It was the perfect day for a sail—clear, sunny, and with a good wind—and my grandson invited me out with him on his Sunfish. We live on a little cove of the river, just perfect for a novice like Noah to gain experience. The strong east wind gave us a great ride as we tacked back and forth.
Knowing that he had capsized the other day—righting the boat and continuing his sail with no trouble—I joked that I'd rather not capsize this trip, but that I would forgive him if we did. We sailed on. It really was a lovely sail, even including the part where I got whacked on the head by the boom before learning just how low you have to duck when you come about. (Getting hit by a Sunfish's boom is much less of a problem than whacking your head on an open cupboard door.)
We were wearing life jackets, of course, and I had my Croakies to keep my glasses on. Except for us, all the loose parts of the boat were tied down. At that point I realized that the one thing I had forgotten to do was to remove my wedding ring before sailing—more than one ring has been lost in that water—so I actually had my left hand clenched when about 30 seconds later a particularly strong gust flipped us into the water.
The act of going overboard turned out to be rather fun: I had been envisioning getting hit by part of the boat, or entangled in a sheet, but it was more like a carnival ride than anything unpleasant. (I empathize with our two-year-old grandson, who after being cleaned up from a more-than-usually impressive fall, chirped this cheery request: "Me fall 'gain?") The only difficulty was from the next lesson I learned: it's important to have your life jacket straps snug. Mine were a bit loose and I hadn't bothered to tighten them, so the first thing the jacket did upon hitting the water was ride up to my neck, and I had to cinch them while floating. Even so, it rode annoyingly high—Jonathan later told me they all tend to do that, unless you have a child's life jacket with a crotch strap.
Captain Noah asked me to swim to where I could watch him right the boat, and I did. This time he had more difficulty, probably because of the wind and the chop, but with the addition of my own considerable weight on the centerboard, the job was done and Noah climbed back into the boat. In hindsight, that was the point at which I should have started swimming to shore and left him to sail the boat in.
But we were both planning to continue the sail, so I tried to climb back in myself. Next lesson learned: a more experienced hand later told me I should have climbed in over the stern instead of over the side. Not only is it easier, but Noah wouldn't have had to make it harder for me to climb in by leaning back to keep the boat from flipping over again. On my last try I almost made it, and would have if there had been anything I could have grabbed onto. But at that point it was clear that I haven't been taking my pull-up exercises seriously enough, and I decided to make the swim instead.
Unfortunately, the delay had caused us to be pushed by the wind too near the causeway, and with that wind in his face, Noah was not able to resume sailing in time to get clear. So I started swimming the other way, toward him. A couple of very nice people, who had been either fishing or jogging on the causeway—both activities are common there—climbed down to help him fend the boat off the rocks. At that point, we could have both climbed out, but there was no need.
We had not been sailing alone in the cove: my son-in-law was in the other, bigger boat, and came to our rescue. I forget the reason why, but Jon's boat had also taken on a considerable amount of water, which he had been in the process of bailing when we capsized, so his progress toward us was more difficult than it otherwise would have been and he did not have the control he would have liked for working so near the causeway. But he managed to get Noah and the Sunfish off the rocks, and my job was to hang onto its painter and keep swimming, gradually pulling it away from the causeway, while Jon got his sail back up and Noah transferred to the other boat so that he could bail out enough water to make it sail better.
One kind person in a motorboat came by, asking if we wanted help, and Jon reassured him that we we were fine. I am, by the way, enormously proud of our grandson. He never panicked, remaining calm and doing what needed to be done.
It took a few tries, but I was finally able to throw the painter to where Jon could catch it, and the boats were on their way, with me getting a free ride, hanging onto the bow of the Sunfish. (Next lesson learned: a stern rope would have been really nice to have.) This, too, was fun—for a while. As I exulted at the time, "I've never sailed on the underside of a boat before!" But they couldn't sail straight to shore, having to tack back and forth, and on the northbound tack the chop was much greater, not to mention the fact that they'd gotten enough water out of the boat that she was sailing at a good speed. As I tried to shift my grip to hold myself higher out of the water, I slipped—so I waved them on as I called, "I'm swimming in."
