My love affair with sailing began at the age of 13. It was a hot summer in Southeast Oklahoma at a Boy Scout summer camp called "Slippery Falls." For those that shared that week in the sweltering heat, ticks and snakes, I am sure that most would recall the storm. And when doing so, they would speak of hiding in the rocks of what is left of the Arbuckle Mountains while the tornado ripped through camp sending olive colored clothing and tents flying to the trees in a freak summer storm.
As for me, I never saw the twister. No. My eyes were wide and fixed elsewhere in wild excitement. This afternoon, I aboard the worthy vessel named simply #3. A handsome gaff rig aloof with personality earned by countless summers of direct sunlight and unskilled hands, banged around among the rocks of a tiny unnamed lake. She was a brave craft, mass produced by AMF and responsible for seeding the soul of sailing charm for who knows how many. The Sunfish is, no doubt, responsible for the future financial demise for countless boat owners! I had no idea there was a storm coming. The sailing test was only a day away and my heart was set on earning the Sailing Merit Badge. At camp, the buddy system is law and Eric was the only one I could talk into sailing with me. He was older and a queer fella, but he knew how to sail and was willing to go. So we set sail and steered downwind from the dock.
I must have been annoying to the older boy as questions poured from my mouth as we ambled along down wind. I can remember sitting in the front of the small cockpit facing to the stern and discussing sailing terminology. I don't remember the topic, but it stands out to me that Eric was not interested in teaching me. This was communicated by his body language and the fact that he seemed to be looking around more interested in the goings on back towards camp. It was then that the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. The boom swung around on an unsolicited jibe as the wind clocked around 180 degrees and a cool damp breeze now blew over the bow. Eric's head jibed as well as he turned in the opposite direction to position his ears to hear what was being said through a bull horn. One of the water front lifeguards was standing on the front of a small john boat as it raced under power in our direction. He was holding the bow rope and yelling eagerly as his hat left his head and sailed into the wake of the small engine. There were 7 or 8 other sailboats bobbing around with their masts waiving as scouts attempted to position themselves to receive the message. By now, that cold wind was increasing and he sound of the rig and rings on the boom rattled and buzzed. We could hear nothing above the clamor. Eric pulled the tiller and began to bring the boat about. The waves were now rolling and the wind was ripping. As the bow of the boat swung around, I ducked the boom and watched as a wave rolled over the side of the john boat that had pulled along side another sunfish. Instantly the two occupants were swimming. I looked up. A STORM! A storm was coming, and fast. It seemed to appear out of nowhere. As we neared the end of our jibe, the small sail filled with force, ripping the main sheet from my hand with a loud FWOOMP! This was followed by a loud CRACK! The mast step where the mast meets the deck gave way and the deck opened as if the mast were a can opener. As the rig came down, so did the hail. Small at first the getting bigger. A wave rolled over the stern of our crippled craft, pooping it. We were swimming. The next few minutes were a blur. The wind was coming in all directions, my ears popped as the pressure dropped and my only thought was: what about the boat? I remember wondering if it could be fixed. It was floating just below the surface. "Let's roll it and get under it!" I yelled. So we did. They hail was golf ball size now and the air was filled with debris swirling. So we rode it out in an air pocket just below the surface as the hail and sticks rained down.
And just as fast as it came, it was gone. We eventually ended up washing ashore unharmed and fascinated. It was the biggest rush of my life this far and strangely enough it was the beginning of my love affair with sailing. I earned that merit badge that summer and vowed to one day own a Sunfish.