I grew up a short bicycle ride from the Intracoastal Waterway. I often rode my bike along Indian River Drive while watching the sailboats, wondering where they were headed. Every winter, a parade of sailboats would head south, many flying Canadian flags. Then as the summer approached, the parade would be going north, looking for cooler weather.
Our local YMCA offered sailing classes one summer. Here was a chance for me to learn how to sail and earn a merit badge toward my Eagle Scout rank at the same time.
The class met at the Brevard Hotel, built in the 1920s on the water’s edge. In our classroom lessons, we would go over the different boat parts and how they worked together: how and why a rudder steered the boat, and why a dagger board was important.
Next we learned about the sail, how to properly rig and install it. After all these years, I can still walk up to most small sailboats and with a little bit of thought properly set one up for sailing. This says a lot for the teaching skills of my instructor.
When the day finally came, we prepared our small boats for our first solo sail. One by one we sailed away from the land, using only the wind and our newly obtained skills. I had no idea how much this moment would affect the rest of my life.
The Brevard Hotel was torn down and replaced by high rise condos. But I can still see that small piece of grass where I took that first solo sail. I have sailed by it many times. Years later, I lived along the Intracoastal Waterway twice. A telescope and binoculars were always at the ready for me to check out a passing sailboat.
These are my thoughts as we leave the dock aboard the Spirit of Lauderdale, a 50 foot catamaran, going for an afternoon sail on the Atlantic along the coast of Fort Lauderdale Beach.
To get to the open ocean, we motored along through the Intracoastal Waterway. It’s not like the Intracoastal I grew up with. We were looking at rows of million dollar homes and at oversized yachts that I have only seen before in magazines or on TV.
Once out in the Atlantic, our captain raised the sails and switched off the motor. Ahh, the sounds of only the wind and water. As we sailed along, the crew set up our lunch and we enjoyed a true waterfront dining experience.
Since my first day of solo sailing, I have spent much time out on the water. I’ve played with a Sunfish, a couple of Hobie Cats, and a few monohulls. I lived on a Hunter 37′ Cutter for almost two years. From an eight foot to a thirty-seven foot, I had sailed each of them many times alone, using the skills taught to me by that salty old YMCA instructor.
When the captain came to a good anchoring place, we dropped the sails and anchored. From our little island we went snorkeling and watched windsurfers, sailers and others as they shared our waterfront paradise along Fort Lauderdale Beach.
When it was time to return to dock, up went the sails for our quiet and peaceful sail back.
We may not have sailed far, or to exotic shores. We had never lost the sight of the beach. But for me, I had relived over forty years of sailing, a reminder of the “call of the sea.”
And of the vintage AMF Puffer sailboat sitting on a trailer back home, waiting for me to take it on the water.