Truth be told I’ve never been too interested in the life of a Mariner. Well up until I cranked a sheet line winch in a tack battle North of Pennock Island.
I might be shooting myself in the foot on this one, but for me the best kept secret in Ketchikan is the Thursday night Yacht Club races out of Thomas Basin. Each week a team of fun loving boat owners gather out in the narrows to test merits and battle for bragging rights. At 6:00 the time trial starts as the boats skirt past cruise ships and into the sweet salt water of the Tongass Narrows.
Through hearsay and happenstance I found myself down on the Thomas Basin bridge thinking that it might be a good idea to see if any boat needed a crew member for the race I knew was about to happen. Normally crew members are picked from a list of numbers scribbled on a bulletin board inside the clubhouse, but I guess a body is better than a phone number as within minutes I was aboard the “Osse.” Three members were aboard already. David, the captain for the day; Elizabeth, the First Mate; And Zack, a good looking fellow with horns just as green as mine. At roundabouts thirty feet the boat was pristine. A white outer hull mirrored the class of the interior. Fine wooden accoutrements lined the walls and two gas lanterns hung on either side of the V-berth. If you race as good as you look, not too many boats in that harbor could
After getting a clue what the jib was we tacked it in, and headed towards the harbor (Boat puns.) where Zack (no Wild Mary) and I got our first sailing lesson. Of the small sailboats you see out in the Narrows most of them will have a similar setup to the one we learned on. We were primarily concerned with the ropes which move the jib, also known as sheets. With Elizabeth as our tutor she began to tug on the sheet lines wrapped around the winches until they were taught. After a couple of cranks of the winch she cleated the rope and told us it was our turn. Zack grabbed the reigns and I stepped up to the stern of the boat. When the first turn came up David calmly gave us our orders. Pulling at the ropes, Zack flipped the jib from port to starboard immediately changing the direction of the boat and swinging the boom just over top of Elizabeth’s head. I was instructed to tuck the jib inside the rails of the deck, a maneuver known as skirting that makes sure the jib is capturing all of the air it can hold. We were moving.
With four buoys marking the track we continued to make practice, switching positions in order to learn the ropes. As the tacks became smoother and the anxiety turned into confidence we held our speed and made good time. On the second to last turn the jib grabbed hold of the wind and drug us towards the finish. The picked up speed began to keel the boat, sending our starboard side digging into the water, slowing us down. Zack, Elizabeth, and I threw feet over the port edge leveling out the boat and slip streaming us towards the finish. The sun skipped like a stone over our wake and the water nipped at our heels. A cloudy sunset bathed “the everything” in the orange light that we all know so well now, and we made our way to shore.
Written by Jason Baldwin