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Sailing expedition sends family on more than a three-hour tour

If you enjoy wind blowing through your hair experiencing brief moments of peaceful relaxation, harnessing Mother Nature's energy and fearing for your life, then sailing is the activity for you.

Don't get me wrong; sailing for long periods of time can be exhilarating - that is, if you're watching it on television or perhaps listening to someone talk about it.

Seven years ago, my father decided to take the sport seriously and picked out a brand new catamaran to serve as our home away from safety. This was after years of owning a rather pathetic water vehicle that did most of its "sailing" on a trailer in our backyard.

We've had some exciting times on our boat in the past few years. However, we've also had many times which would make an essay exam seem as exciting as bungee jumping. These beyond boring moments arise when there is not enough wind to make the sailboat move at a steady pace. There have been several occasions when my family has been sitting on our boat in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay on a sweltering day cruising along at a brisk 0.0 knots. (For those of you who don't know sailing terminology, 0.0 knots is very slow.)

In these cases, we just sit in our boat watching large, dense rocks do laps around us. Our boat is equipped with two motors, but to a true sailor such as my dad, using the motors is considered cheating in the same way it is considered cheating to eat one of your opponent's rooks during a game of chess. (I don't play chess, but I'm pretty sure that's cheating.)

During these long periods of voluntary boredom, some of us usually go swimming off the boat. We now have learned that before the swimmers can even hit the water the wind inevitably picks up, often reaching tornado speeds. The boat then abandons the swimmers, as they become the targets of a myriad of friendly jellyfish.

On one trip we brought our dog, Chrissy, with us. We let Chrissy go swimming off the back of the boat and, of course, the wind picked up. With our beloved family dog falling increasingly farther behind the boat, we knew what had to be done. We yelled, "Chrissy, meet us back at the dock!" To which she responded, "Okay! ...What's a dock?"

It was obvious that we had to take action quickly, but the women on the boat were the only ones smart enough to realize it. So my mom and my pregnant aunt dove in the water to save Chrissy. I finally did something useful by throwing a rope to the three swimmers. My mom, my aunt and the dog soon were fastened securely to the rope by an incredible knot the dog tied as we pulled them all in to safety.

A couple years after my dad first got the sailboat, he decided we needed a smaller, more complicated boat. So he purchased what sailors affectionately call a "dingy." (At this point, I have chosen not to make a distasteful joke about the term "dingy," but feel free to fill in one of your own.)

The dingy was not easy to assemble, and to give you an idea of what we were dealing with, here is one of the completely real instructions that came with the dingy. "Tie the vang line to the pin on the Becket block, and this will allow the gudgeons to align properly with the pintals on the transom." We spent three hours cursing the instructions that we thought were written in German before realizing they were written in English.

Luckily there also were several vague and meaningless diagrams included. Eventually we assembled something that remotely resembled a small sailboat and proceeded to never use it again.

There is one more experience on the catamaran that stands out. One summer my family and I were sailing in the Chesapeake Bay, just outside Fort Monroe (not to be confused with Mort's Fun Show). During our trip, a severe storm suddenly struck. During a storm, a sailor must first sacrifice a small goat to Poseidon. A sailor must then make sure the sails are down.

My dad attempted to pull in the jib (the jib being the smaller, much more evil sail), but since we were in the middle of 50 mile-per-hour winds, the rope simply cut through his hand like a hot Ginsu knife through an old shoe.

While my dad experienced the pain of a lacerated hand and all of us took shelter inside the boat as our vessel drifted aimlessly in a severe storm, my younger brother and I eased the tension by singing the theme song to "Gilligan's Island."

Soon the storm subsided, and we continued on our way to Fort Monroe in order to get my dad some medical attention. A Coast Guard boat actually came up next to us on our way in, but my dad, not wanting to be a pansy about his third-degree rope burns, yelled that we were doing fine. The Coast Guard probably wondered about the dishtowel taped around his hand.

When we finally arrived at the dock, there was a broad assortment of emergency personnel waiting for my dad, including three police cars, two military police, two fire trucks and a free tarot card reading courtesy Miss Cleo.

My dad was embarrassed that all the emergency personnel were there to treat his hand, so he quickly asked me to shove an oar through my spleen so that the good people would have something to do.

Ultimately, my dad's hand fully recovered, and my family and I have learned our lesson: We've returned to doing all our sailing on a trailer in the backyard.


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