A Dinghy Diary
by Molly Winans
A few evenings ago, while docking after a sweet sail and sunset, a friend and I were on deck, preparing to retrieve dock lines, discussing nostalgia. I had just told the crew about how our stormy and then overcast trip home from Oxford felt autumnal to me, except for one major detail: I was barefoot. I knew my comfortable barefoot days were numbered.
I told my friend that I understood how fall could make him feel yearnings for the past with leaves turning and summer ending. He said, “I don’t just feel nostalgic for summer. It’s more visceral than that. I feel nostalgic for like eighth grade.” Such moments—a guy pushing 40, leaning on a shroud and talking about how smelling leaves makes him miss junior high—are hard for this fallen French literature major to shake. I get how an image, such as one yellow leaf stuck to your windshield or the sight of a flock of geese, can transport you to another time and place, du temps perdu.
The next day, I jotted down a list of memories of the summer. The day after a steamy St. Michaels visit, sailing down Eastern Bay in a surprisingly fresh breeze. Before breakfast, diving off a swim platform into a nettle-free Rhode River. At anchor on the Magothy, my teenage niece asking if we could turn the radio off to just listen to the night sounds. While riding in the SpinSheet Protector with Dan Phelps for the Governor’s Cup start, watching him be as excited as a kid with his new camera lens in hand. The list went on, but one vivid memory kept bobbing back to the surface.
Some back story: it all started at a dinner party at Rebecca and Chris Neumann’s house. I had written about the Neumanns before, three years ago during their year-long cruise with their six-year-old daughter in a Bristol 45 from Annapolis to New England and the Bahamas. Although they sold the Bristol post-adventure, they have two dinghies in their garage – both obtained for free (or almost), one of them with a moody engine, the other with oars. The one with the oars belongs to our friend Josh, who right there in the kitchen, offered it to us for our upcoming Oxford Regatta trip. “I would be thrilled,” said Rebecca, “if you removed one of those dinghies from my garage.”
Two weeks later, out the eight-foot inflatable went, up on a car rack, across Eastport, back in the drink, rowed over to the slip, hoisted up on deck via spin halyard, and lashed down. Two mornings later, after a healthy rain storm in Oxford and inspection of said dinghy, tied by then to our stern, the skipper said, “I think there’s more than just rain water in there.” We threw a couple of lifejackets and an old school bailer pump in the little boat and set off for the Tred Avon Yacht Club (TAYC) for our dock time.
The trip over to the club was amusing, but the trip back in the evening is the one etched in memory. We both crewed on log canoes that afternoon—he on Island Bird, I on Flying Cloud. It was a wild ride. Log canoes sail beautifully in eight knots of wind; add gusts deep into the teens, and there will be swimming. Flying Cloud snapped her foremast. Island Bird capsized. Only four of 12 log canoes finished the race.
Hours later, after helping to bail and clean up lines and masts, telling war stories, and enjoying rum drinks and a crab cake and corn-on-the-cob dinner, we dragged the dinghy back off the TAYC beach. My guy, still sporting his soggy Margaritaville T-shirt, rowed me back to his sloop, in a comical zigzag fashion (he has a strong right arm), as I was perched precariously, yet princess-like on a throwable cushion on the stern gunwale, being the worst kind of back seat driver, but smiling and pumping to avoid sinking Josh’s free dink.
I can see all of the elements of a great summer condensed into that humorous little image—generous sailing friends, a nail-biter of a sailboat race, a scenic anchorage, adventure, mishaps, laughter, and getting wet. Maybe from now on, the sight of a swampy dink will transport me back to Oxford. That would be okay by me.
This article first appeared in the September 2011 issue of SpinSheet.