's yours. You need to get him outta here."
Now, Dad lives with the kids on less than a quarter acre in suburban Washington, Norfolk, Philadelphia, Baltimore or Richmond, and it had really never occurred to him to tow a horse trailer behind the van when he drove here for a week in the sun trying to forget life's mounting worries. With the realization of the enormity of his mistake beginning to creep over him, Dad stumbles away dazed, wondering whether the rental agency will let him keep the pony in his cottage's back yard for two weeks if he promises to clean up after it and mow the lawn himself. He's oblivious to the kids who start pounding on him again with the same level of intensity, this time for cotton candy.
My brother and his family would join us in Chincotegue, and the first time they came was in a Mazda station wagon. In it were his wife, Kathy, his three year old daughter Emily, and his eight week old son, Michael along with Michael’s playpen, high chair, plastic coated bags for cleaning and feeding him, his back seat littered with Fisher-Price pseudo-educational toys and 500 pounds of stuff crammed inside suitcases, duffel bags and green trash bags. My eight and eleven year old daughters were wandering around the car, waving to Emily still strapped into the car seat, too dazed to move. Forget the fact that it's ten o'clock in the morning, that Kevin has just driven four and half hours from Arlington, Virginia, and that he had spent the entire previous day cramming all these possessions into the car. He's wild-eyed and overcome with desperation to DO SOMETHING ADVENTUROUS before he grows old and dies worrying about keeping his check book reconciled in case IRS does a wall-to-wall audit. It's vacation week, a six night, seven day period that will end with horrible finality all too quickly. He says, glancing sideways furtively, "I think I'll go sailing with Jeff," noticing the life jackets and other boating paraphernalia thrown over my shoulder.
We both duck our heads and exit quickly towards the Hobie 16 beached across the street before any verbal gunfire erupts, both of us saying, "We'll meet you on the beach." Shaking her head in complete exasperation, Kathy turns to my wife who gives her a look back that says, "Don't look at me, I lost control days ago."
There she is, pulled up in the marsh grass on the shore of the channel that runs in front of our cottage. My pride and joy. A brand new sixteen foot Hobie catamaran. She's a study in simplicity. White hulls with royal blue striping, bright orange mainsail, royal blue jib, six sets of orange tell tails, reefing lines, a yellow wind indicator under the clew of the jib, a blue trampoline, a small cooler in a rack at the base of the mast, and all sorts of quick release pins to get the rig up and down in a hurry. Yes, dear reader, its color scheme should be reminiscent of a can of Sunkist Orange soda circa 1983, and that's the whole point. I want to live the life of all those easy, carefree people you saw in Sunkist TV commercials bouncing around waterfronts doing wild, carefree things with wild, carefree women whose hair is never out of place. The Hobie is a study in simplicity because, even if you spend hours combing the catalogues as any self-respecting boater does buying all sorts of little odds and ends that will make the dream of being on the water even more beautiful, there is only so much stuff you can add to a boat this small. The best feature of a catamaran, however, is that it's three times faster than any monohull carrying a whole lot more stuff.
My brother and I have had a long history of colossal screw ups whenever we try joint ventures, but that has never deterred us from embarking on new ones. Today, we think, hey, maybe after all these years and all these responsibilities, we've finally matured and this time everything will come off smoothly.
Trying to get off to a good start by being the sensible older brother, I notice Kevin doesn't have a strap for his sunglasses, and so we tie a piece of twine around the frames, a fashion accessory that has the word "NERD" written all over it, but hey, no one's watching. I then notice his shoes, which are racquetball shoes. Why anyone would wear racquetball shoes for anything but playing racquetball unless they want to walk like a duck has always escaped me, but now I'm butting into his life.
"No," he says, looking self-conscious, "this is the only pair of shoes I've got for something like this. In fact, it's the only pair of casual shoes I've got, period."
The tide has nearly emptied the channel, so we walk the Hobie out through the mud flats to a shoal at the edge of the deep water where we can get the sails up. That's one of the disadvantages of a Hobie. Unless you're standing a foot in front of the bow, it's very hard to raise the mainsail. In fact, if you're not incredibly acrobatic or haven't reached a sufficiently advanced metaphysical state, raising and lowering the sail in deep water while trying to keep the Hobie's bow pointed into the wind is, at best, impossible.
