Sailing

August 21, 2001

I saw something this afternoon that simply amazed me. I was walking home from work on a picture perfect day, warm sun, cool breeze, clear air, deep blue sky with a few high white clouds, and as I got to Thayer Park on the water, a young woman was bringing a sail boat into shore, very fast, making quick turns but almost tipping with each one. She was not younger than 16 but not older than 19, tall, slender, wearing a pink two-piece suit that was simultaneously brief and innocent.

She was ducking under the sail with each turn, and going no slower; it was as if she finally decided to ditch, to bail out lest she run into the breakwall, and she just let the boat go over. Now, this was not a Sunfish; it was at least 12′ long, with a tall mast and over it went. But as it was going over, she was walking with it as it rolled, out onto the side, like she was climbing stairs. Then the sail hit the water and she sat down on the side of the boat with her feet resting on the finny thing on the bottom of the boat, now parallel to the water, like it was a footrest and she was out on the deck.

She was talking to a friend who was sitting on a park bench, shouting across the water, completely relaxed and laughing. “It’s so windy!” The friend was in overall shorts and some kind of top, but she’s being invited out to join her in the boat that’s laying on its side. Spontaneity is not my strong suit, and so I was awestruck when the girl on the bench got up, walked over to the steps, swung around the fence, walked down to the water and with her shoes in her hand, began to swim out to the boat, fully clothed.

The sailor, meanwhile, stands up on the finny thing, like it’s a step, shakes her hair loose, and dives into the water, in a perfect, effortless arc, not at all a show dive but just a quicksilver, fluid dip into the lake to cool off. Then she puts her hair tie back in, swims back to the boat and pulls herself up onto the finny thing (I know, it’s got a name, but I’m not looking it up), all so fast that I don’t know how she did it, pulls herself onto the side of the boat and rights it in one motion, hopping in as it comes around, the sail flat on the water one moment and straight up in the air the next, and she sails to meet her friend who is now out to the boat. The sailor dipped the boat in the swimmer’s direction so she could clamber in, and off they went.

It was like a movie. Laurie was saying the other night, it’s like people in movies all know how to ride horses. I walked down to the jetty and they were halfway across the lake, both in the water again, probably still laughing, then both back in and off again, the sail almost silver in the sunlight. What a place to grow up. What a magnificent day.

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