Connections: Sailing 101

Keeping the lines on boats stored without kinks or twists is one of the first things sailors learn

    It was 17 degrees that morning, so maybe the reason the conversation turned to warm water sailing was to put our minds over matter. I had been coiling a heavy orange extension cord, which was no longer needed near my desk, and announced rather smugly to a co-worker who happened to be standing nearby that I knew how to coil lines correctly because I had spent a lot of time on boats.

    “You got all but two turns right,” he said rather seriously as he took the cord to put it away. That my score was only fair was embarrassing.

    For anyone who doesn’t know what I’m talking about, keeping the lines on boats stored without kinks or twists is one of the first things sailors learn. A line that doesn’t flow out when it’s needed to, say, tie up at a dock or throw to someone who’s fallen overboard can cause trouble, indeed.

    So I told Paul, my co-worker, a story that I had repeated to others over the years about how little I knew about boats before I came to live in East Hampton. “I was afraid of rowboats in Clove Lake,” I would tell people, referring to a park on Staten Island that my friends and I frequented as teenagers from nearby Bayonne, N.J.

    One of my first lessons in what real boating was all about occurred when my husband-to-be and I sailed to Greenport in an old wooden catboat he had just bought, the first of several we eventually were to own. As instructed, I jumped onto the dock at which we were about to tie up, holding a heavy coil of line. I then stood there befuddled as he yelled — twice — “Take a turn around it.” A seafaring man of considerable experience, he was able to get on the dock, grab the line from my hand, and wind it several times around a heavy piling before the boat crashed into anything.

    Our winter conversation then turned logically to tying boats up at moorings rather than docks, and the tension that might ensue. Paul laughed and told me how he and his partner had rented a boat that was bigger than they had experience with, and how difficult the necessary communication became when they had to pick up a mooring in a crowded anchorage. Nowadays, Paul’s boat is of a size they manage quite well. But even though it is usually moored in a cove near their house, he runs a pick-up line between the real buoy, anchored into the harbor bottom, and a second one, providing an easier way to hook on.

    Before we got back to work, I had another story to tell. One fall day in the 1980s, I, my daughter, and a Star reporter took out our family’s last cruising catboat, which we kept at a small marina on the cove near the entrance to Three Mile Harbor. We were coming into our slip under power when the engine conked out. My daughter sailed the boat in with ultimate grace, evoking approbation from a few people on shore. That she was good at sailing was almost genetic.

    The conversation was then about to veer to ice-boating, but we decided that subject was better left for a hot summer’s day.