The walk to the shoal this day was a biology field trip. It must have been mating season for horseshoe crabs or they were just holding a convention, for the bottom was littered with these black prehistoric creatures crawling all over each other and bumping into our feet. When we reached the shoal, we had to nudge several out of the way to keep the boat's hulls from crushing them. But quickly the sails were up, and we were underway.
It's a bright blue day, 85 degrees, and the wind is blowing from the southwest at a smart 15. Because the waves in this sheltered strip of salt water are less than five inches, we start ripping down the channel at terrific speed. We're sailing close to the wind and going so fast that the vibrating rudders have started making the boat hum. People who race Hobies spend hours carefully sanding their rudders and adjusting the fittings to eliminate the hum, but for me that's one of the joys about being at speed--a muffled sound that resembles a stock car coming down the straightaway at Daytona. We tear through the water past Boston Whalers, Wahoos, and other small motor boats that are drift fishing with the tide. We're looking great. We're pumped. The adventure has begun.
Here was my objective, something I had been fantasizing ever since I'd bought the boat a few months earlier. Chincoteague is a barrier island that lies between the Virginia shore and Assateague Island, another barrier island. We were going to sail south to the southernmost tip of Chincoteague, then east through the channel that separates Wallops Island and Chincoteague, then south again through the channel that separates Wallops Island and Assateague, then out Chincoteague Inlet into the Atlantic. We would then work our way east again along the southern tip of Assateague for a couple of miles until the shoreline turns north. In a reach, we would sail along this final stretch of shoreline for three miles or so to where our wives and kids should have been bivouacked by that time.
Chincoteague has the houses, motels, the obligatory miniature golf courses, T-shirt shops, and water slide.
Assateague is a pristine National Seashore Park with the ponies, salt marshes, tidal pools, nature walks, snowy egrets, Park Rangers and a beach uncluttered by cottages.
If everything works according to plan, we would end this leg of the adventure with a spectacular landing on the beach that would begin a half mile out with our sailing towards the shore at full speed in a close reach. Making sure the sails were fully sheeted, we would blast over the building swells to ride a breaking wave up to the sand like the guys you always see in those commercials wearing bathing suits that hang down to their knees below a six pack abdomen.
So, first we had to get around the tip of Chincoteague Island. "What are all those green and red things floating in the water?" my brother asked intelligently.
Actually, this was my first time on salt water, having done all my previous sailing on inland lakes which usually mark obstructions with spray painted milk jugs, hand lettered signs that say "ROCS," and old auto parts.
"I'm sure they mark something, but I'm not sure exactly what," I answered even more intelligently. "But this boat draws so little water, you never have to worry about running aground.”
We did notice, however, that all the fishing boats seemed to have congregated at the tip of Chincoteague Point where the green and red markers came close together and that getting through this boat jam might trigger yet another saga in our continuing series of sibling screw ups. We needed to avoid them somehow.
Because of the wind speed and my desire to make the day a memorable one for my brother, I had persuaded him to help steady the boat by going out on the trapeze. I've found that trying to explain sailing to someone totally unfamiliar with how a sailboat works while on shore never seems to work out, so I usually just get underway before letting my crew know what's going on. The bad news is that there tends to be considerable confusion doing it this way. The good news is that the fear engendered in the uninitiated once the wind hits the sails and kicks this hot rod into high gear does a marvelous job of focusing the neophyte's attention. With only minimal sibling pressure, for example, I got my brother hiked out on the trapeze, legs spread wide apart for balance in no time. The extra weight to windward, I pointed out to him, enabled me to sheet in the main as tight as it would go in this stiff breeze, raising our speed a few more knots. We both knew that we were looking real, real good to the drifting boats we left rocking in our wake.
The trapeze rig consists of a long wire with one end attached to the mast about 20 feet above the trampoline and the other end to the person wearing the trapeze harness. The harness looks like an adult size diaper with a lot of velcro, hi-tech straps, bright colors and a large hook protruding from the waist which means that it's always a good idea to be near a Hobie when wearing this outfit, even in today's world. The trick here is to attach the hook to the eye at the end of the trapeze wire, and then slide off the windward side of the boat keeping your weight on the hook at all times. If you don't keep your weight on the hook, it can easily pop out of the eye which means you drop into the water like a stone and bob there as shark bait.
