Rosemarie Gajar learns to conquer her fear of the deep

  • Illustration by Marlon Griffith

Move your boats! First-timer coming through!

I was introduced to sailing while on holiday in Tobago. You’d think, being West Indian and raised on an island, I’d be accustomed to water. But the sorry fact is I had no close connection to the ocean. As an urban Trinidadian, my main environment was concrete, not sea. Only “fastness”, in fact, got me on board. I had never partied on a sailboat before and it was high time to see what that was about.

So there were relaxed days, being powered only by the breeze, enjoying soothing music and food lovingly prepared by my captain. The trip turned my head and I wanted to learn to sail when I returned to Trinidad. But when I saw where the classes were going to be held, I nearly choked. This was no Tobago.

It was some nasty-looking water that we students would be paddling in and, with the rainy season on, it was choppy to boot. When the wind blew hard it didn’t smell so good either. I stood at the edge of the marina and reasoned with myself. It had taken a lot of effort to find this class and if the fish could swim in what looked like pond water, then so could I. I’d just have to remember not to drink any.

Earl was my tutor, and he attempted to familiarize me with sailing rules and gear. I knew this was an exercise in futility, so the plan was to frustrate him and get myself on the water anyway. It worked. I would learn sailing by osmosis. As a result, I enjoyed a smooth ride when my boat was being towed. Yachting folks would grin as I passed by and pray I didn’t scratch their new paint jobs.

I showed up for class one rainy day to find myself the lone rat at sailing school. Earl thought it would be the perfect time to toss me in the water, what with all the individual attention I’d be getting.

“You want to do what?” I asked.

He called it the capsizing drill. All I had to do was overturn the vessel in deep water and right it again. Death trap sounded to me like a much better title, but none of my usual comments could get me out of this exercise. I had to do it successfully, or fail the course.

It had not stopped raining and the wind had turned the ocean’s dark green surface into dark green waves. But it wasn’t the weather I was scared of.
“Earl, what lives in this water?”

He grinned and replied: “Don’t worry.”

But the sheepish look on his face told the truth. “Capsize drill” could be code for Get-rid-of-my-students-so-I-can-free-up-my-Saturdays for all I knew.

By the time we had sailed out into the ocean it had gotten so gloomy I couldn’t see through the water.

“Any chance of doing this another time?” I asked. I was openly frightened now.

“No. You’ll be fine. Go!”

And with that, I sank, with all my clothes on, into the darkness. In the few seconds I was under, I waited for death. But no creature came to eat me. I didn’t even drown. In fact, I didn’t even feel afraid anymore.
It was some task hauling that boat over, but I actually enjoyed the exercise so much, particularly the flinging-myself-off-the-falling-vessel part.

I was laughing the following week when my classmate John kept flipping us over. We did not know when the boat was going to tip in the rough weather or where we were going to land. So what? We came away with bumps and bruises. My housemate peered disbelievingly at a purple streak running the length of my arm, where the mast had hit me as I fell in the water.

“This is fun, you say?” she asked humourlessly.

When the course ended, we were surprised to discover that we had all passed. Our tutor had watched us nearly kill ourselves each weekend. But we’d made it.

A new sailing term is coming up and most of the crew will return for punishment. But I still can’t identify a reef knot, and Earl looks like he needs a rest, so I’ll be on dry land for a while.

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