Come sail away with me: That '70s flow

By David Vance
Thursday, February 7, 2002

circa 1977


circa 1977

Sailing breeds tall tales, but this was merely ridiculous. We were moving backward.

It doesn't seem logical, but when we cut off the motor and hoisted the mainsail, expecting to take off like Dennis Conner on the 25 mph breeze, the wind actually pushed us backward. We sculled the rudder to gain some control, but there was no denying it, we were drifting. In reverse. Since we were on a boat named DayDreamer, I decided to let my mind do the same.

Many sunsets ago (early 1970s) I lived in a far-off land (Florida). My parents, sailors both, practically raised me on boats, my life immersed in water. At 6 months of age I raced in my first regatta, a jury-rigged life jacket hanging about my tiny body. I think I could swim before I could walk. "Starboard" was my word for "on the right," "port" for "on the left." I caught my first fish, a sheepshead, off the bow of a Gulf Coast 21 in the blue waters of a lagoon. We would sail the Florida coastline, anchoring at an isolated island, where the wind through the halyards sang at night and the lolling waves rocked me to sleep.

The idyll altered, however, with a move to the big land (Texas). We still had a boat, a sturdy ship of 26 feet, but inland sailing was different than coastal cruising. It was less of a vacation and more of a chore. Every weekend we would trek to Lake Travis, where we would dutifully race in a regatta. The white sand, blue lagoons and gold coasts were gone, replaced by working, racing, winning.

Eventually, though, Lake Travis became my second home. I discovered that my grandfather helped build Mansfield Dam. I knew every cove, every island (Starnes and Sometimes), every inch of shoreline for miles. I caught bass white and black, and ate them all. I witnessed the greatest flood in its history (Christmas 1991). I sailed for days and learned to read the wind. I swam with my brother to the cold, black bottom, learned of a murder among the local sailors, and was caught on lake amid the great storm of Memorial Day '81. I loved Lake Travis.

Of course it didn't last. Life eventually interceded, and I grew up and away from the water. The boats floated still in the sea of my memory, lingering along the horizon, but so much had changed, for both Travis (more expensive) and me (poorer), I wondered if I would ever get back.

The chance to return finally came in the form of a friend (Rich) and his new boat (Starwind 22, the aforementioned DayDreamer). I did not take lightly the invitation for a leisurely Sunday cruise. Travis was lost family, and sailing upon it meant revisiting part of my past. Would I feel the same? I sought the counsel of my mother. "Well," she said, "at least you'll provide plenty of ballast for the boat."

When the appointed time came, I lifted my considerable ballast over the railing and onto the deck. I felt out of place, not knowing what to do. I shoved us off the dock and . . . the wind pushed us into the propeller of a pontoon boat, scraping the side of the poor Starwind.

No matter, we motored out of the cove and into the main body of the lake, two ducks trailing in our wake. I loved being on Travis again. There were more million-dollar houses than I remembered, and the lake seemed smaller somehow, but Travis was still the most beautiful place on earth. I didn't feel comfortable on the boat, didn't have my "sea legs," but I faked it well enough to enjoy the crisp January day.

Then up went the mainsail, and backward went the boat. "It's a Starwind, but I call it a Windstar," said Rich. "The minivan of boats."

We decided to put up the jib, and when we did, we took off. "Started moving forward" would be more accurate, but off we went nonetheless, with me at the helm. Travis communicated to me through the boat. A tug on the tiller, a knock of the keel, a spray over the side. It felt good. Travis and I were talking again.

I tried to read the wind on the sail and regain the sailing touch as we cruised down to the cliffs under the Oasis restaurant. We tacked awkwardly a few times, were nearly knocked down a few times by 40 mph gusts, but mostly it was, ahem, smooth sailing.

Rich took over the helm on the way back up the lake while I soaked in the elements: wind, water, hills, houses, birds, boats, moments and memories. I had returned to the water and found family. I was moving forward.