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Column - Adventures in sailing

Kenneth Grahame, a British writer in the early 20th century, wrote in his famous 1908 children's book, The Wind in the Willows, "There is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats."

Such was my attitude when I set out on my first sailing adventure on Lake Sagatagan on the campus of St. John's University this past Sunday.

It was a windy day - gusts of around 25 miles an hour - certainly not ideal conditions for beginning sailors like my friend Steve and I were. No matter. We met up at the St. John's beach ready to conquer the seven seas.

"How will we ever learn how to sail in high winds if we never do it?" Steve asked.

It seemed like a valid point. My only concern was that the boat was not ours. It does not even get rented out at St. John's. Steve knew the owner but was not close - probably not close enough to take his sailboat without asking. We looked past this.

With our lifejackets securely fastened, we set sail with Steve as the captain and me as the deckhand. Captain Steve exuded little confidence with his facial expressions every time a strong gust of wind came up.

"It's just a matter of time before we capsize this thing isn't it?" I asked him.

After an hour of sailing, that proved to be the case. A strong gust of wind caught our mainsail and sent our boat perpendicular to the water. We shifted our weight, trying to avoid dumping the boat. We had avoided capsizing a few times already by doing this. It was no use this time, as we jumped out away from the hull.

Once in the water, we flew into action like a couple of seasoned seamen. With all our weight on the daggerboards, we righted the ship.

Steve climbed aboard before I pulled myself up on the stern. Before I could even get my footing, we began to lose it again. Both of us jumped away from the mast as the boat capsized for a second time.

Once in the water, we realized why. We had lost our rudder on the first fall. It was a discovery that really took the wind out of our sails.

The boat was now taking on water in the storage area after the platform came open on the second fall. We had no chance of righting the boat with all the water.

It did not take long for Dianne, the SJU lifeguard, to come to our aid. She came across the water in a 14-foot aluminum boat, equipped with a six-horsepower motor - not exactly built for dragging a sunken boat across a lake.

By now the bow was the only thing above the water. We hooked up the tow rope and went for the nearest shore. Pulling the submerged sailboat into the wind proved to be a lost cause. We were forced to go with the wind to a distant shoreline.

We crossed the lake at a snail's pace. Dianne drove and I sat in the motorboat as Steve rode on the daggerboards of the sailboat. More than an hour had passed since we capsized. Steve was complaining of the cold but was not about to leave his vessel - a noble move by the captain.

We finally reached shallow water and unrigged the boat. Dianne and I drove back to the boathouse at the SJU beach to get buckets for bailing out the water. Our only options were a three-gallon water cooler and a couple of sand buckets.

It took a while, but they did the job. Our boat was floating once again.

The tow back to the beach was slow but steady. We traveled into the sunset with our heads held high. After all, we entered the water that day as a couple of greenhorns. When we left, we had become sailors.

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

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