I thought of the time when I was a small person. I sailed a Sabot on Sydney Harbor, a W.D. Schock Co. design whose lineage I would come to appreciate much later. The Sabot is a wooden boat, built like an upright piano — with a stocky teak trim and utilitarian lines. We managed to haul it on top of my father’s white van and drive it the kilometer or so down to the sailing club, where we’d haul it off and rig it on the lawn.
There were a few occasions when I singlehanded the sabot. With only a mainsail to trim, it was a fine shoebox for a kid to handle by themselves. It was fun insomuch as Sydney Harbor was forgiving; unlike San Francisco Bay, I never remember it being critically cold in the water, nor windy enough to make a capsize anything more than an up-and-she’s-off affair.
25 years later, I had my palms on a Santana 22’s grab rails, considering how I should go about pushing her out of the slip. Introduced 30 years after the Sabot, the Santana 22 is a Schock design that in many ways, feels like a grown-up dinghy. Yes, the centerboard has been ungraded to a 1,200 lb fin keel and there’s room aplenty for the adults, but… Here I was, foregoing both engine and company for my own private sail on the Alameda Estuary. I had seen my friend Chris so nimbly depart under sail the previous week and by goodness, I was determined to do it myself.
It all began with a push. I wanted to move with enough momentum to bring around the bow, but not so much as to drift into the adjacent slips. So, I walked her out with intention, like someone ground driving a young horse, until the bow was about to move past the dock. I jumped on, hustled back into the cockpit and tightened the mainsheet; she started to move forward, perhaps only by virtue of my heart, which was hammering strong out of love and fear and wonderment… I was that small person again, moving this multi-ton vessel by wind and by will, a combination that so lends itself to a child’s magical thinking.
And you know, it all felt great — for many reasons. This was me, present, in my own time. I was sailing without someone’s commentary. I was working the full extent of the boat. With each tack I was learning a system, that got better and better. Trust the boat to sail itself, while attending to a douse. Trust in my abilities. There was affirming conversation with the boat, and the boat was giving me reason to affirm myself.
After that time, I told myself to make singlehanding a regular sport, as I love those quiet times with just the sail rippling contentedly above and water passing under the hull. But I also love boats heaving with conversation and with song, the toasts to the sunset, the darts of chatter while racing and ponderous questions while cruising, one day playing the salty sailor and the next, a faux-rich trope. Thankfully, sailing doesn’t make you pick sides. So today, I am a skipper who gratefully and gladly entertains a crew. But there is often a time when a new sailor will ask, with all these lines and blocks and things, how many people do you need to sail a boat like this? I smile coyly and with a little slip of modesty, tell them ever-so-gently that I can do it all myself.