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Darling on deck: Kristin Ducote on why you should beware the novice sailor

Darling on deck: Kristin Ducote on why you should beware the novice sailor

Just because you can drive, it doesn’t mean you can sail – so just make sure you can swim, advises Kristin Ducote...

The noontime sun beats down through my big floppy hat and I bask in its warmth. On either end of the beach the jagged green Pitons of St Lucia rise from the water in all their majesty. I’m halfway through a fluffy novel, but I turn it page-down on my stomach. My eyelids slide blissfully closed, then I hear: “Hey, let’s rent a sailboat.”

My husband, Chapman, has many talents, but sitting still is not one of them. I open one eye and peer at him from under my sunglasses. “Are you nuts?” But he’s already on his feet. I point an emphatic finger at his empty lounge chair. “Nuh-uh. You lie back down.”

Even as the words leave my lips, I know it’s a lost cause. He gives me his most mischievous smile and strides toward a Hobie Cat beached on the sand like a whale skeleton. Damn, there goes my nap.

As we push the boat off the beach, a resort employee asks Chapman if he knows how to sail. “Why not? I can drive anything,” he quips. True, he’s had an illustrious career as a professional race car driver. Plus, he grew up in Louisiana racing across Lake Pontchartrain in the fastest watercraft he could find. So although I’ve never heard him talk about sailing I step aboard without trepidation and settle onto the trampoline, ready for a quiet sail.

After our initial push into shallow water we glide to a stop. And as I watch him fiddle ineptly with lines and sails, I feel a sudden twinge of doubt. But then he adjusts the rudder and the boat angles out to sea. With a loud rippling crack the sails fill with air and we’re off.

The farther from land we get, the more speed we pick up. Out past the shelter of the mountain-capped beach, the wind is ripping. Faster and faster we go, as Chapman tries tacking. We lurch upward onto a single hull and I hold on for dear life. I don’t know much about sailing, but this can’t be right. Chapman adjusts the rudder and the boat turns and drops back down. In a blur, the boom whips toward me and I duck in the nick of time. It slams to a stop just past my shoulder and I giggle at the thrill. But then I straighten and realise – I’m now alone.

I scan the waves and sure enough, there he is. Buoyed by a life jacket, he bobs along in the waves, getting smaller by the instant as the boat glides forward. “Drop the sail!” he yells, but the wind whips his words toward shore. “The what?” I yell back. Every second he’s getting farther away. He shouts something else and gestures wildly. “Do what?” I shriek. I try to stand, but the boat wobbles. I look up and the sails swell with wind.

The gravity of my situation sinks in: I have no idea how to stop this thing! In an instant I calculate the distance to shore: less than a mile, I think… I’m a strong swimmer… I can make it! I pull my life jacket straps tight and leap overboard. As I hit the water, I hear a long, low yell from across the waves, “Noooooo!”

There is a very important difference between driving and sailing. Most people can drive a motorboat; it’s intuitive. But sailing? Sailing takes a unique set of skills. So the next time you hear “Let’s rent a sailboat!” from a novice sailor in the lounge chair next to you, stand your ground. Keep your eyes shut tight and savour every second of that delicious vacation nap you so deserve.

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