Last time I “sailed” was when I was five years old with my uncle, a fisherman, back in Romania. He let me take the controls of the tiny fiberglass dinghy, which was hilariously overloaded with fish (seriously, I think I sat on a trout). I even got to steer it a few times. It was great.
So you can probably tell, that by the time I got down to Mariner’s Bay dock, my excited grin had reached my ears, kinda like when you take your kid to Toys ‘R Us and they know they’re walking away with something.
For me, it was the priceless experience. After all, I figured it was time to try out another of Sooke’s jewels: sailing.
As we waited for the rest of our crew at the dock, Gord Fulcher, president of the Sooke Sailing Association, introduced me to a few sailing basics and lingo, such as ‘there is no such thing as rope, only ‘lines’, how the ‘poop deck’ is such an overrated term, and how the front and main masts work. I also realized that at one point or another during our trip out on the Sooke Basin, I would actually drive the thing.
In the meantime, our fellow shipmates joined us; Laurina Norris and the ship’s skipper, Rob Jolly. We got on the Ariane, a 20-footer race boat which was donated to the Association for its co-op program. With its modest 9-horsepower outboard engine, it doesn’t sound like much, but trust me, the little sucker can really go.
Now, here’s the first thing to know about sailing, is that everybody does something. Either taking care of the lines (such as hoisting up sails, leaving port or docking) navigating, (looking out for other boat traffic, checking the radar for depth and speed) and overall making sure everyone and everything on board is safe and secure. The calm winds and sunny skies really helped that day as well; perfect for any sailing novice like myself.
After setting off, we made our way straight towards the Sooke Basin, which, by the way, is much bigger in person than on a map. At this point, the crew raised the sails and shut off the engine, leaving the Ariane to push forward gracefully only on wind. With blue skies, the sound of water splashing the hull and the gentle rocking-about, there’s only one thought that came to my mind: this is paradise.
Then came the moment of truth. “You take the helm,” Rob calmly said to me with outmost confidence. In a moment, everything I had learned about sailing over the years — through Grand Theft Auto games of course — went out the window, because I didn’t drive a boat from an outside perspective anymore; I was the boat. We also did something called “jibbing”, a maneuver involving the mainsail crossing the centre of the boat while the jib is pulled to the other side. As I quickly found out, not only this is terrifyingly awesome (because it looks like the boat is capsizing) but also a great way to catch onto gusts of wind and go even faster.
It was at this point when my childish excitement turned into adult adrenaline, just as I was fighting both forces of wind and water to keep the boat straight and true. We zig-zagged back and forth for a while trying to maintain both the course and the wind on our side, not to mention dodge a few crab traps along the way. It’s worth mentioning that the crew I was with were extremely patient and knowledgable; between Gord, Rob and Laurina, I went from someone who knew nothing about sailing to sailing the boat myself in just a couple of hours.
After having my “I’m on top of the world” moment, we headed back, still with me at the helm, until we entered the main channel towards the dock. “I did it, I actually did that,” I thought to myself in disbelief, just as Rob dropped the motor back in the water and we packed the sails. Once on dry land, I reflected on my experience, as well as the great group of people whom I had the pleasure of sailing with; it left me with a yearning to go for more, to get back out on that sea and breathe in that fresh Pacific marine air. And the best part is, it’s all right here in Sooke, and waiting.
If my uncle was there to see me keep that ship going along, I know exactly what he’d say too; “nice sailing kid, now don’t let go of that fish!”