by CHARLIE SCHULER
I have often been asked how I got into sailing. My answer was that I had a dream, and dreams can come true. If your dream becomes your goal, then everything you do supports that goal. As an adventurer, I especially enjoyed the water and boats. This would include inflatables, canoes, sunfish, power, and sailboats. We were living in Winston-Salem, NC at the time and we saw a new 25’ O’Day sailboat and trailer for sale. It had a short keel, and it was weighted. Webster describes a keel as, “The longitudinal structure along the centerline at the bottom of the vessel’s hull.” The keel made it self-righting so if you made a mistake, you still had the boat. There was also a swing keel to help it sail into the wind. And the whole rig fit nicely on a trailer. It had a sail drive for when you had to have power. That meant that a small outboard motor was physically mounted through the hull just aft of the keel. Perfect for a beginner. The boat had a sloop design, with a single mast, with a jib, (foresail), and a mainsail. And it had a cuddy cabin which meant you could not stand up straight while down below. There were two bunks which could be used for sleeping. And let me not forget a porta-potty for when nature calls. A porta-potty must be taken ashore to be cleaned. No dumping overboard. A very nice small, but efficient, layout for 25’. This was what we needed, and we bought her.
We kept her in the water at Lake Norman and sailed her often. I named her SEAGULL. All boats are referred to as she. It’s fitting if you think about it. They are beautiful, temperamental, and easy to love. Meanwhile I was learning the do’s and don’ts of sailing. One lesson comes to mind. We were beating into the wind on Lake Norman with a few guests on board. We were moving nicely, and it was thrilling with the wind in our faces and hearing the water rushing under the keel. The boat was heeled over about 20 degrees. I noticed that the sky was getting darker when suddenly, a very strong blast of wind came from the cloud. We were actually “knocked down”. The mainsail and the mast went into the water. This scared everyone on the boat, especially me. I let all the sheets fly free and the boat started to right herself. The sheets are the lines used to work the sails. Fortunately, the water did not get into the cockpit or down below. A close call for an inexperienced sailor. But I was learning. Of course, everyone had their Personal Flotation Device (PFD) on, thank God.
I was transferred to New Jersey, and the SEAGULL was going with me. Fortunately, we were located close to the shore in New Jersey. We found a slip on the coast and rented it. This was the beginning of our saltwater adventure. We were still working, and we got very active in boating and learning. We joined the United States Power Squadron and took every boating course they offered.
One of our early trips was up the Hudson River to West Point. This would give us some practical experience, anchoring and spending the night onboard. We got all that and some practical learning points as well. We left our slip and sailed out into the ocean. It was a beautiful day, and everything was going our way. We passed under the Verrazano Bridge and entered New York Harbor. Fantastic sights and skyline, but lots of boat traffic. Freighters and tankers at anchor, ferries going back and forth, tugs pushing and pulling barges and so much more. Fortunately, the tide was coming in and it helped push us up to the George Washington Bridge.
We set the anchor, turned on the anchor light and prepared our meal while we enjoyed the magnificent view. When the sun went down, so did we. We figured we would retire early and rise early to make our way up the river to West Point. We had a rule when sailing: if anything changed, wake me up. And this meant anything. Marianne woke me shortly after I fell asleep. The SEAGULL was struggling at anchor. The boat was heeling and I was confused. What happened was that the tide changed from incoming to outgoing and the anchor line was looped around the sail drive. Not good! We gave this a lot of thought before we came up with a plan. We decided Marianne would add ten feet of anchor line on my say and I would take the boat hook, place it on the line, and I would then force the surplus line down off the sail drive. It worked, thank you,Lord! The SEAGULL slowly turned herself into the current and all was well again.
The next day was beautiful, and we were about to get our next lesson. We sailed for hours, and we got nowhere. The tide had changed to outgoing, and the current was going as fast as we could sail. When all else fails, start the engine. We eventually did make it to West Point, and we decided that we would stay at a marina for the night rather than anchor out.
This was the beginning of our dream, and we kept pursuing it for many years. We graduated next to a 34’ O’Day sloop, then to a 42’ Tayana cutter rigged sailboat. Cutter has two headsails, and we sailed them over 20,000 miles. Dreams do come true, if you stay with the current…