Two days later, in the mid-afternoon, we strapped the boat back on top of the car and headed down to the river. Knowing we had only a few days left in the season to sail in warm sun and warm-ish water, we decided to capitalize on this balmy autumn day. When we got to Detweiller Marina it was 68 degrees and breezy. I sealed our $5 launch fee in the envelope while Jeff took all of the pieces of the boat out of the car. Together we carried the Dingster (my new nickname for the yet unnamed vessel) down to the concrete launch while another couple backed their ugly 1970’s era powerboat in to the water alongside us. The marina was full of motorized adult play toys, though a few sail and house boats joined the ranks.
Once we had all of the pieces laid out I asked Jeff to show me how to put the boat together, rather than him just doing it himself. It was a fairly simple process, as our dingy only has one sail. The simplicity of the boat means we can easily put it together and take it apart in under 10 minutes. First we put the mast together by sliding one spar into the other, then we attached the boom with a gooseneck clip. We threaded the sail through the sleeve and fed the sheet (rope) through the block on the boom. Before we put the mast up, we snapped the rudder into place and attached the tiller arm with a simple turn and click locking mechanism. Then we set the mast into the mast step and clamped it in place. We put the removable centerboard in boat and carried her down to the water. As it was a bit gusty, Jeff thought he should take her for a test run before I got in the boat with him. As he sailed her around the small, protected marina, he made it look so simple. He also looked happy. It occurred to me that Jeff had not been at the helm of a sailboat since our Florida charter over 10 months ago. It had been too long since he had sailed and felt the wind in his face. He was immediately comfortable on the water and was eager to get me onboard.
After a quick trip around the shallow bay he circled back to the dock and picked me up. We waited as the powerboat from earlier motored out to the river. Questioning the stability of the boat, and being in an area of gusty winds, we both thought it best if I curled up in the bow of the boat, below the boom. Lying on the boat bottom, staring up at Jeff and the sky, I had a heightened sense of the fickle and shifting winds. Though I could not see where we were, I could tell by the change in the waves and the breeze when we had cleared the marina and were sailing in the river. A tiny leak from the centerboard well began to accumulate in the narrow bilge that runs down the middle of the boat. Typically this would not have been an issue, but since I was lying in the boat, rather than sitting on one of her benches, my clothes began to soak up her mess.
As we crossing the dredged shipping channel, Jeff talked me through some of the sailing basics that I had only read about. I had lots of questions about wind direction verses sailing direction and how the tiller and the sail worked together to move the boat. Jeff patiently answered all of my questions while I sat in the bow beginning to shiver. Having taken on a few waves from the wake of some rather careless motorboats, I had become soaking wet, so we decided to head downriver rather than continuing across and then back to marina, with me at the tiller and Jeff controlling the sail.
I remembered the first time I controlled the sheets on Helbent, Jeff’s Catalina 22, and the sound and feeling of the boat when the sail began to luff. Luffing, for our non-sailor readers, is when the sail becomes slack and it starts to flap in the breeze. It is loud and annoying and it seems that many sailors are born with an innate sense of how to correct the sail before it begins to luff. Needless to say, I don’t possess that skill, yet. In a serpentine path, we made our way back to the marina as I learned to pull the tiller toward me as the sail started to shake and straighten it back out when I realized I had over compensated.
Back at the launch we hauled her out, took her apart, and strapped her back on top of the car. We had been on the water for over 2 hours, but it seemed like 30 minutes. In the car, I bundled up in my wind jacket, cranked up the heat, and checked the forecast for when we could take her out again.