So how are we going to get around the fleet? Remember, the channel is a narrow one, and we are having to tack every ten minutes to keep from sailing into the marsh grass. Yet for some reason, this fishing fleet is huddled against the left bank ahead, even though the channel is completely wide open to the right for at least a quarter of a mile. Figuring that spot must be where the best fishing is, we head for this huge expanse of flat water doing about 12 knots.
Five minutes later, we discover why no boats are fishing this area. The rudders of a Hobie stick straight down in the water about 30 inches and pop up whenever they strike an obstruction of some kind. Both now went from the vertical to the horizontal. Kevin, who has an excellent vantage point because he is hanging directly over the water, points out quite forcefully that he can see every detail on the bottom. I reassure him that it probably won't get any more shallow than this and that we can keep right on going, even though I'm watching the dragging rudders draw parallel lines in the mud behind us. In less than a minute, however, it does get even more shallow, and the Hobie suddenly jerks to an abrupt stop.
Remember when you were in high school geometry class and drew circles with a compass? Think of the mast as the side of the compass with the sharp point. Then think of the trapeze wire as the other arm of the compass. And think of my brother as the pencil. I'll admit that if you know me or my brother or both for that matter, the word pencil doesn't immediately pop into your mind, but bear with me. Because the boat stopped abruptly, the pencil started rotating forward at the 12 knot speed at which the boat had previously been moving. From an academic standpoint, there really were some fascinating physical laws at work here. The centrifugal force created by the pencil's large mass actually opened the compass wider as it swung forward around towards the bow, until the pencil was poised directly in front of the boat, about six feet in the air and about six feet in front of the jib. Right then, however, the person using the compass must have finished his work because it snapped shut, smashing my brother into the mast.
For the first eleven years of his life I was bigger than my kid brother, and I used to beat the crap out of him all the time. Then one day, I noticed Kevin was bigger which led me to worrying day and night when he was going to start evening the score for all the terrible things I had done to him, because God knows that's what I would have done if I were him. But for some still unexplained reason he had never sought vengeance. Thinking that my good fortune was about to come to an end, I quickly gestured to the fishing fleet whose occupants were now staring at us as he untangled himself from the lines and wiped the blood from his arms.
"Not looking good, are we?" I hoped to remind him that we could look even dumber if we were to start a fist fight out here in the flats.
We now glared at each other with tight jaws and lowered foreheads. Here we go again, we thought to ourselves, down our usual imbecilic path. Kevin stepped off the boat and, finding himself standing ankle deep in water, thanked me in what seemed an unnecessarily patronizing tone for insisting that we wear life jackets. But we now had a major decision to make. We could (a) turn the boat around and sail back along the well marked trail, but with the tide going out, that would mean we could be dragging the boat through the mud for a half mile or more. Or (b), we could drag the boat forward hoping the water will get deeper, but looking at the chart and taking (for the first time) a hard look at the depths marked thereon, we discover it don't get any better than this. Or (c), we could drag the boat 100 yards directly towards the fishing fleet where we know there is deep water for sure. After running through our combined vocabulary of invectives, we chose Option C.
Fifteen minutes later, we reached the edge of the mud flat exhausted after hauling the boat through the goo with everyone staring at us like we're bozos. As we shoved off into the deeper water and sailed across the very narrow channel, my worst fears were realized. We had to tack our way through all these boats with all their fishing lines and all their staring fishermen. And here is where another interesting set of physical laws comes into play.
For purposes of changing tacks, a monohull has a good shape for crossing the wind--the classic "I" shape. It means that the chances of a monohull getting trapped in irons in winds less than gale strength are none too great. If you ever watch sailboats coming about, you don't usually see anyone having much difficulty. A catamaran's shape, on the other hand, is not conducive to changing tacks--the "H" shape. Getting an H caught in irons, the wind blowing with equal strength on both sides of the sail, is relatively simple; the wind just loves to bed down for the night in the "U" shaped section in the bow. When that happens, the boat is pushed backwards, and if the rudders are not reversed quickly, you resume sailing forward again on the tack you had hoped to be leaving.
