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A few years ago I took some sailing classes. A good many really. In the last class I took (“Shields 3” for those who care) the teacher seemed a little nonchalant about the actual teaching bits, and the sailing bits for that matter. We did more in the class before, he was a last minute replacement, and the allure of spending more time in the actual ocean was somewhat frustrated by his random “let’s do this instead” manner that kept us in Newport harbor for most of the class. The outline was a waste, as we neither covered advanced navigation, racing technique, or any of the other topics which got me excited about this class.

He also kept letting more and more people in the class who hadn’t signed up, and they hadn’t signed up because the class was closed in order to keep the class small. So the class kept growing, meaning we were limited in how we could practice because there’s only so much a person can do on a sailboat. Put four people on that boat and there’s a lot of sitting around staring and complaining going on, because it’s a fact of sailing as with driving that “I” am a much better sailor than “you”.

On top of this there was hardly any wind for the first few sessions. Then a day came in which there was a lot of wind. The breeze was blowing and the channel was moving with a curiously strong current.

The teacher decided this would be a great day to work on our anchoring skills. So we had to first try and anchor off to the side of the channel, in what is somewhat of an anchorage spot. The fact a race was going on in the channel right next to where we were practicing anchoring did not help the approach. We were yelled at by folks on boats doing exactly what we wanted to do because we were having to spend our time doing something we didn’t want to do. We learned how to anchor in an earlier class, and we surmised that one rule of anchoring is to not do it in the middle of a regata. We also were given more instructions about how to anchor in this earlier class which did not include the suggestion to try and anchor when there is a five knot current rushing through a narrow section. Especially do not try and anchor in front of this narrowing section, unless the teacher of the class tells you to do this, mostly because he wasn’t paying attention and had no other suggestions. We got that first anchoring bit done, cast off again, and marveled for a few moments in the beauty of a fast boat and a fair wind. He wouldn’t have anything to do with that and told us to try anchoring again.


“Right here.”

In the middle of the channel, near the narrowing section while the current was trying to go where we wished we could go… out into the ocean.

So anchor we did. We anchored in a busy channel, with five knot currents, thankfully this time a little ways away from the racing boats. Fine. It was frustrating watching the wind blow, and work on stopping the boat instead of fine tuning the sails to get every little ounce of power to moving us swiftly forward. It was very frustrating to be honest.

After we did anchor it was time to get moving again. Only we couldn’t pull up the anchor. It was stuck. The current had pushed us along, and the anchor was buried in the wretched mud of Newport harbor. It was buried and no amount of tugging or yanking or cursing would make it budge. Now we were being told to go and we couldn’t go because we were stuck in a place where we shouldn’t have stopped in the first place, all because the teacher said to do this and we did it when we should have ignored him and joined the race we interupted earlier. Never anchor in the middle of a channel with a strong current and a race going on around you. If you do, it’s quite impossible to get the anchor back up.

We kept trying to tug, and approach the problem in different ways, using wenchs and using other tools. After a good while one of us noticed a key little bit.

“Shouldn’t the main sail be down?”

Yes. Yes it should have come down the moment we were getting the anchor set to begin with. It was up and the wind was pushing us around, even if we weren’t facing a direction for it to do its worst. It was pushing us and the pushing, along with our pulling, made the anchor dive deeply into the mud, a lot deeper than it would have with just the fast current.

The main sail was dropped. We got back to tugging and yanking on the anchor, now finding progress once we were no longer fighting current and wind. The anchor was finally up, and the sails were raised again, as they should be on a sailboat except when one is trying to anchor in the middle of a busy harbor on a windy day while in the middle of someone else’s race. It was also time to go back to the dock.

Life is kinda like this sometimes.

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