The rigours of rigging (guest post)

My parents are both theatre artists. One year to the delight of their art and their artist wallets, their play was especially successful and got picked up and produced by the Mirvishes. They contemplated what to do with this surplus of cash: invest in our children’s education? Or buy a boat? Thankfully, they chose boat.

Photo of our family sailboat anchored at Camelot Island in 2021.

My sister and I grew up sailing the waters of Lake Ontario. Every weekend of the summer was spent hosting friends and family, anchoring at Hanlan’s point on Toronto Island, blowing up the floaties, swimming, and barbequing veggies on the “Sea-B-Que”. We would also take vacations on our travelling cottage to different marinas across the Lake and even explored some in the States. In fact, I write this post from our favorite anchorage at Beaurivage Island on our annual two-week trip to the Thousand Islands!

Since we loved sailing our big keel boat so much, my parents decided to send me and my sister to sailing camp every summer so we could learn to sail dinghies, which are like bathtub sized sail boats.

Photo of my friend and I sailing a 420 dinghy in 2019 with Toronto skyline in the background.

Sailing camp memories rank up there among my favourites. Two of my closest friends, as well as two of my sister’s, joined us every year for a tradition of biking down to the lake for two weeks of anxiety-ridden fun. We took pride in our rag-tag little sailing club, which sits adjacent on the shore to a fancy-shmancy boating/tennis club. They whipped around in shiny new 420’s while we proudly duck-taped our boats for repairs. Despite our less-than optimal equipment, we beat those fancy boats at every regatta.

For me, there is nothing more invigorating than sailing a 420 dinghy in high winds. In the right conditions it’s a full mind and body workout. It’s a core blasting exercise to keep your boat flat while the wind fights against your sails. We’d hook our feet to the hiking straps and, sitting on the edge of the boat, we’d lean back with the power of a thousand sit-ups, upper body parallel with the water, to keep our boat from capsizing. In later years we would use trapeze, a harness attached with wire to the mast, and standing upright on the edge of the boat, we would lean back with all our weight. Then there’s the unforgiving arm workout that comes with pulling in the ropes of a wind-filled-mainsail or fighting to control the tiller to steer the boat through colossal waves.This is all happening with the added difficulty of belly-laughing the whole time at the hilarity and excitement that comes with battling the elements with a bunch of friends. Even the rigging and de-rigging of the boat could be a workout, hauling up sails and getting the boat in and out of the water. We would come home from the lake exhausted and sun beaten, but ready to do it all again the next day.

One obstacle that presented itself at sailing camp was the culture. The higher the level you achieved the more male dominated the group, and the jokes, became. It was a total boy’s club.

Everyone on the predominantly male race team, the highest level of sailing camp, was deemed a god and was highly esteemed by the rest of the camp: you obeyed their wisdom and every command. Whenever you’d make a mistake, rigg up a boat wrong, crash into the dock, capsize, or get stuck in irons, you were guaranteed jeers and laughs from these older ‘experienced’ teenage sailors. It was the ULTIMATE embarrassment: public humiliation.

In a more lighthearted vein, the older guys on the race team really loved to mess with us new naive sailors. When we would occasionally join the race team for an afternoon on the water, they would shout fake rules at us to confuse us and pass our boat. While a starboard tack, (sails on the right side of the boat), has right of way over a port tack in the event of a collision, they’d instead yell “PORT TACK OPTION!” to justify overtaking your boat. Or in a brilliant tactic to worry younger campers, they’d make up non-existent boat parts that needed adjusting: “YOUR BOOM SHACKLE’S LOOSE!”. An equally devious scheme, they’d hop on your boat, in the guise of helping you fix your “boom shackle”, and then tip your boat over, jump back in theirs and sail away laughing. They loved yelling those types of rules and insisting that the younger sailors steer clear of the course and “DO A 720!” as punishment for their made-up crimes (turn the boat in a circle twice, an embarrassing way to slow you down in a race). They also knew who made for the best targets, and our boat of awkward un-self-assured middle-school girls fell right into their traps. Oh, we fell for all those tricks all the time when we were just starting out. And at first it was very embarrassing and discouraging to be yelled at by these older and ‘wiser’ guys. But once we caught on to their games, it became our mission to seek vengeance, and it was such fun to yell those same things back at them and even get up the courage to pirate and capsize their boats. What’s more, we realized that for them to go out of their way to trip us up, we were considered real competition for them, the ‘undefeatable race team’, which was in all a confidence boost.

Eventually, we made it to the race team as well. In our powerful new position, it was very tempting to continue the cycle of terror for the younger generation, but, for the most part, we refrained and tried to be as helpful as possible. We reserved our dirty tricks for fellow members of the race team, so not to risk discouraging younger kids from a continuing in a great sport they were learning for the first time.

Photo of pink and gold sunset on the St Lawrence River from tonight’s anchorage at Beaurivage Island, taken from the sailboat with sailboat visible in the shot.