I went sailing last Sunday morning with a couple of friends and the individual who I mentioned in the previous post and had, what can only be described, as a transcendent and illuminating experience. I came away from the day not only with a far clearer understanding of my vision, both in terms of what it will take physically as a quadriplegic on a boat and practically as it applies to what special equipment I’ll need to have a safe and comfortable trip, but with an added stoke that guarantees success.
The weather calls for…
I woke up that morning at 5 a.m. (meaning my attendant woke up somewhere around 4 a.m.), having to do my routine and get to the docks in Emeryville by 7:30. Because of the tide situation and the depth of the keel on the boat we had a very narrow window in which we could sail. The Emeryville Harbor entrance is shallow and so we needed to get in and out before the tide dropped out — about three hours. There’s talk of dredging the entrance, but until then — in this boat at least — we’re at the mercy of high tide.
The morning was surprisingly windy, which for this area and this early is rather unusual. When we met B at the docks his face looked a little troubled and when he told us it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to sail it was obvious why. The winds at that point were gale force at around 20 kn and the weather service was forecasting an increase up to 30 kn at Angel Island. His concern was that given the conditions (lots of whitecaps) and the cold (yes, it’s still winter here) it would likely be a wet and miserable sail, and since it would be our first time out probably not a prudent way to begin.
Now I’m not going to lie and say I wasn’t somewhat bummed out by this news. Hell, I was fired up to go out in hurricane force winds, but the weather being what it is and part of the process; there’s no need to be disappointed by something you can’t control. Besides, there were plenty of other things we could do that would be crucial for any future trips. Our plans recalibrated, we headed down the exceptionally wobbly dock to “the red dress” and started our morning.
Practice. Figure. Execute.
The first thing we needed to do was to practice getting me in and out of the boat and to determine where and how I would sit. Would I sit on one of the seats with somebody sitting beside me keeping me propped up (I don’t have any trunk or back muscles) or would I sit in my chair in the cockpit as we had previously figured? Both ways have their pros and cons, but in the end I don’t think we’re limited to these two — other solutions will certainly present themselves as we brainstorm further. For now, however, sitting in my wheelchair would certainly suffice, but it’s hardly optimal since once I’m in this particular cockpit moving around is a very difficult proposition. This might prove especially problematic if I needed to get down into the cabin or we were in some wind where the boat was heeling for a long time. Leaning forward or back in this chair for hours on end would be uncomfortable, especially if I was on the low side. To this end I think it would be advantageous to design a seat that would work in any boat and would give us the flexibility to move me around quickly when and if the situation arose. It’ll be interesting to see if any such thing already exists.
When we finished with our experimentation we sat for a moment and discussed what we’d learned and what could be improved to make this and other boats more accessible for me. It was an invaluable use of time and certainly something that needed to be done. Still, I was jonesing for a sail and when after about 15 minutes into our conversation I noticed the wind had dropped off somewhat, I asked B what the current wind speed was and sure enough it was down to 12 kn. Excited about getting out there, I asked him if tide-wise we still had time to go for sail and when he said yes, we got back on “the red dress” — me in my chair (an experiment to be sure) — and motored out into the whitecapped harbor.
That’s the way, uh-huh, uh-huh, I like it…
Just inside the harbor things were pretty crossed up and bumpy, but I was loving it. Once we were outside the breakwater and further out into the bay the cross chop dropped off, but swells remained; still bumpy, but now from a consistent direction. The wind also remained somewhat significant and since it was our first time out, the decision was made to sail on the jib alone.
Under sail power, I felt incredibly at home; in my element and like being in a surf lineup. The more the bump and the faster we went, the more this feeling washed over me. An overwhelming sense of knowing raced through my bloodstream, bringing with it an understanding that this dream of mine was the right thing to do and would indeed happen.
As for my friends, well, they were feeling various degrees of seasickness — T more than D — but they seemed to be having a good time anyway and I know they were happy to share this experience with me. Fortunately for myself I’m not afflicted with this particular problem. Maybe it’s all those years of surfing or being out on the boat with my grandfather, but whatever it is I’m grateful. Of course, get in any weather extreme enough and any stomach is bound to flip and cry foul.
Experience. Experience. Experience.
So, yeah, this was a valuable learning experience for myself as well as T and it was a great first run. As I said above, I have a far greater understanding of what this trip will entail, both in terms of demands on myself and as a team with my attendant. But it also gave me a new set of items I can put on a list to check off as they are accomplished. Like goals successfully achieved, they’ll represent forward progress… and I like that.
Bottom line: sailing is sick (meaning awesome) and I’ve been indeed bitten by the bug. No matter where this incredible voyage takes me, I’ve found a sport I’d like to pursue for life and that’s mighty fine.