A Veteran’s Day tribute by a grateful recipient of help.
Many years ago I was dating a man who decided one day that we should take sailing lessons on a Hobie Cat, a brand of catamaran. Because I was young, stupid, and in love, I agreed.
Our lessons were one-on-one with an expert Hobie Catter. We learned everything there was to know and soon Joe and I were off to the races so to speak.
Joe was so enthusiastic about sailing after our handful of lessons that he bought a brand-new Hobie Cat. It had a white sail with rainbow stripes. We purchased all the gear necessary including wet suits so that cooler water and/or air temperatures wouldn’t stop our adventure. My size XS wet suit was still too big for me so I wasn’t nearly as warm as I’d hoped to be. I was a lot thinner back then!
Joe and I took our Hobie Cat out nearly every single day. Joe and I sometimes went out twice per day even if I only agreed half-heartedly. I wasn’t as in love with the idea of going out into the wide open ocean as Joe was. Plus, it was a lot of work getting the Hobie ready to sail.
Eventually, I caught the bug of being on a Hobie Cat and we started entering regattas. It was both thrilling and frustrating at the same time. Joe had this uncanny ability of getting us into irons. We’d sit on the trampoline and watch all the other sailors go by while we messed around with the sails. If we were lucky, we would finish the race before everyone went home.
Joe and I never won a single regatta; we didn’t even place. I’m pretty sure we didn’t even get the usual participation ribbon.
Joe’s mom didn’t like that we sailed. I think she was nervous that her idiot son along with his idiot girlfriend would find a way to accidentally kill ourselves. Every time we sailed back to the sand after competing in a regatta, she’d laugh and laugh at us and our poor outcome. She’d make fun of us like her life depended on it. As I look back on her behavior, perhaps she was using an incredibly immature way to try to get us to quit.
Her laughing tactics didn’t work. Joe and I tried even harder. We made it our goal to go out onto the Atlantic Ocean at least two times each and every day in order to improve our chances of winning a future regatta.
It was this new pursuit of excellence that got us into trouble, however.
The day was picture perfect in the seaside town of Cape May, New Jersey. The sun was shining and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The temperature was not too hot and not too cold, and the water was warm — no wet suit necessary.
I had on a bikini and Joe had on his swim trunks. We left our towels on the beach like we always did because we knew we’d be back in an hour or two.
Cue the Gilligan’s Island music here.
Joe and I prepared the Hobie, and when it was ready, we slid it easily into the water and made it quickly through the first sets of waves into the wide open water. Getting the Hobie through the waves near the shore was always a thrill because we weren’t always successful. Nothing like the trauma of your large boat heading toward swimmers to get your heart pumping!
We sailed out on that beautiful day pretty far but still within sight of the shore. That’s when the weather changed dramatically. The sky, once cloudless and perfectly blue, was suddenly dark gray, threatening, and producing high winds.
The sails caught the wind and suddenly Joe and I were going far too fast. We were never trained on how to go as fast as we were going. It’s kind of ironic that the one time we needed to be in irons and Joe couldn’t do it.
Suddenly and without warning, the front points of the hulls pushed themselves underwater and the Hobie Cat quickly flipped over, easily flinging Joe and I from the vessel; the boat ended up turtling with its mast stuck in the sand of the Atlantic.
There was never a time when I felt confident enough as a swimmer that I went sailing without my life jacket, and for this small bit of caution, I’m happy to report that although we both went all the way underwater when thrown from the boat, we quickly bobbed to the top.
Gasping for air and slowly coming to the realization that we were in deep trouble, we hung onto the underside of the Hobie Cat for dear life. I remember trying to take in our new reality and make a judgment call regarding our next move.
Unfortunately, the Hobie had its own idea about what was going to happen next. Joe and I looked at each other in horror as the boat’s mast was slowly returning to the surface. The sail had taken an air bubble under water when it went down, and the bubble helped bring the boat back up.
Suddenly breaking the surface, the boat righted itself and the wind caught the wet sails. The boat was like an untamed horse and tried to charge alone and unmanned through the water. Fortunately, Joe remembered the advice given to us from our sailing instructor and he hoisted himself up onto the trampoline and released the sails, then slid back into the water where we sheltered ourselves, hanging onto the Dolphin bar while the pissed off Hobie Cat bucked its disapproval.
I can’t remember what we said to each other. I know we both looked to the shoreline and saw people standing on the rocks. I assumed they were watching us but wasn’t entirely sure since many people go to the beach and stare out at the horizon.
Before I could get too scared, Joe and I heard and saw a boat speeding toward us. For some reason, it never occurred to me that the boat was coming for us. I assumed we’d get out of this jam on our own somehow but it might take a little bit of time.
The next thing I knew, the Coast Guard pulled up next to us and said jokingly to lighten the mood, “Looks like you could use a little help.”
I don’t think I knew how scared I was about the situation I had put myself in until I was rescued by the Coast Guard in Cape May, NJ. As soon as they pulled me aboard their boat, I started crying and shaking uncontrollably. The wonderfully kind people on that boat gave me one of their blankets, wrapped me up tightly, and talked to me in a soothing way. They assured me my reaction was normal.
The people on the rocks were jumping up and down and probably cheering at the rescue — we were too far to hear any sound. We found out later that a person on the rocks had witnessed what happened, and had run into a nearby restaurant to report our distress to the Coast Guard.
The Coast Guard took over our Hobie Cat and towed it behind their boat back to their dock. They gave us a quick health assessment (we declined a trip to the hospital) and sent us safely on our way back home.
I am very grateful to the men and women of the Coast Guard and all military personnel on this Veteran’s Day, 2018. Thank you for your selfless service.
P.S. You would think that this scary event would stop us from ever taking the Hobie Cat out again; however, you’d be wrong. We continued sailing but with less enthusiasm. It took seeing a giant, monstrous, hugely enormous big fish in the water that finally kept us on the beach. To this day, I still don’t know what kind of fish it was. The only thing we knew was that it was far bigger and fatter than anything we’d ever seen swimming in the ocean before and it swam right under the Hobie and then flipped himself underwater right next to us, showing Joe and I its full size.
The fish may have been 6–7 feet long and perhaps somewhere in the thousands of pounds category. I know, I know, you’re thinking I’m someone who tells a ‘the one that got away’ story, but this is the story about what was big enough to scare two very stubborn 20-something-year-olds into never going out onto the water again.
Hobie Cat and all its gear — SOLD!
Day 3 of the 30 Day Blogging Challenge I dared myself to start (and finish).