“Hey- are you going sailing today?” Andy Bike joked as we stared out the window, watching the trees beyond his rain splattered deck bend and whip threateningly in the wind. “Only if there’s enough wind to put the third reef in the sail,” I said with a smile. Then we turned to devour the leisurely brunch we’d just prepared with our families.
Hours later, the storm the forecasters were so excited about had started to blow, but the rain failed to materialize beyond a flew splashes. I couldn’t stop myself from thinking that it would be fun to be on the water during a storm, so I loaded up Terrapin, donned my foul weather gear, and headed down to the river.
The parking lot near the dock was deserted: everyone else was at home preparing for the storm. Me- I was trying to keep Terrapin from blowing off the roof of the car. In one swift motion, I loosened the straps and safely lifted the boat to the ground, just as the predicted rain began to arrive.
As I slid away from the dock, I realized why no one else was out. The wind was blowing so hard that my trusty guideboat would only crawl towards it. The rain was flying horizontally so quickly that my hands were dry, while my back was pelted with needles of rain. Whitecaps were blowing downstream, waiting to catch me unprepared with my beam to the wind.
After an hour of rowing I’d made it less than two miles. The gusts were becoming more unpredictable and the waves more threatening. It wasn’t until it was time to turn around that I started to think my decision to be on the river was a dumb one. Terrapin heeled hard as I changed course. Spray flew off the oars and the boat started moving faster than I normally row. “Look at me, look at me!” I thought as a wake formed off the stern. Then another gust hit and my oars, now being used for steering, not propulsion, flexed noticeably.
Roaring toward the dock, I spent more time keeping the boat upright than watching for obstacles. I handily passed the Ross Island Bridge’s abutments, chuckled at the SLOW NO WAKE signs being splashed by wind-driven waves, and narrowly missed a massive steel buoy at a shore-side construction site.
Every trip is an opportunity to learn the limits of the captain and the craft. Wheeling the boat back to my car I felt the euphoria of a narrow escape and the victory of getting out before I was forced to. But driving home, I wondered how much of my trip was luck versus skill.
How do you know?