Thanksgiving weekend 2005, Sloop Dogg, then without a nom de sloop, changed hands. It was cold that Saturday, with a stiff breeze that made the extended test drive exhilarating, literally and figuratively. My first sail boat, it made me more excited than my first car, actually a van, a 1966 Dodge van, that ferried Easy Street and its equipment to endless weekends of gigs that ended in November 1977, and also served as a club house for friends and various teams and later as a locker for my hockey skates, stick and a puck for when the tobacco fields in Hadley thawed and then froze and I could skate over the ice, around the stubble, and through dark winter nights only a few miles from the glow of UMass.
In the past two years, instead of replacing Sloop Dogg’s ancient tape player, I bought a cable with jacks and plugged in my iPod. I also added a blue UV strip to the genoa, replaced the dock lines, added two stern rail seats and a stern rail grill, and dropped the table and covered it with the cushions that came with the boat. It has become our second home on a lake, my Phoenix office, and the best way to travel when there is no destination.
With the temperature in the mid-60’s and nothing but blue sky, Brandon Chase and I motored out of the marina, into the lake, pointed into the westerly wind, and raised the mainsail. Coming off the wind to starboard, the genoa was unfurled and, heading north with Brandon at the tiller, I set the whisker pole and the genoa to port for a wing-and-wing run up the lake. The breeze started light but filled in from the south with wind lines working their way toward us and lifting us further along.
We saw Mike and MaryEllen Ferring along with their niece and boyfriend at the dock, but after threatening to race each other, we didn’t see Melissa Kay on the water. Given the shifty wind, we jibed once and I re-set the whisker pole, only to take it down and sail a broad reach north. Brandon, who is among other things a pilot, understood the idea of the wind creating lift and he drove while I experimented with the trim of the genoa and mainsail–moving the cars on the fairleads forward and back, bringing the traveler to windward and back down, and working the boom vang and outhaul as the conditions changed.
We hydrated with Heineken and Red Stripe and enjoyed an extraordinary afternoon of sailing for its own sake. North of Balance Rock Island though, with more of the lake to explore, we made the unwelcome but inevitable decision to turn and sail south with the remaining light of the day. With the wind strengthening, Sloop Dogg settled into a close hauled groove, fell off to a beam reach half way down the lake, and made it to the south end on a single starboard tack. I had to hike and ease the traveler to keep us from rounding up at times. I reluctantly started the engine and turned into the breakwater just as the sun dropped below the dam, leaving us in its shadow while the marina ahead was still lit with the last of the day’s sun.
Brandon admitted later that he thought it was a long day trip just to sail, until he sailed. Brandon, thanks for driving.