Opinion: Ready to sail away


Commentary by Ward Degler

My little sailboat sits wistfully on its trailer in the backyard. She hasn’t been in the water for two years. That’s what Indiana summers filled with more rain than sailing breezes can do to you.

Soon, I will remove the tarp that she has slumbered under all winter and check for damage. Water damage, mostly, as maybe the tarp wasn’t pulled as tight as it should have been. Rain, sleet, snow and combinations of all three have had plenty of chances to get inside.

Carpenter ants are another plague of small boats. They like to find dark corners to build nests; chinks in the varnish where they can feast. And they like to curl up in the folds of the poly sail and munch holes in the fabric.

Still, one way or another, if we have dry weather, I plan to spend as many hours as possible this summer enjoying this little craft as she digs into the water of Eagle Creek Reservoir.

In all honesty, my love for sailing is greater than my experience. But I’ve heard seasoned sailors say the same thing. No sailor ever lives long enough to learn everything about boats and water.

For several years, a friend and I shared a boat in Key West. Even then, with all that pristine turquoise water, I spent more time working on the boat than sailing it. But I’ve heard seasoned sailors say the same thing. Boat work never ends, and generations of sailors have testified that, “Working on the boat is as important a part of sailing as trimming the mainsail.”

My first sailing experience was in a 6-foot dink my dad built and I converted to sail. For most of one summer, I dipped my little vessel into the Niangua arm of the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri and hoped the wind would hold long enough to get me across the lake and back.

The problem with the Lake of the Ozarks back then was it was a speed boater’s paradise. It was, for some, great sport to roar past a tiny sailboat and capsize it.

More than once I was flipped over and had to paddle my way back to the dock. Strict boating laws and the Coast Guard have since put a stop to blatant recklessness on the lake, and sailboats are common.

Rather than dampen my love of sailing, my Lake of the Ozarks experience simply encouraged me to find better water and a bigger boat. I officially learned how to sail in Newport, R.I., at a Navy sailing club. And I’ve tried to get my feet wet on a regular basis ever since.

Hopefully, it will continue this summer.


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