Sailors don’t have many dry-land lessons, but one is learning the points of sail: beat, reach and run, that our instructor drew for us on a blackboard on a gray rainy day when we had no chance of going out.
We’d all squeeze on two wooden benches in our gear room. Tall white lockers lined the walls and were filled with sail bags, spinnaker sheets, anchors, Clorox bottle bailers and a mess of screws, blocks and shrouds. In the air you smelled dry salt, chlorine from our hair and the pool below and French fries from the snack bar next room over.
In the air you smelled dry salt, chlorine from our hair and the pool below and French fries from the snack bar next room over.
Chad would draw an arrow pointing down from the top of the blackboard. This was the wind. Then he’d draw the hull of a boat pointing at a 45-degree angle to the wind. This was a beat. 90 degrees was a reach. He’d then explain beam reaches and broad reaches, and how to trim our sails as our boat pointed to, or away from the wind. A run was also called going downwind.
Our other dry-land lesson was knot-tying. This we did on the lawn, on a day it was actually too breezy and we’d be flipping left and right. Our instructors had a book of knots they laid out on the picnic table, a rock holding the top pages down. We’d hunch over it, shoulders pressed. Bowline, square knot, half hitch, clove hitch, figure-eight, slipknot, sheepshank, fisherman’s bend.
My bowline was adequate. In my head, I’d recite, “The bunny goes up the hole, around the tree and back down the hole” while my eyes followed the line in my hands.
Not with Natalie. She tied knots in one fluid motion and you could tell by looking at her she wasn’t reciting anything about the bunny. A flow took over, an aloof intensity, as her long fingers just looped and swirled and thread, and then she’d look up, holding a carrick bend.
She tied knots in one fluid motion and you could tell by looking at her she wasn’t reciting anything about the bunny. A flow took over, an aloof intensity, as her long fingers just looped and swirled and thread, and then she’d look up, holding a carrick bend.
Our instructors timed us. Natalie could tie a bowline in less than two seconds. No one beat her. This was a win for us girls. Natalie beat all the boys in knot-tying.
Her aloofness was a quality she took out on the water. She’d sit on the windward rail, her wrist limp as she held the jib sheet, gazing out but not particularly caring if we were first or last around the mark. Her thing was swimming. She was a strong breaststroker on swim team. Results in the pool mattered so much more to her than on the racecourse.
She had a natural grace and her knot-tying was just an extension of it. She was tall and bony, with light brown hair that fell to her waist, big brown eyes and perfectly curled lashes. She had the habit of closing one eye in the sun so you’d talk to her and wonder if that left eye would ever open.
“Go!” Chad called, clicking his stopwatch. At three seconds, Natalie would look up holding the knot in her hands, and wait while the rest of us looped our sorry sheepshank or gave up entirely. There she stood, her head cocked, left eye shut in the sun, smelling of Herbal Essence and chlorine, smiling a victor’s smile.