Adventures in Sailing #4 – The Hobie 16

When I was younger, my favorite sailboat was the Hobie 16, still is actually.  If you want to sail a fun boat that is everything and more, that’s the boat you want ot be on.  I spent much of my youth racing these boats and became fairly proficient.  The feeling of hanging off the boat from the trapeze while hitting speeds in excess of 18-20 knots is incredible.  It actually feels as if you’re doing 50 knots.  To date there have been in excess of 110,000 of these boats built and for good reason.  They are awesome sailing boats and the best way I know to have a great time.  One afternoon following a race, I decided to take a friend of mine who raced with me that day, and who was not very experienced, out to enjoy a little ocean sailing.  I needed the ballast.  The wind was blowing a steady 15 knots and it was just one of those days you didn’t want to head in.  I must note that on these boats you always wear life preservers.  It’s mandatory.  I still won’t wear a helmet when I ski but always wear a life-preserver on a small boat; afraid of drowning I suppose.  My friend and I were riding some large ocean swells and cruising along when I saw a front rolling in.  We were now 12 miles out from the channel and the wind and waves were kicking up.  Nothing to do on a small, fast boat with no means of communication, except head in as fast as you can.  No sooner did we tack the boat, when a lighting bolt streaked across the sky behind us.  I immediately dropped the jib knowing that I wouldn’t be needing it when the wind started howling.  If anything, it would be a detriment.  The initial feeling you get can only be described as trying to get your key in  the door when someone with an axe is chasing you.  It’s exciting and frightening at the same time.  I knew friends had seen us sailing out of the channel, so I assumed they would call the coast guard if we didn’t return within an acceptable period of time.  While great boats, they are not easy to sail in a gale.  As the sky turned grey and the wind began to whistle I had a terrible feeling that we might be fighting for our lives before long.  The wind speed kicked up to what I estimated was 35-40 knots and the rain was falling as if a huge bucket of water was poured onto our heads.  I think what kept me calm was the realization of how scared my friend was.  He had sailed with me before, but he was by no means seasoned.  As the so-called captain, it was my job, my duty to make sure he was able to step on to dry ground at some point.  I was tying to keep the boat as stable as possible by giving up some forward progress for a more comfortable point of sale.  We were zipping along at 15 knots when lightning struck the water about 200 yards in front of us off the starboard bow.  The thunder that followed, deafened both of us momentarily.  We were up on one pontoon about as high as you want to be before the tipping point. Turning the boat over in these seas was not an option.  I knew our lives would be in jeopardy if that happened with little chance of righting the boat.  We were now five miles from the harbor but we might have been fifty since we couldn’t see anything.  I was amazed we weren’t being struck by lightning since it was all around us.  At that moment a gust of wind hit us and over we went.  We didn’t go all the way over and we were able to right the boat before falling in to the drink.  One leg on one side of the pontoon, the other leg and body pulling back before the sail sunk below the surface of the waves and ended our journey.  Years of sailing paid off as I wanted to stay out of the water in the worst way.  The seas were at least 6-8 feet and confused.  We were under way again and really making time but I could feel the tension of the boat.  Its stress points were being tested to their very limits.  They’re great boats but they’re just not built for this heavy weather.  As we reached the breakwater, the seas calmed a bit but it was still pouring and I was growing fatigued.  My hands were shaking and I didn’t have a lot left.  As we got closer to the harbor, a vessel approached.  It was the Coast Guard who drove up next to us and asked as how we were doing.  I can’t tell you how happy I was to see them.  We gave them the thumbs but told him we were really exhausted.  As expected, they told us to follow them in and they would stay with us until getting to the entrance to the harbor.  Those men and women are lifesavers and brave beyond words.  As we reached the dock and were pulling the boat out of the water, my friend informed me this was his last journey with me for a while.  Who could blame him?

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