My tried and true method of coming about on a Hobie is to get the boat moving as quickly as possible close to the wind. Then I shove the rudder over hard and keep the crew's weight on the windward side to help it pivot. As the boat crosses the wind, I keep the jib sheeted in tight so that it becomes backwinded, which helps bring the bow around even more. At the precise moment the boom comes across the boat and the mast pivots, the crew is moved as quickly as possible to the other side of the boat. More simply stated, I don't let anyone move a muscle until the boat has come about. There's one catch here, however. If the wind is up and the crew does not shift sides quickly enough once the boat has come about, the crew's weight will make the boat flip.
Even though it would have meant keeping the tradition alive, we did not want to flip over in the middle of all those fishing boats, all that 10 pound fishing line and the hooks these folks might want to impale us with for disturbing their peace. So, you guessed it. On our first tack we shifted our weight too soon which meant the H resumed its previous course and sailed right up on the shore. We then came about manually, which meant that Kevin and I stepped off the boat into the shallow water and turned it around by hand. After tacking twice, enduring several cat calls along with a comment or two about the twine around Kevin's glasses, we wound our way through the fleet trying to maintain some sense of dignity and cleared the tip of Chincoteague Point heading east.
With the wind still blowing from the southwest, we were now in a reach which is a Hobie's fastest sailing position. At this point, however, a new problem beset us. A recent heavy rain had washed large clumps of marsh grass into the water, and trying to steer the boat with each rudder having now become the repository for a small haystack did not exactly provide pin point accuracy. I released the catch on the rudders, and they swung backwards and upwards, letting the grass slide away. But when I started trying to force the rudders back down into position again, the catch wouldn't grab. Our attention now became riveted on the rudders as we whooshed along towards the inlet at 15 knots or so, trying to jam the rudders back into place. Finally, they yielded to our pressure and clicked home. Smiling at each other over our small triumph, we turned back towards the bow and were horrified to see an 18 foot bass boat perpendicular to us 200 feet ahead. Seated in it were three guys holding fishing rods who were paralyzed by the sight of this oncoming behemoth.
Put yourself in their boat for a moment, perhaps perched on the tiny fishing stool in the bow. The channel is filled with small motor boats with nothing in them taller than someone standing up to survey the channel or take a leak. Suddenly, around Chincoteague Point flashes this performance boat with a mast 28 feet above the water carrying a bright orange sail that moves as fast silently as many of these motorboats at full throttle. Worse than that, it's been coming at you dead on for a full three minutes--eight feet wide, two pointed hulls slicing through the water, a hulking mass of aluminum, wires, and heavy parts, looking like a Klingon ship uncloaking.
"Is this colossus really going to try to gore me, or does it think I'm a water ski jump," you ask yourself?
"Should I jump into the water and risk getting sliced in half by one of its rudders, or should I just sit here like a dunce?"
Even though their eyes were as big as spools of fishing line and their jaws had gone limp, these guys looked like wonderful people. Their boat was immaculate, their khaki outfits and hats seemed washed and starched by the kind of devoted wives that went out with the '50s. They were clearly solid citizens who followed the rules, came to a full stop at stop signs, changed the oil of their outboard right on schedule, and now life was about to bash them royally with a random act of senselessness. With inches to spare, we managed to swerve to one side, our wake rocking their boat and one rudder snagging a fishing hook. Trying to be friendly, Kevin made some gratuitous comment about the quality of flounder fishing in the inlet that year as they fought to get the fishing line cut before the rod was ripped out of the bowman's hands. By the time they were in a position to throw the knife at us, we were too far away.
Ten minutes later, we approached Chincoteague Inlet between Wallops Island and Assateague, and pointed the boat towards the Atlantic. We zipped past a huge sea turtle swimming on the surface, and a pelican with its bucket-like beak glided over our heads. The water sparkled with sunlight, and we heard waves sliding up the beach in the distance. The worst must be behind us, we thought to ourselves. After all, we can't see any other boat out where we're going.
Things hadn't always gone so smoothly for the two of us as they had that morning. Like our final game of racquetball. I used to belong to the downtown YMCA and would play racquetball with friends at 7:00 a.m. in the morning. Inviting Kevin as a guest once, I waited for him in the lobby into which he finally burst breathless and several minutes late. Most guys would arrive at the gym with their clothes in a garment bag. Kevin, on the other hand, had his draped from a single wire hanger. After four games during which he allowed me to score no more than two or three points per game, we headed for the showers and started dressing.
