The sailboat rocked gently, squashing the vinyl fenders against the dock. Cindi Daniels stood on the bow with one hand on the forestay. She was dressed in the Land’s End TM look. Her petite figure was draped with white shorts and a pastel blue blouse with white trim. Her hair was tied back with a blue and white scarf, the ends of which fluttered in the breeze.
Doug Daniels sat in the cockpit. His irritation rose as he watched the dockhand in conversation with Cindi. Doug’s own garb contrasted sharply with that of his wife. Paint-spattered jeans hung over a pair of boat loafers. His square shoulders supported a T-shirt with an image of Martin Luther King on the front. The tinge of gray hair above his ears helped give him a distinguished accountant look on business days, but now, well away from Philadelphia, he took a perverse pleasure in dressing down. It was partly a way of flaunting his contrast to Cindi’s immaculate attire, and partly his own need to present a persona of casual sailor.
Doug thought about how he had met Cindi three months after his first marriage had broken up. She was bright and beautiful, a part-time decorating consultant and sometimes clothing model. Eight years his junior, Cindi had admired Doug’s maturity and professional stability. Her looks and younger age had been a boost to his ego. Finding her had helped him weather the first year after his divorce.
Still, in the three years since their marriage, Doug had become concerned with Cindi’s degree of dependency on him. She seemed unable to assert any interests of her own outside her work, demurring to his decisions and choices of leisure activities when they spent time together. It left Doug unsettled. He initially liked her subservience toward him, yet found too much of it annoying. He found himself wanting her to be more of her own person, to occasionally challenge him. He secretly wondered if she was too young to engage him at his own level of maturity.
Once or twice, Doug had tried to raise these concerns with her. He was careful to do so in an oblique manner, fearing she would be oversensitive to his criticism. Once he had suggested the possibility that they might disagree on something major in the future. Cindi had not seemed to take him seriously:
“Why Douglas, whatever would we have to disagree about?” she had teased.
He had been at a loss for an answer since they had never argued. Even his desire to attend the sailing school on Chesapeake Bay had not produced any apparent opposition from Cindi who wasn’t normally adventurous. Doug had known, too, she was a little timid around the water after the accidental drowning of an older brother when Cindi was a teenager.
“She would be of little real assistance in an emergency” Doug thought, “Cindi is simply a dutiful wife–nice scenery–along for the ride.” Sometimes he fancied she was a colorful paper doll living in a dream house and a dream world that Doug was free to create as he pleased. Hell, he was not always sure himself what he wanted! How could she expect him to direct both their lives?
‘OK, let’s go already!” Doug tried to feign a shout, raising his voice just enough to serve notice on the dockhand. Cindi surprised Doug by breaking off her conversation.
“You got it Skipper, casting off.”
The dock attendant looked disappointed but shoved the boat away from the dock while tossing the dock line to Cindi. Doug maneuvered the boat through the narrow channel leading into Back Creek.
“You might want to take in a reef if the breeze gets up” the dockhand called after them. Doug waved a hand without replying. He was already engrossed with skippering the sailboat they had been allowed to day charter after completing the three day sailing course.
Ten minutes of short tacking back and forth on the narrow creek brought the couple to the last green day marker at the east end of the creek. The width of the Chesapeake Bay stretched out ahead. Doug could see Hemingway’s Restaurant on the famed Maryland eastern shore across the bay, where the two sailors had celebrated with other course graduates the previous night.
Cindi began hauling up the jib on the boat’s bouncing bow. Her footing was unsteady. Doug let the mainsail go slack so the boat would drift and went to the forward end of the boat to help raise the jib sail. Cindi let her husband finish the job. She had practiced the maneuver and knew she could manage the task, but suspected that he enjoyed taking care of her.
They drifted wing and wing, with the sails out on opposite sides of the boat, letting the wind carry them to the edge of the shipping channel. When they reached it, the wind had shifted a bit more and Doug was able to take up his previously planned southerly course to Thomas Point Light, using an easy broad reach with little effort. The breeze was fresher now and powered up the boat some as the couple settled into their own individual thoughts while basking in the sun and scenery.
