The Borneo Post - Good English

Hobie Cat Danger


The summer of 1979 was wicked hot in Fort Worth, my new hometown after graduating from college. The only escape from the heat was for a few hours at one of the area lakes, preferably on a boat. Which I did not have, but somebody had a small Hobie Cat parked in my apartment parking lot. I’d never been sailing, but any kind of water craft perked my interest in that heat. I watched a neighbor about my age polishing the sailboat’s two thin rudders one Saturday morning. Sailors love to maintain their boats, so I asked him, “You need some help?” “Sure, I’m taking her out today. My name’s Ben.” “I’m Gordon. I just moved in upstairs.” We shook hands. His blond hair hung below his ears and a dark tan indicated much time on the water. “How often do you polish those rudders?” “Every time I go out.” He noted my look of surprise. “I want them to be as sharp and smooth as a knife. Better speed that way. I wax the hull every couple of months too.” Interestin­g. I can’t remember ever waxing dad’s powerboats. “Would you help me hook up?” I guided him as he backed his truck up. When the bumper was close, I lifted the trailer and dropped it on the hitch. Ben came back and tightened up a few lines. I noted the sleek design of two thin pontoon hulls, crossbars with a cloth mesh between the pontoons, and a mast and sail at the front crossbar. Barely a boat in my opinion. “This sure is a light boat. How long is it?” I asked. “Sixteen feet and only 340 pounds. I race it, so the lighter it is, the faster I sail.” “I didn’t know they raced Hobie Cats. How fast does she go?” “A bit over 20 knots,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. “You ever been on one?” “No.” Please ask me. “Have you ever sailed?” “No, but I’d like to learn.” “Do you want to go now? I’m headed over to Lake Grapevine to do some practicing. There’s a good wind today.” Jackpot. “Oh yes.” “I gotta warn you. She flies, and I spend most of my time up on one hull.” I wasn’t sure what he meant, but said, “Count me in.” A few hours later we raised the mast, pulled the sail up, and pushed the Hobie into cool lake water. The sail stretched tight in a strong breeze, propelling us away from shore. We initially sat on the trampoline (the mesh between the hulls) while Ben gave me a rundown on sailing basics. There are no ropes on boats. Call them lines. The sail catches wind for speed and is controlled with a line connected to the mast crossbar. Wires connect the top of the mast to the pontoons for stability at several locations. A sharp rudder drops below the rear of each hull. Steer by adjusting a tiller connected to the rudders. When changing directions (tacking), the sail would swing across the boat. Our body weight would balance the craft to keep the wind from flipping it over. “Put this harness on for sitting in your trapeze seat,” he said. “It’s also a life jacket.” I slipped the harness on and asked, “Why do I need a trapeze seat?” “For sitting beyond the edge of the hull.” I looked at the water beyond the hull. “Why would we sit out there?” “You’re a novice,” he said with a chuckle. He untied two lines connected to the top of the mast and clipped one to his harness. “Connect this to your harness,” he said. “If you slip or we flip over, you’ll stay with the boat.” Falling off was not in my plan, though hanging off the hull sounded interestin­g. I liked daring sports. “Make sure your trapeze line doesn’t tangle with the mast lines,” he added. Hmm. “We’ll sail easy for a while,” Ben said as he tightened the sail and adjusted the tiller to gain modest speed. I moved around, getting a feel for the wind, pontoon balance, and water passing two feet below me. Unlike a noisy powerboat, only the sounds of the fluttering sail and hulls slicing through water broke the peaceful quiet of the lake. Nice. “Coming about,” Ben announced. “Watch out for the boom and stay in front of the mast so that your trapeze line doesn’t catch the sail.” Yes, that would be a problem. He pulled the tiller to turn the rudders. The sail fluttered as the Hobie swung into the wind, rotating the crossbar toward the other pontoon. I ducked and scrambled on hands and knees across the rear of the craft to the opposite hull, then turned around to watch Ben effortless­ly slide across the trampoline, keep multiple lines clear, and settle in next to me while not losing his grip on the tiller. The sail snapped tight, pulling the Hobie to a new course. Ben adjusted the sail line and tiller, then smiled at me. “That wasn’t so hard, was it?” he said with a big smile. “No. I bet it can get pretty hairy with big wind.” “Yes.” He chuckled. “Now we’re going to push the speed up by sitting back on the trapeze and pulling the sail tighter.” “Okay.” “Watch me first, then you sit back.” Ben tightened the sail line to increase the force resisting the wind. I felt the hull rise under me, increasing our speed as the mast tipped slightly toward the water. I intuitivel­y knew that if we rose too high the boat would flip. Ben stood up on the pontoon and leaned back while keeping a firm grip on the sail line and tiller. When the hull started to drop, he pulled the sail line tighter and our speed increased

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