I nearly got lost at sea over Spring Break

‘You guys went like halfway to Cuba, man!’

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Retrospectively, it seems inevitable that six girls taking a road trip to Key West for spring break would lead to a series of small disasters.

My friends and I found that our most recent vacation could easily be divided it a series of wins and losses. I got a huge plate of free fries from our waiter in Atlanta — “W.” My friend Sarah lost her cell phone and then found it at the bottom of our hot tub — “L.” My friend Kaila nailed her phone interview and landing an internship in Israel for the summer — big W. We lost the keys to our house — fat L. But it seems that the largest L of the trip happened when we all decided to rent a catamaran-sailboat-thing for what was supposed to be just one hour.

My friend Maddie had convinced us that, after five years of sailing at camp, she was adequately prepared to tackle the open waters of Florida. And despite her acknowledgement that she hadn’t sailed in a while, we all remained entirely convinced that summer camp would be sufficient preparation, and we figured that we’d just troubleshoot if we ran into any problems.

We paid, chatted up the surfer-dude Sean, who helped us put the boat in the water, and soon were flying over the waves, cruising along the coastline, having a blast. But when we hit the end of the island and realized we needed to turn the boat around, our luck quickly seemed to run out.

While we did successfully manage to stop our boat from continuing to move forward, we got stuck and couldn’t seem to reverse back toward our beach or move in towards the island. As we all looked to Maddie expectantly, wondering how her time at camp could possibly leave her unprepared to sail the open seas, the current began to pull us away from the coast.

As my friends began to panic — the E-school students trying to figure out the mechanics of wind, my friend Madeline fighting impending tears and screaming for help at nearby boats and Maddie trying to think back to her time at camp — I remained blissfully calm and continued to work on my tan. Because while Sean and his boat company might not care at all about me, at some point, they were going to have to come and retrieve their boat, right?

This was around the time when someone had the nerve to start talking about sharks, and Madeline really started to lose her cool.

Despite telling her to “shut up!” and “chill out!” Madeline finally got the attention of a nearby motorboat.

“Do you guys know how to sail?!” we shouted at them from out sailboat.

They looked at us from their motorized, sail-less boat, understandably confused.

“You guys don’t?” they called back.

The boat was driven by a guy named Mike, who was on the water with some of his friends, all of whom worked as bartenders at a restaurant on the island. They threw us a line, helped us turn our boat in the right direction, and then asked us to throw the rope back to them, assuming that their work was done. This did not sit well with any of us, particularly Madeline, who requested that we be pulled all the way back to shore.

Mike and his friends — although they initially seemed a bit confused and marginally put out — threw us the rope again, tossed us some beers, took a selfie of our boat latched as a trailer onto theirs, then acquiesced and pulled us back in. God bless them.

They dropped us about 100 yards from the shore, once it got too shallow and rocky for their boat to go any farther. We turned to Maddie, hoping that she could redeem herself and prove that the sailing program at her camp was actually worth something. Unsurprisingly, we remained immobile. We then looked to shore, hoping that Sean and his buddies would somehow help us the rest of the way to shore, as recompense for the fact that they allowed six 19-year-olds out on the open ocean with literally zero instructions and only five lifejackets. Again, we were disappointed.

Four of us, myself included, had to jump into the water and physically swim the boat in, dragging it behind us as we kicked for all we were worth. My six years of earning “participation” ribbons on the after-school swim team did nothing to help me here.

Eventually, though, we returned to shore, running up the beach and cursing at Sean for having the nerve to let us out on the water without seeing if we had the necessary skill set. Sean, as it turns out, had been watching this entire scene play out and seemed to be equal parts impressed and humored by our stupidity.

All he really had to say, though, was, “You guys went like halfway to Cuba, man! I’ve never seen anything like that, dude.”

So, what, you may ask, is the moral of this story?

Well, that’s really up to you. Perhaps you could extract some meta, worldly lesson about remaining calm and having faith that things will work out, or how the goodness of strangers will always prevail. Or this could simply serve as a cautionary tale as to why you should really only take a boat out on the ocean if you know how to sail it. There’s really only one imperative lesson that must be taken away from this story — never trust a shirtless guy named Sean.

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