"Hey, did you take my pants," he asked suspiciously?
Behind me, one of the locker room attendants was sitting on an overturned waste basket, watching everyone change their clothes.
"Yeah, right. Just the thing to do here."
"But I can't see them anywhere."
After thrashing through everything in his locker and mine, I said, "Maybe they slipped off the hanger when you were running into the building. Give me your keys, and I'll walk back to your car to see if they may have fallen on the floor."
Retracing his steps back to the car in the thirty degree February cold past homeless men shuffling along the sidewalk checking things out, his pants were nowhere to be found, and I returned to break the news to him. Wordlessly, he finished getting dressed, putting on his white shirt, tie, suit jacket, black lace-up shoes and black socks that stretched to the knee, and finally his London Fog trench coat.
"You say one word about this outfit or even crack a smile, and I'll break every bone in your body."
I nodded my acceptance of the terms, and we headed towards the door, the locker room attendant rapidly clapping his hands in ecstasy. We walked downstairs, through the lobby of the YMCA and out onto the street, past several young women in their dress-for-success business suits whose eyes would suddenly bug out of their heads and hands would stifle the scream that wanted to erupt from their throats. Outside, I walked along two steps behind him with my teeth clenched to keep the smile suppressed. We stopped at the corner, our cars parked down different streets.
"At least I don't see any cops this morning," I offered.
"I think I'll be going back home directly," Kevin said quietly. "Please call my office and let them know I'll be a little late."
With that, he turned on his heel and walked calmly down N Street with its turn of the century town houses and tall trees. I stood there on the corner, watching him move away, the black socks partially covering his bare calves, his hands in the pockets of the trench coat that stopped just above his knees, and the passersby who would edge away from him uncomfortably while he walked passed. Instead of averting his eyes as he walked past them, it seemed as if Kevin were actually glaring directly at them, which may have contributed to their discomfort.
But now it was summer, and we were nearing the mouth of the inlet. For the first time we encountered a swell. The rollers were moving eastward into the inlet, pushed along by the southwest wind, while the tide was going out at a strong clip, creating standing waves. Here and there the water looked like jiggling Jello. Moving through this confusion, we cleared the inlet and turned east.
One of the first sights we saw when we cleared the inlet was the top of the mast of a sunken fishing trawler. It was, I'll admit, a little unnerving, particularly after the series of deft moves we had just made to get to this point. Underneath that mast a large, steel hulled boat of more than 100 feet must be lying on the bottom that had carried of crew of several veteran seamen. We began speculating how it might have washed up on the beach. Was it in the winter during the middle of huge Nor'easter that was sending twenty foot waves crashing against the shore? Was the trawler trying to find the mouth of the inlet and a channel so tortuous the charts don't even bother listing the navigation markers they are changed so often? Looking at the inlet from the southern tip of Chincoteague at night is a bewildering experience--all one can see is black water and a solid mass of flashing red and green lights that must be difficult to negotiate in the best of conditions. One could only imagine what entering the channel must be like during a storm. Now mesmerized by the sight of the mast and all that it communicated, we were finally brought back to reality by the wind suddenly clocking to the east, which meant that instead of reaching around the bottom end of Assateague Island, we were going to have to continue sailing into the wind. But with the two to three foot waves and the wind rising, there was no way we were going to bash through these seas unless Kevin got out on the wire again.
"You gotta get out," I shouted.
"You're sure?," he shouted right back, not at all convinced that it was really necessary.
"Just GET OUT, will you," I screamed, terrified that we might be flipped by the building winds.
Kevin had risen at four that morning, driven a long, long time while his family slept, and had not had a real guy breakfast. He was physically drained, which meant that what I had intended to communicate--the need for him to get out on the wire--was received by his fogged brain as, "Get outta the boat." He grudgingly complied, tossing himself backwards into the water just like Lloyd Bridges used to do on Sea Hunt when he threw himself off the Argonaut for a dive. With Kevin's weight removed from the windward hull, it shot out of the water like a Polaris missile, flipping the Hobie over on its side.
