MY best friend Chris and I were in Cabo San Lucas about half way through a month long camping adventure. After two weeks sleeping on the sand along the rugged Pacific coast, we splurged on a motel and some tourist activities including renting a sailboat.
It's not like renting a car. With a car it is assumed that if you hold a license that you can drive and perhaps you've had some kind of formal training. They asked us if we could sail, we said yes and the boat was ours. I hadn't been on a sailboat for 15 years. I think Chris saw one in a magazine once.
We'd talked about sailing for days and determined that a Catamaran would be our vessel of choice. These boats have two narrow hulls separated by a 'trampoline' strung between them where you can sit and steer the craft. It was my understanding that they were easy to maneuver and a blast to sail on windy days.
We had all the confidence two twenty-somethings could possibly have as we marched down to the rental office. I spoke loudly in order to prove to the rental guy that we meant business. "We'd like to rent a Hobie Cat!"
He flashed his tourist smile and asked, "Have you ever sailed, amigos?" Chris and I spoke at the same time, "Oh, yes, yes, we've sailed. Yup. Sailed quite a bit. You bet." We were nodding our heads like a couple of dolphins in a Sea World show. The rental guy gave us a clipboard full of forms. We agreed not to sue him or anyone else in the country, donned the flotation gear and swaggered down to our awaiting craft.
I didn't remember these boats having so many ropes and wires. "Do you guys want a jib?" asked the rental guy. This time our heads shook side to side, "Oh no, I don't think we'll need one out there today," I said with my chest puffed out. I had no idea what to do with a jib.
As I approached the boat, I became very concerned with launching off the beach without incident. It would have been easy to miss several proud fishermen dragging an eight-foot shark up the beach. That evening over a beer Chris told me about the shark.
The rental guys hefted our craft to the water. The beach was packed with tourists and more than a few were interested in watching the sailors launch their rented craft. I turned to Chris and hissed, "The wind is going that way so we need to head out this way." I pointed discreetly. I just wanted to give the illusion of sailing literacy when we left the beach.
"Okay," was all he said. I determined that he was mentally preparing for the task as I was. I decided I would take charge of this adventure and grabbed the rudder as we climbed aboard. The wind gusted, the sail filled and we shot off the beach like the seasoned seamen we thought we were.
I never even saw the water taxi full of slack-jawed tourists. The captain recognized our nautical prowess immediately and jammed it in reverse. In a flurry of diesel fumes and prop wash we blazed a trail across the bay.
The goal of Catamaran sailing is to get up on one hull. The whole boat tilts up to as much as a forty-five degree angle as the one water-bound hull skims the ocean surface. The taut wires begin to sing in the breeze and the world takes on an exhilarating new perspective as you lean back over the choppy ocean.
"We're up, we're up!" I screamed. Chris let out a triumphant whoop as I held tightly to the shuddering rudder control. I imagined the crowds on the beach cheering wildly. Girls would be buying us drinks after our triumphant beach landing.
Then I looked up and saw rocks. The shoreline was approaching fast. "Let's turn this pig around," Chris yelled. He let out the sail and we splashed down hard. I went to crank the rudder in a right turn but before we had time to think a rogue gust slammed the craft and threw us up onto a steep angle we couldn't recover from. The bow of the leading hull scooped deep into the water and we came to an immediate stop. I got launched into the water and looked up to see the sail coming down on top of me. I threw up my hands thinking, "Gotta make an air pocket, gotta make an air pocket."
I managed to flounder away from the fallen sail and saw the craft lying on its side. I spotted Chris hanging onto the hull and his eyes were as big as tortillas. That was a good sign I thought, at least he's conscious.
We climbed onto a hull and tried to right the boat by holding the lines and leaning backwards. It was no use because the sail had begun to sink. I looked around the trampoline and saw that we were drifting fast towards the rocky coast. I thought about the credit limit on the Visa I'd left as a deposit.
Just then a water taxi and a jet skier came over. The captain overshot his approach and rammed our boat. I thought for sure Chris was pinched between the two but he surfaced with a crazy grin on his face.
To my right there was a terrifying noise. The captain had released his anchor and the chain was rumbling over one of the hulls. I thought our apparent savior was in fact trying to kill us. He motioned for us to slip the anchor over the top hull and he'd throw it in reverse to yank the boat back upright.
It worked. We scrambled aboard and took inventory of limbs and possessions. I had a few scrapes and couldn't find my sun cream. Chris had a bump on his head where the anchor had grazed him. Our pride was lost at sea.
We got back into our positions and quickly headed away from the
shoreline. It seemed that straight lines were no problem but turning the
thing was an issue so we decided to practice turning. We'd gather speed,
let the hull down, adjust the lines, crank the rudder and then
It's times like this that try even the best friendships. Our conversation went something like this:
Chris: Let's try another turn.
Me: My pride jumped ship when we flipped.
This struck me as funny so I laughed. I could see Chris' pride swelling back into his head. I knew what he was thinking. "Give up? Never! I'll swim this thing in with a rope in my teeth if I have to just so long as WE bring it into the beach!"
We spent the next hour limping along and unable to turn the boat around. I lost sight of the rental shack. I'm sure I would have seen the rental guys rolling in the sand with laughter at our predicament. We were drifting out to sea
With little fanfare, we pulled down the sail. The rental guys told us this is the signal for distress or utter failure as the case may be. About 45 minutes later two overly tanned Americans came out on their 40-foot sloop and threw us a line. They had done this before. As a final punctuation mark to an already humiliating day, the metal clasp on the line smacked me in the head. Now Chris and I had matching lumps.
"You guys were out for a long time," said the rental guy. "Over three hours." He didn't try very hard to hide how funny this was to him. We forked over an additional $75. For two guys on a strict budget, this put a serious crimp in our beer plans.
Chris and I took a long time walking back to the motel. We laughed about the misadventure and decided that sailing once every fifteen years would be quite enough.
David Dennis (firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Written in April, 2001)