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Upon Reflection, Perhaps This Was My Worst Day Sailing

On Monday we shared Richard Spindler’s story of what he thought could have been his worst day of sailing in 50 years. But by the end of his tale, he remembered that he’d had another challenging day a long time ago, and decided that the current worst day was, in reality, only his second-worst. His story continues…

The worst was in the early ’70s when I was about 21.

Having gotten a hole in my eardrum from surfing and being told I could never even swim again, I had to take up a sport near the water. My brother just happened to own a Flying Dutchman, a two-person then-Olympic-class dinghy, so sailing was the obvious sport.

My knowledge of sailing was extremely limited. Just enough for three of my friends and me to regularly pile into the two-person boat with a couple of six-packs and a handful of joints and be able to sail — the boat had no engine — from the Estuary to Central San Francisco Bay on summer afternoons. Being young and unusually stupid, and having only recently given up surfing, I actually believed that I was invincible. And if necessary could swim to shore from any part of the Bay.

As was our habit, once we were in the Central Bay and the wind was howling, we’d bear off for Richmond like a bat out of hell. That’s exactly what we did… until the daggerboard came up, the mast came down, and the boat turned turtle. It was a weekday, so there were almost no other boats on the Bay.

Fortunately one boat did come by, picked up two of our crew, and headed off to find the Coast Guard. That left me, and a friend named George with a dislocated shoulder, to fend for ourselves. Let me tell you, if you’re sitting on an overturned dinghy on San Francisco Bay, you’re wearing a pair of shorts and a T-shirt, and it’s blowing 25 knots, you’re going to get cold really quickly.

As a result, we had to be at least a touch hypothermic when a Coast Guard boat finally picked us up. It took them four hours to tow the overturned boat, with the mast, sails and everything else dragging behind, to get us to Yerba Buena. Because the painter broke four times during this tow, my freezing self was obliged to jump back into the icy Bay four more times. It was horrible, but we made it.

So yes, that was worse than yesterday (see Monday’s ‘Lectronic). The thing that amazes me is that not only have I made it to 74, but that I have taken thousands upon thousands of people sailing on my boats all over the world, and to my memory, none have gotten hurt worse than Doña did yesterday.

Profligate with guests and dinghies - worst day story
Richard has been sailing for decades, and as the Baja Ha-Ha’s Grand Poobah, has been joined by scores of sailors over the years aboard his 63-ft catamaran Profligate.
© 2022 Richard Spindler

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