I have sailed in many different types of boats, but I’ve never been in a sailboat that was so small it couldn’t even be considered a boat. This boat, the Sunfish, is so small it has to be held together with duct tape and rubber bands. It’s just big enough for two people to sit in. The other day we took my father out on this boat. He had no idea what to expect. After all, he’s only sailed in larger boats before.
When we first got on the water, I had to help him put on his life jacket. We were about 50 feet from shore. When we got to where we thought we’d be able to launch the boat, we discovered that the water was much too shallow for launching. So we just sat there on the dock waiting for someone to come along and take us out to deeper water.
My father sat there looking at me, shaking his head and saying, “This isn’t what I expected.”
“What did you expect?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Something bigger,” he said.
The problem with being in a smaller boat is that everything is closer together. If you’re sitting in the middle of the boat, you can’t see anything around you. The deck is so narrow you can barely stand up. I tried to explain to my father how close together everything was, and how you had to look ahead and down to see what was going on.
We went back to shore and then decided to go out again. I told my father to sit down and hold onto the gunwales. That way, if the boat capsized, he wouldn’t fall into the water. We launched the boat, and it didn’t tip over. Then I had to try to get him into the boat. He just couldn’t do it.
After that, I tried to get him to lie down on the deck. But he was having a hard time doing that, either because he was afraid the boat would tip over or because he couldn’t see anything around him.
I tried to show him how to tie the rope to the cleat on the bow. That way, when we pulled away from the dock, he could hold on to it. But he didn’t understand what I was telling him.
After we got out into deeper water, I started trying to teach him how to steer the boat. I showed him how to raise the tiller to the left or right. Then I would tell him to move it back and forth. But he just wasn’t getting it.
Finally, I got frustrated. I grabbed the tiller and moved it back and forth myself. I yelled at him to pay attention. He finally understood what I was telling him. I explained to him how to use the rudder to turn the boat. Then I said, “Now let’s go somewhere else.”
He looked at me and said, “You mean now?”
“Yes,” I said. “Now.”
I took off the rudder and pointed the boat toward the ocean. I put the tiller in the neutral position and turned the wheel to port. Then I pushed it all the way to starboard.
My father looked at me and said, in amazement, “That’s it? That’s how you steer?”
“That’s it,” I said.
Then I put the tiller back in the neutral position and headed back to shore. I tied the rope to the cleat and we came back to the dock.
“How did you do that?” my father asked.
“I didn’t,” I said. “You did.”
It took him a few more tries, but he finally got it.