This is a tale about how a landlubber-Bill would call me a ‘shitkicker’, sailors use bad words a lot- ended up with the scariest, roughest, most dangerous job an a sail boat. Ask any sailor. I won’t use nautical terms, although Bill made me learn them all and it was a good thing. Did you know there are no ropes on a boat? There are only sheets and haulyards. Sheets trim sails. Haulyards haul the damn things-that’s shitkicker talk-up or down.

Bill taught me to race on Manila Bay. I learned to love it. Our first boat was very small, two men- one guy and one girl-we were beautiful then- I was the one on the jib. When he bought a bigger boat, an Olympic class Dragon-29 feet of gorgeous sloop, there were over 20 of them in the fleet-I felt as if he’d moved me out of a tent into a  house. A nice house, too.The English royals sailed one. Her name was Blue Bottle and they would cry “Blue Bottle fly”  in the heat and delirium of a race.

Our boat was named Pau Hana and when I became the foredeck gurl I learned how to swear in fourteen languages and throw beer bottles.  Coming up on a mark with over a dozen sharp-nosed sloops, cranky skippers, and other foredeckers determined to haul their sail in fastest and hit you with their beer bottles was not only a physical feat, it was an emotional high.

The foredeck man is  the guy-in this case gurl-who’s on the bow hauling the spinnaker up and down. The spinnaker is that gorgeous sail that looks like a colorful balloon out in front of the boat when the wind is filling it from behind.  Billowed out it looks like the boat is pregnant.  It also has a spinnaker pole that must be attached and unattached when the damn thing goes up or down.

I got to be the foredeck gurl because, when the winds were light, I was the only one light enough to work it . When the winds came up I was the only one who knew how.

When we sailed in Hawaii, crossing these channels with the spinnaker up when the winds were light, was fun. When the winds were high it was scary as hell. At least for this shitkicker.

We always sailed with a crew of stinky gorillas-surfers or hippies, happy to catch a free ride to other islands- but for the most part useless when it came to working. They got to watch while I did all the work. In a race, with the spinnaker coming down, Bill would slap the main sheet on the deck in a kind of a Captain Bligh beat, and shout, “Faster. Faster. Get it down.” Once I almost cut my toe off on a stay and he shouted, “Stop bleeding on my deck.”

With the sail down, hanging on with my teeth while making my way aft,  I’d  try to impale him with the pole when I tossed it at him at the tiller. With one hand  he’d  snatch it out of thin air. It never failed to amuse the gorillas.

I never considered divorce, but I sure considered murder.


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