The Thinking Viking learned to sail as a child, at a smallish “yacht club” on a lake in central Michigan. Yacht Club in central Michigan means “place for dudes to go and drink beer and store their boats that they almost never use”.  But my dad was different – whenever he took me, we always set sail for at least a trip across the lake. After a while, he let me drive sometimes. Later, he let me take the boat out solo. It was a 14′ Laser, which Wiki now informs me is a racing boat.  I had no idea.  But I could handle the thing pretty well.  Anyhow, thanks dad, I miss ya.

This is a 14′ Laser  landfallnav_2250_110400305

Fast forward 25 years.  My landlord and friend says “Hey call my brother, he wants to take the boat out on Saturday.”  This is because I mentioned my dad teaching me to sail during random conversation. I figure it was his 22 foot something or other.  I was wrong. The next picture is referred to as “foreshadowing”.  



The boat in question turned out to be a Contessa-39, “a one-ton class” thirty-nine foot racing yacht, seaworthy and tall, and he didn’t want to show it off, he needed me to drive it, needed to burn off some old fuel and get working on some aging electronics and other bits the ship needed. A fifteen thousand pound up to 11-man crew sailboat with a 50 horse diesel and freaking RADAR.  Um. This Is Not My Father’s Sailboat.


But you know what?

It drives the same, it has a tiller, just like that tiny boat I used to zip around on.  That day we just pottered from Alameda Marina to up around Jack London Square, boat ran fine, I got my feet wet so to speak.  I was offered the position of First Mate, which I accepted.

Couple days later, word comes down that the Captain is taking the boat to San Francisco Friday night.  I take some PTO and leave work at lunch, head to the marina, sleeping bag, backpack, camera, etc load up, and off we go, me the Captain, and his brother.  I then learned we are going to Pier-39. Um.  The one with all the tourists, lining the docks next to the sea lions hanging out. And we’ll be going to a St. Patrick’s Day block party downtown. I brought beer.

Trip out went fine, I got to pilot it under the Bay Bridge, got to watch all those tourists watching us pulling in a taking berth #2A.  Me jumping from the prow to grab dock lines, all of us tying the ship down.  We had arrived.

Fast forward to next morning. I slept great – the swaying and noises of surf have always been good for that.

And we head out, just me and the Captain because of work conflict, no worries, only need two for this kind of trip – I mean, we weren’t even hoisting sail, right? No problem.

And then as I am deiseling us past the Bay Bridge – homeward bound this time….Some Is Wrong With The Engine, it overheating. Shut it down. And we come to the title of this piece.

Technically, I was adrift in the Pacific on a racing yacht with a dead engine.  And it has all it’s SAILS. In San Francisco “usually windy” Bay.

We hastily raise the main sail, capt. frantically uncovering it and prepping – task normally done before you head out, while I keep us in position, just  following the tide at this point.  The sails haven’t been up this season, and it takes some serious muscle to hoist, but next thing I know the wind catches…and it comes back just like riding a bike.  Under a mild to middling wind this thing is faster than possible under diesel, it leans over and slides toward home berth. Capt. goes below to see what’s up.

Just a fan belt, and he has a spare.  Smart man, but I knew that.  But he can’t find it.

By the time he found it we were almost at the marina entrance and he took over to guide it through the sea wall into calm water, and …we just let it drift.  Fifteen minutes after he had found the spare belt, we are fixed, post-haste, and we headed to the berth under power. (hey AT&T and or WordPress, what’s with the lag? I edited out most of these typos already, but looks like a bunch failed to save. Ah, the life of a blog)

So, 1. it’s a good idea to learn to sail. 2. Be prepared, never know when you might need a $12 fan belt.

Think about it.


PS Cut scenes are here: (AKA what really happened) Adrift – The Cut Scene AKA What Really Happened

  1. Neat story, Matt. How it brings back some memories, and I wish I had the opportunity to sail again. It looks like a beautiful place to sail, San Francisco Bay, and one of these days, I’d love to see it for myself. Unlike you, I’m not sure my sailing skills would come back quite as readily, but who knows. I know I really enjoyed it back in the 80’s, and we had one or two really close calls out on Lake Ponchartrain (look at a map and look just north of New Orleans, a very large inland lake that opens directly out to the Gulf of Mexico on its east side). One time we almost went over in a tack maneuver, but it pulled itself around just right and we avoided getting in the water. LOL That was under a beautiful midnight full moon. His boat was a 24′ San Juan. But once, he ran into a lady friend of his who had a 36′ yacht, and we went with her. That was cool, too. My buddy later sold his boat, and then our paths took us in different directions, and I’ve never known anyone else who had a boat and was into sailing. I’d do it again in a heartbeat, with the right person for a coach.

  2. Ariana says:

    Nice Matt. Thanks for posting that to me. Sounds like such a fine time! You are right – my kids are sailing Optimists in the 15 and under international class. My son and daughter sailed in Nationals last year, and my daughter just qualified again for 2013. She is aiming for worlds! They love it. I am a total paper sailor, but have been out on a laser a couple of times (with the #3 world women`s 420 skipper as my coach – not that that did me much good…), as well as on bigger cruisers as balast (In one race from Okinawa – Okinoerabu island we came in #2 – no thanks to me – all I did was hike out all night….). I am totally hapless still, but we are out on the water every Saturday and Sunday, and when my kids reach 65 kilos, they`ll move up to Laser class. We have great coaches and a really strong team – it is so great to spend so much time out on the water.

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