An hour passed. Doug felt comfortable with the boat, fresh from the three days of on the water lessons with an instructor. On several occasions, the instructor had demonstrated sailing the boat single-handed and Doug had thought he might have to do it in the future. There was no way he could be sure of Cindi’s capabilities in a hard weather sailing situation. He figured that he could handle most things alone if required. Cindi, he hoped, had learned the basics and could come along for the ride on pleasant days like today.
Soon, Thomas Point Light perched a quarter mile off the right hand side of the boat. It was a perfectly picturesque scene with a flock of hovering seagulls over the light, looking as if they were painted on the sky. Cindi was enjoying the scene and smiled at her husband. She knew that learning to sail was something he had wanted to do for some time. She was not sure if she would like it as much if the weather were stormy or the water was rougher. Being out on a large body of water still made her a little uneasy and brought back memories of her brother’s drowning ten years earlier. Still, she trusted Doug.
“I’m enjoying sailing with you” she said.
“Are you?” he answered light-heartedly.
She smiled at him. She suspected Doug had doubts about her capabilities in an emergency, but she was confident that, with enough time on the water, she would be a helpful shipmate. She wanted to earn his respect as an equal and responsible partner in their relationship. Maybe that was why she sacrificed some of her own needs to meet Doug’s. He seemed to like to take authority. Cindi suspected it was a natural part of his business training and responsibilities. Sometimes, though, it left her confused concerning what he expected of her. She did not want Doug to think she was totally dependent on him.
“Let’s bring it around and reach back up the bay” Doug said.
Cindi handled the jib sheet lines while Doug turned the boat and brought the boom over to the other side. Doug was surprised by how much the wind had stiffened. He had not noticed it rising when it had been more behind the boat. Now it was gusting to fifteen knots and caught him off guard. Doug tensed as he tried to keep the boat close hauled on a course back toward the marina. Sudden gusts shoved the edge of the boat down to the water as he failed to bear off on a broader reach course.
“I wonder if we will need to take a reef in the mainsail” he said. Cindi detected a faint alarm in his voice. She tried to be reassuring.
“Maybe, but we seem OK for now. Let’s sail this boat.”
Doug thought her bravado uncharacteristic, but he did not reply. They began a long series of lively tacks, jig-sawing a path back up the bay. The bow slapped down hard against the growing chop in the water. Noise was magnified in their new heading against the wind. At each change of course, the sails flapped and crackled as they were hauled across the boat. Something rattled loose in a compartment, jangling Doug’s nerves as it rolled around. Doug noted Cindi’s silence as she huddled in a protected corner of the cockpit. He suspected she was becoming increasingly afraid. He silently swore at the changed wind conditions that attacked the pleasant sail he had planned.
Cindi smiled weakly at her husband. She saw the tension in his face. Seagulls were squawking over his head, looking flimsy and weak as the birds were flung off course in sudden gusts of wind. Cindi thought she, too, must look helpless since there was little she could do between tacks of the boat.
“Ready? Coming about!” Doug shouted, his voice fighting the wind coming over the bow. “Switching to a port tack!”
The jib sheet line snagged on a fender hanger as Doug pulled over the tiller and mainsail. Cindi gasped in dismay as the foresail backfilled with wind, making the boat hard to control. At the same time, the main boom swung violently back across the boat in a sweeping crash. The boat heeled over wildly, nearly dumping its clawing occupants into the water.
Doug looked at his wife. He felt angry and helpless. His blood seemed to be pumping through his veins like water through a firehose. Cindi clutched at the companionway hatch as though she might find some escape if she went below into the cabin. Doug wondered if she expected him to save them; to switch off some wind switch that would instantly end their predicament.
“Dam” he thought, “I can’t do it.” He knew he had lost control of the boat when it rolled heavily again, jarring him back on task. “Get out our lifejackets!” he shouted.
Cindi retrieved the jackets and helped Doug get his on while he fought the tiller to keep the boat as stable as possible. Cindi struggled into her own life jacket just as the wind force again shoved the boat over to one side.
“The jib—we’ve got to get the jib free to get control!” Doug was shouting in sudden decision. Cindi pulled franticly at the snagged jib sheet, forcing loose some slack during a momentary lull in the wind. It did not help much. The additional slack line slid forward off the bow and the boat threaded itself neatly through the loop. The line jerked taut beneath the boat, yanking and straining at the boat’s rail and the clew of the jib. Cindi turned toward her husband for advice just as the mainsail boom made another uncontrolled sweep across the boat. Cindi saw it catch Doug as he half rose trying to catch the boom’s downhaul line. He yelled in pain as the aluminum spar crashed against his shoulder and catapulted him into the water.