So there we were. About a mile offshore, the current running south, the wind 15 to 20 knots, waves 2 to 3 feet, and a Hobie with its sails flat on the water and the mast starting to settle. I was fortunate to still be with the boat when it flipped which meant I could swim around and climb up on the hull that was lying in the water. Kevin was not so fortunate. Not only was he about 100 feet away, the wind had caught the surface of the trampoline which was now perpendicular to the water and was pushing the boat away from him. After a considerable struggle, though, he worked his way over to the boat brushing the twine from his face and grabbed onto the hull.
"Good thing we tied that twine around your glasses," I said cheerily.
"Go screw yourself."
The way a Hobie is righted in a situation like this is that the crew stands on the hull in the water and brings the righting line over the hull above their heads. They then grab the righting line and lean outward, away from the hulls. Their weight is enough to pull the mast out of the water very slowly and begin rotating it skyward. When the mast reaches the 50 degree point in the arc, the crew jumps into the water towards the hull on which they had been standing.
OK. So the first task was to get both of us standing on the hull. I had already managed to do that myself while waiting for Kevin to swim alongside. And now his turn came. But remember the racquetball shoes? We quickly discovered that wet racquetball shoes on slick, wet fiberglass provides amazingly little traction. Six or seven attempts later, Kevin was finally standing upright on the hull, having had his feet slip out from under him each of the previous tries, throwing him back in the water. He gingerly worked his way towards me. I was already hanging onto the rope because the waves had started pushing the mast underwater. If the Hobie were ever turned completely upside down out here in the ocean, we were flotsam. Kevin grabbed onto the rope and whoosh, once again, his feet slipped out from underneath him, slammed into my legs, and both of us splashed into the water. We repeated this stunt a few times, but fortunately there were no other boats around to watch our routine. After ten minutes of hanging onto the hiking line, we learned (and it really does make a lot of sense when you think about it) that when the wind is blowing hard, the mast will only come out of the water when it is pointed directly at the wind. We waited for the boat to rotate the mast into the correct position, and finally the mast started to rise from the chop and pass the 50 degree mark. We both jumped into the water.
Except that Kevin didn't jump as far as I wanted him to, and for one sickening moment I saw the hull coming down full force and smash into the water less than a foot from his head. Kevin saw it coming too and was frantically trying to lower his body below the surface of the water by paddling furiously, but his life jacket had kept him firmly on the surface. Waves of contrition sweeping over me, I thanked God for watching so carefully over two miscreants hell bent on mutual destruction, and I thought about what it would have been like seeing Kathy after a stunt like this.
"I'm sorry we left the way we did. We really should have helped you and the kids check into the motel and get settled before we took off on such a juvenile quest. We really were insensitive to your needs and the needs of the family. And by the way, Kevin's skull is smashed in, and he's lying in the county morgue."
Now to add insult to what was almost a terminal injury, when the Hobie came upright, it briefly bounced from side to side in the waves and then was knocked flat again by a burst of wind. Once more we climbed back on the hull, but this time I gave Kevin much more explicit instructions about what to do when (hopefully) we got the boat upright again.
"As soon as the mast passes the 50 degree point, let go of the righting line and lunge for hull you have been standing on and grab on tight. Next, all the books that I've read on righting Hobies say that you're supposed to move forward and climb back up on the boat using the front of the trampoline. Never try to climb over the stern, they say."
Nodding his head obediently, we once again tried standing together upright and hanging onto the righting line. This time we were more successful, and we soon found ourselves in the water, intact, hanging onto the hull with the boat upright. Success. Our weight had prevented it from bouncing and flipping over again in the high wind, but now there was a new problem. The wind immediately filled the sails and pushed the boat into a reach. We took off heading south at the fastest speed we had reached (or would reach) on this day. Remember that both of us were in the water underneath the trampoline hanging onto the hull with every ounce of our remaining strength. I was trying to point the boat into the wind, but the tiller bar had gotten jammed in the lacing and wouldn't budge.
Dutifully following my instructions, Kevin was starting to work his way forward, but if the instructions were to be followed to the letter, there was no way I could get on the boat until my brother did, and the way we were going, we might have sailed south a mile or two before that happened or lost our grip on the boat. Therefore, I decided to bend the rules just this one instance and try climbing on board over the stern. To my utter amazement, I was sitting on the trampoline within a matter of seconds. As I would learn time and time again over the years, the advice books for beach cats are often written by sixteen year olds with 100 word vocabularies whose IQ's will never approach that number.