After that, it was easy. Well, almost. The water was still very choppy, and the wind was still in my face, and swimming was made more difficult by both the life jacket and making sure my wedding ring didn't fall off. But I was making progress, and I had all the time in the world, or at least six hours: the tide was turning in my favor. Besides, I knew we were being watched by the family on both sides of the cove, who, since they could see through their binoculars that we were safe, would be finding all this highly amusing.
Indeed, they decided to send a welcoming committee. The sailors were by that time back on shore, but my brother-in-law grabbed a kayak and my husband the rowboat, and they set off to meet me. The kayak won, because one of the oarlocks had chosen that moment to break, forcing Porter to improvise with the rowboat, leading to even more amusement on the part of the onlookers. I accepted Jay's offer of a tow, and he pointed out what I had not noticed: the flashing lights of the police cars and the ambulance, waiting to receive me when I reached shore. "For Pete's sake!" is the strongest expletive I actually uttered, but I was furious by the time we reached the rowboat, transferring my grip to its stern.
I'm very grateful to the two people who helped Noah on the causeway, and to the countless others who stopped long enough to see that their help wasn't needed. I'm grateful to the guy in the motorboat who came by to ask if we wanted help. That's what good neighbors do. But to the person who called 911: What were you thinking? I'm sure you meant well, and I thank you for that, but if you had bothered to observe what was going on you would have realized there was no reason to push the panic button and distract emergency responders from those who really needed their help.
My father was a fireman. A good friend's son is a policeman. In our family we now have three EMT's, one full-fledged fireman and one apprentice, and one planning to join the police force. So I have a great deal of respect for emergency responders, and I know their jobs are necessary and often difficult. But I'm also personally aware of the negative side: close family and friends who were minding their own business, completely innocent and not in the least threatening, who have been bullied and abused by the police. So I was not in the least in the mood to be tolerant when a boat full of four firemen pulled up to me and announced, "Ma'am, we're under orders to take you in."
I am a master of esprit d'escalier. What I should have said was, "Do you have a warrant?" Instead, I was so incensed that I fled to the other side of the boat and yelled, "Oh, no—you're not touching me!" They insisted. I successfully resisted threatening a sexual harassment lawsuit if they did touch me, but simply let go of the rowboat, stood up, and proceeded to walk toward shore, finally remembering my manners enough to thank them for their concern before reiterating that I neither needed nor wanted their help.
There were policemen on the deck and an ambulance waiting to receive me on shore. No way was I going to set foot on land until they were gone! They'd have poked me and prodded me, there would have been paperwork to fill out, and somebody would have no doubt received a bill, all for no reason at all. Jon, being an EMT himself, said that the ambulance probably wouldn't leave until they saw me standing on dry land. "They can wait all they want," I replied, as I continued to swim in the shallow water with the grandkids. I did go so far as to let them observe me carrying the four-year-old over a mucky part, and I guess that was good enough for them, because finally it was safe to get out of the water. (Cue reverse Jaws theme.)
What they would have thought if they'd seen me crawling up the plank to the deck, I don't know. But it's not a wide plank, and discretion is the better part of valor. I feared what we call snorkeling syndrome: after exertion in the water, when you first climb back onto the boat the weight of gravity suddenly makes you realize you are tired and not as strong as you thought. I really didn't want to end the adventure by slipping off the plank into the creek. But once I reached the deck and stood up, I was fine.
I had been afraid that all that show of power from the authorities would have scared the younger grandkids, but I guess it just added to the excitement. I truly hope it was a slow day in the town, and that no one in actual need was deprived by their unnecessary attempts to interfere with our adventure. Don't get me wrong; had it been needed I would have been very grateful, and I realize that when 911 is called they must respond—and they can't tell immediately when their help is not needed. But where's the common sense? First of all, they didn't offer their help until I was in water shallow enough to stand up in. Second, they didn't offer, they ordered. Since when is it a crime to fall out of a boat, or to swim across a cove, even with a life jacket on?
It wasn't until this morning that I realized what I really would like to have said to them. But it's just as well: I couldn't have expected to find a Swallows and Amazons fan among them. But for those who love The Picts and the Martyrs as much as I do, I was identifying a great deal with Great Aunt Maria at that moment:
Tin trumpets, Tommy!