Marrying, as I did, a gorgeous redhead (there being no other kind) includes automatic induction into the League of Timid Men. This explains why I did not object when my lady wife announced that she was going to learn to ski so she could join our grown children on the snowy mountains. Actually, I was delighted to hear this decision since she had been contemplating learning to hang glide. In the lodge some months later, before pulling my chair closer to the fire to indulge my enthusiasm for the novels of Charlie Dickens, I happily waved my family away to the slopes. The skiing experience was all downhill from there.
Some months later Margaret began windsurfing. I certainly did not want to take the wind out of her sail because I found it very pleasant to carry my book and chair down to the sunny beach. As I finished each chapter I looked up and waved to the daughter of Nereus. In windsurfing it is important that the ocean waves back.
Unfortunately, the next project involved me more directly. Spending most of her childhood in the Sudan and Egypt, little Margaret loved to watch the graceful feluccas on the Nile. Therefore, in these latter days she determined to learn to sail a boat. That is when I discovered that sailing is an activity best described as hours of unrelenting boredom alternating with moments of sheer terror.
Sailing is very dangerous. For example, when Athena got hacked off because Ajax dared to lay violent hands on the prophetess Cassandra, Poseidon agreed to stir up his waters with wild whirlwinds and let dead men choke the bays and line the shores and reefs. If the whims of Poseidon don’t worry you, just study Acts 27-28 with the help of sailor and scholar James Smith’s 1866 Voyage and Shipwreck of St. Paul. Paul’s ship was caught in a typhoon of such violence that the mariners had to give the ship to the gale and scud before it for 14(!) days. For these two weeks Julius, Aristarchus, St. Paul and St. Luke were too scared to eat. Nearing land the ship hit a shoal, the bow stuck and the stern broke up. All 276 men had to swim for their lives. Reaching the island of Malta, Paul immediately got hisself snake bit.
My previous connection to boats was limited to trying to visualize the scene with Cleopatra (Queen of Denial) when The barge she sat in, like a burnish’d throne/ Burn’d on the water; the stern was beaten gold,/ Purple the sails, and so perfumed, that/ The winds were lovesick with them (“Antony and Cleopatra,” act 2, scene 2, lines 196-9).
Apparently some kinds of sailing vessels require ballast, and I discovered that my role in this endeavor was to provide it. Sounded easy. I am an expert at sitting, but I thought it was a waste of mental energy to learn silly nautical terms like “port” and “starboard” when I already knew “right” and “left.”
So came the great day of our maiden voyage. Lady Margaret, Admiral of the Ocean Seas, took her place at the tiller holding the main sheet. The intrepid Sir Ballast sat amidships with the jib and the journey began. Calm seas and gentle winds convinced Sir Ballast that a merry “yo, ho ho” would not be amiss. Just then the wind whipped up and the boat began to fly across the lake at such a tremendous speed that capsizing appeared imminent.
In this crisis my Lady Admiral calmly but firmly instructed her crew (namely me) to “trim the boat.” Now, I know how to “trim” hair or a Christmas tree, but I had no idea how to “trim” a boat. In another couple of seconds we would have been under water. Butt (if you will pardon the expression) recognizing the problem (namely me), and with the command presence only the great ones possess, new instructions were immediately issued. “Hang your rear end over the right side!”
This is the only time I can ever remember that I got to throw my weight around. In addition I was promoted to my present and permanent rank: rear admiral.