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The Eleven Foot Boat

My dad is the son of an avid sailor. Growing up, he and his siblings spent Saturday afternoons out on the East Greenwich Bay with their father. They learned how to tie knots, prevent luffing, and steer the boat in its preferred course of travel. My mom’s side however was not accustomed to sailing, and the last time someone in her family had been on a boat was when her grandparents immigrated from Portugal. My exposure to sailing was thus somewhat limited. Due to my mom’s seasickness, our sailboat remained stagnant in the basement of the barn and only collected more dust and mouse droppings as the years went by.

 

Early last spring, my dad decided to take the boat out of storage and clean it up. It may have been out of the pure desire to use the boat that made him bring it out, but I leaned more towards the fact that the loss of his father made him want to reminisce on his past. Thanks to my curiosity, I got stuck washing the eleven-foot-long red boat with Dawn Dish Soap and a temperamental hose. It was obvious that the boat was worn out. The red paint had peeled and revealed a layer of light blue, which indicated that the sailboat’s original color had been painted over. The brightwork had lost its luster and was no longer consistent in its coloring. Some patches resembled a light tan tone while other sections displayed yellowish streaks with black marks that were later discovered to be mouse poop. I scrubbed down the vessel for a solid two hours making sure that everything was shining After that, the boat was ready for use whenever an opportunity approached.


    That opportunity wasn’t far off and seemed to be timed perfectly with my lovely cleaning job. The next day my family and I would be attending my grandfather’s remembrance party at my aunt’s house. She lived right on the water and because of that, my dad decided to bring the boat along. When we got there, we parked the car by the shore and tilted the trailer down the sandy hill so we could unlock the safety and slide the boat into the water. I was positioned in the back while my dad took the front end. The boat teetered back and forth, and its entrance into the water wasn’t as smooth as planned. My “guiding the boat into the water” skills consisted of shoving it along while my dad, purple in the face, waddling side to side, attempted to lightly guide it in. However, inertia and gravity got the upper hand and the boat plummeted into the water despite our best efforts. The boat was now settling in by bobbing up and down. I assumed that the few gallons of water that accumulated inside the boat was a mere effect of its crash landing into the water. Moving on to the next task, we had to tie up the mast. I wasn’t much help for that either so I stood behind the boat and watched my dad as he muttered to himself about why he couldn’t seem to remember the correct way to tie the line down. In the end, it seemed as if he made a bunch of different loops hoping one would keep the mast from flying away.


It didn’t take long for me to note, yet again, that the boat was now filling up with water at a rapid pace. My dad followed my line of vision and after spotting the flooding issue he casually said, “Can you grab me the empty Folgers coffee can from the car?”


I walked over to the Honda and leaned over the back seat attempting to grab the necessary container. Going back to the dock and handing it to my father, he began to scoop water out of the boat, and dump it back into the bay. It took a solid ten minutes to remove most of it. My dad then said to me, “I’m going to take the boat out first to see if it floats, and then I’ll come back for you.”


I simply nodded, thinking he was nuts to even attempt getting into the boat when it was already sinking without his extra weight. I figured that while he ventured out in the little boat, I would sit on the dock and eat the lunch that my mom had so kindly packed a few hours earlier. I was only a few bites in when I heard from the distance, “I’M SINKING!”


Bewildered, I lifted my head and looked out to the right of the bay. There, in the eleven-foot-long boat was my dad frantically bailing water from his boat. The boat was submerged in the water and was already proving to want a new home of the bottom of the bay. Yet, miraculously it seemed, my dad managed to bail enough water out of the boat to make it back to shore. As he drew closer he shouted, “Get ready to jump.” Confused, I stood on the edge of the dock drying my legs which had been dangling in the water.


“Jump? Where?”


“Into the boat. Quick I’m coming in close.” From his voice, I could tell he was serious.


“You’re already sinking.” I exclaimed. “I’m not getting in.” Looking over at my father, who was still a few yards off, I could see that the water was up to his calf muscles. He was coming in quick.


“JUMP!” He said. I jumped. Or, to be more accurate, I tediously stepped into the boat and fell onto the seat opposite of him. It was then that I could feel the water make my clothes cling to my skin. I could also feel the boat sink lower, and the water around my us began to rise. “Oh no,” my dad groaned. The boat began to tip. The mast came down, my flip flops were now finding their way to the bottom of the bay, and there I was drenched in the muddy water. Being close enough to the dock, I was able to grab onto a pole where a boat would have been tied to and lift myself back onto the dock. Meanwhile, the words that my dad chose to hold back during the previous tribulations of guiding the boat into the water, and fixing the leakage problem came out.


“Uh you nasty son of a-”


“Dad!” I exclaimed.


We both turned the boat right-side up and readjusted everything. The mast was dripping wet and bits of seaweed were floating inside the boat. I figured our adventure was at its end and that the boat would go back on the trailer and live in the barn for another 20 years.  However, I guess I truly didn’t know the persistence of my father. He was determined to get the boat sailing and after he bailed the water out of the boat he said, “Get in, we’re going out again.”


I guess my disbelief clued him in that I wasn’t exactly thrilled to go in a boat that already proved being worthy of sinking. Timidly, I stepped into the sailboat where I almost hit my head on the wooden pole that would steer us in our path. My dad got into the boat after me and explained what we were going to do. We’d sail diagonal towards the houses opposite of us, and when we were close to the shore we’d switch sides on the boat and change the mast’s direction so we’d glide the other way. The problem with this was that I had trouble determining which end of the boat was the bow and my father expected me to remember how to steer the vessel properly.


Before we knew it, our boat felt like it was gliding across the top of the water. The white foam splashed up and began hitting me in the face, making splotches on my glasses. Every time we turned, the wind made us fly faster across the water and the boat would lean on one side in a way that made you feel airborne. The boat was also not filling up as much. My dad assumed that was because it was beginning to swell, so the miniscule gaps between the boards were now closing which would stop the water from coming in.


We were out on the water for about an hour and a half. Coming back to shore, both my dad and I were content for the same, yet different reasons. I found a new enjoyment of being on the water and my dad had the satisfaction of reliving his past even if his shipmate had changed from my grandfather to me.




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