They say the dog days of summer are a good time to spend on the water. My brothers and I would agree, though we’ve learned some lessons the hard way in recent years through our adventures in boating.
There’s something about sailing that has always called out to me. That’s a problem for a midwestern farm kid whose biggest interaction with the sea in his formative years was swimming in the waterway behind our house after a heavy rain — hardly a suitable body of water for the magnificent ship I envisioned sailing.
A couple of summers ago, while working at the Ohio State Fair, I came across an ad on craigslist for a small sailboat in the Columbus area up for sale. The sky opened up and cherubs seemed to sing when my wandering eyes found the advert. A sailboat that I could afford! After a quick trip to the seller’s house I was back to the fairgrounds with a boat stuffed in the back of my S-10 and a slightly lighter wallet, even though the vessel was just as long as my entire truck.
My magnificent craft immediately became a source of intense ridicule from my fellow barn workers at the State Fair. My shoestring budget at the time was enough to buy what I called a boat, but what many others saw as more of a board of Styrofoam with a hard plastic shell and a wooden rudder — and they would be right.
Nonetheless, my dreams of sailing the high seas were coming to fruition. It had just so happened that my family was making an excursion up to the islands of Lake Erie in the coming weeks. The Sea Snark (the brand of boat) had to go with us.
I immediately enlisted the help of my two older brothers to get it into working order. They shared my enthusiasm for the boat — as well as the jeers and laughter from our family and friends.
Days later we were at the shore of a friend’s small farm pond who only agreed to allowing us on the water under the condition that if we drowned, he wouldn’t be liable. With that confidence boost, we were off! The sails were up, the crew was ready, and the winds were…nonexistent. “No worry,” we thought. We were sure our time on the water that day was educational enough to prepare us for everything that could come our way.
(In the coming weeks, the farmer whose pond we docked at was approached on several occasions being asked whether or not he knew there seemed to be some large item in his pond with a big red sail. “Funny you mention it,” he said. “I thought something was different out there.”)
The next several weeks were filled with ideas of sailing. Countless hay bales were tossed while daydreaming about the time we’d be enjoying on the water.
Fast forward a couple weeks and there we were on the north side of Kelley’s Island during what seemed to be one of the windiest days on record. Perfect, we thought, for sailing. We set the boat in the water and pushed her off.
What followed I cannot properly describe. Between the white water, broken wood, high seas, panic, profanities, and Coast Guard — the day was…educational. Somewhere around the fifth capsize, we figured out that these farm boys just weren’t prepared for the bigger waters. That’s not to say we didn’t have a blast.
Soon we were back at the farm pond. And yes we did find wind. The intrepid Penhorwood boys have since worked to hone our nautical knowledge. We do still capsize, though our righting abilities have gotten considerably faster. An old fertilizer jug tied to the top of the mast keeps the entire sail from going into the water, a major hindrance when bringing the boat back topside, we’ve learned.
I have also found that it is sometimes better to start off small and not get ahead of myself. How often do we tackle things the size of Lake Erie when really we need to spend more time at the farm pond level, appreciating and mastering the little things? I have tried to follow my dreams even when people laugh at them (which I admit still happens quite often with the Sea Snark).
So the next time you’re driving the back roads of Ohio and see a farm pond, be sure to look a bit closer. You might just see a red piece of Styrofoam with a fertilizer jug tied to the mast, tie-down straps for pulleys, and a few farmer-tanned sailors manning its stern.