Looking towards the bow for Kevin as I tried to free the tiller, all I saw was the bloodless fingers of two hands grasping the front of the trampoline. The boat was racing over the waves at speeds in excess of fifteen knots, and Kevin was being pulled through the water on his back, hanging on with his arms stretched over his head. Asking me patiently, "How long must I continue this Harrison Ford routine," I chuckled amiably at his ability to draw interesting metaphors, agreeing with him that our present situation was in fact remarkably similar to the truck scene in "Raiders of the Lost Ark."
"Why don't you try climbing over the stern," I said.
"Why don't you try burning those books," he said as he heaved himself onto the trampoline, spitting out seawater.
So far, the day was going pretty much according to tradition. What next, we both thought to ourselves as we got back on course and trimmed the sails.
What next was that the wind died abruptly. For half an hour we bobbed along in the slop, the sails flopping loosely in the light airs as the mast banged from side to side and the boom bounced crazily above our heads. The occasional puffs, though, helped the waves push us slowly towards the beach at the south end of Assateague. Kevin assured me that it would be no imposition whatsoever if he had to walk up the beach three or four miles to get to where our families probably were. Somewhere beyond exhaustion, he was sitting with his back to me pondering whether the contents of his stomach would be the next piece of his anatomy to go overboard.
Eventually, we were washed up on the beach. There was no one and nothing around us for miles, just a flat beach, sand dunes and a faded green Chevy pickup truck parked on top of the dune in front of us. A bright blue awning had been set up to one side of the pickup, and a woman in a faded cotton tent dress sat motionless underneath it in the heat. What could only have been her husband was far more animated, and as we pulled the boat up on the sand, he ran down the dune, yelling "God damn. God DAMN. This is unbelievable. One minute the ocean is empty. The next minute this boat appears outta nowhere, right in my own front yard, sailing from way across the sea, people coming to see ME. God DAMN."
Kevin was on his hands and knees at this point, staring down at the wet sand, trying to throw up and get it over with. Apparently not perceiving his dilemma or thinking Kevin was kissing the soil of a new found land, Robinson Crusoe flopped down beside him like a tag team wrestler, shoved a beer in his face and said, "Hey, this one's for you." Well, I thought, if we weren't living the Sunkist commercial, maybe a beer commercial wasn't all that bad. But then Kevin's prayer was answered, and he threw up on both the beer and Crusoe's right hand.
A few days later, Kevin and his family drove back to Northern Virginia after Kathy had completed her humiliation of the two of us. Halfway through a miniature golf game one morning, their three month old became hungry. Adjusting her state of the art infant carrier to the breast feeding mode, Kathy continued playing without missing a stroke. At the end of eighteen holes which conveniently was when young Michael had finished feeding and needed to be burped, Kathy was 15 strokes under anyone else playing.
After they had left, I tried sailing the same route with my eleven year old. It came off without a hitch. We even made the spectacular beach landing that I had been dreaming about, which of course made Megan feel like the coolest kid among the pre-teen set along the shore. After helping me pull the boat out of the water, she stood like a model with one shoulder thrust forward, the other hip back, looking sideways down the beach in her oversized red framed sunglasses as she slowly pulled off her sailing gloves, casually tossed her life jacket onto the trampoline as if she always arrived at the beach this way, and swished her way to where the rest of the family was sitting. For our sail, the winds were a little lighter and the waves a lot smoother. I had done a bit of research in the interim and figured out what all those red and green channel markers really did mean. Megan and I had worked our way down the channel, the two of us chanting "Red Right Returning, Green Right Leaving." Although it's hard to conclude anything definitive, the fishing fleet did seem to scatter a bit as we neared Chincoteague Point, and we had no trouble negotiating our way through the pack.
When we were working our way east along the southern shore of Assateague after we had reached the ocean, she began asking repeatedly, "Is this where you two flipped?" Finally, I said, "Yeah, this is about it, I think." Megan just sniffed, shook her head as only an omniscient eleven- year-old can do and said, "Be sure and tell your brother, WE had no problems."