Everything disappeared as the water crushed around him. He was in a suddenly silent world. There was no noise, no boat, no Cindi. He plunged downward, feeling a surge of hatred for everything that was happening. He imagined Cindi on the boat, shocked by his carelessness and lack of competence. Desperately, he arched his back, pulling himself upright and allowing the lifejacket to lift him to the surface. He broke out of the water gasping for air. The boat was a hundred yards beyond him and sailing away.
Cindi stared back at the water. She could not see her husband but thought the life jacket would bring him to the surface. She did not know if he was conscious. She tried to think, shaking her head violently to clear her thoughts. The ice cooler, sliding back and forth on the cabin floor, caught her eye. She trapped it, yanking open the container and grabbing a bottle of beer. Climbing back on deck, she smashed the neck of the bottle on the wood trim of the companionway. Using the broken bottle, she sawed savagely at the thin jib line until it parted, letting the wind out of the sail. Sprawled on the cabin top, Cindi clung to the mast as she loosed the jib halyard and watched the sail slide down the stay and tangle with its own hoisting line. It was out of action enough to keep the bow under control. The boat slowed. The mainsail flapped wildly off the starboard side of the boat where it was caught at the length of the mainsheet. Crawling back to the tiller, Cindi spotted a flash of orange on the water. It looked a long way behind the boat. She grabbed the mainsheet, pulling it in to let the boat gain speed. Then she turned the boat around, slipping the line into its cam just as the sailboat was facing back in the direction from which it had come. The boat lunged forward on a course back toward Doug.
Somewhere inside her head Cindi could hear the voice of the sailing instructor guiding her actions. She bore off a bit away from the wind until she was almost on line with her husband who was waving his hand. At the last moment, she turned directly toward him, into the wind, and clambered to the mast to undo the main halyard. The mainsail tumbled down on her but she managed to keep the halyard line in her hand as she lunged to the side of now-slowed boat.
Doug watched, catching glimpses of the sailboat as it miraculously turned and came back toward him. Cindi was at the tiller and the jib was partially crumpled on the foredeck with a portion flapping over one side of the bow. He watched in disbelief as Cindi pushed over the tiller and boat became a sliver of white moving directly toward him. As the hull slid by a mere two feet away, Doug reached up to take the line his wife was holding out to him. The boat drifted forward another thirty yards before Doug could work his way to the stern ladder and lock his hand around Cindi’s outstretched arm.
With its sails down, the craft rocked gently on the water. The cockpit was full of crumpled mainsail and the two sailors crouched in the folds of cloth as they hugged each other. Another sailboat moved smoothly across the bay. Doug stared at it in confusion, wondering how his own boat had gotten so out of control. He felt foolish and could not understand how Cindi had managed to come back for him. “She found the off switch” Doug thought.
They bundled up the jib sail in the tangled lines on the foredeck. Working in silent harmony, they bundled the mainsail around the boom. Then Doug fired up the outboard and headed back to the marina. At the dock, flying paper debris and the clinking halyards of other boats gave testimony to the new-found strength in the Chesapeake Wind. Doug had not been prepared for handling its power. Nor had he anticipated the possibility of being thrust out of a picture book sailing scene.
Cindi made fast the bow line and jumped off the disheveled boat, taking the picnic lunch they had intended to eat on board. Doug looked at her, puzzled.
“I’ll put out our lunch. You can change clothes and tidy up this mess” she said.
“Aye – aye Skipper!” He saluted her as she departed.
A half hour later, Doug Daniels chewed on a sandwich as he tried to resolve his sense of conflict and confusion. He had discovered an unsuspected dimension to Cindi, an ability to play a more viable role in their relationship then he had imagined. The burden of total responsibility he had felt the past several months had been blown away with the now-dying wind. He wondered if it was his insecurity, not hers, that had produced his sense of separateness.
Cindi’s voice interrupted his thoughts. Her voice sounded reassuring.
“I thought we got out of that pretty well. I never was that frightened, were you?”
“Yes,” Doug replied honestly, “Yes, I was.”