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 Chapter 12

Unorthodox Locomotion

The next Sunday, you go out sailing with the owner of the boat and his wife, a pleasant middle-aged couple who bring lots of good food with them. It's nice for a change to be out in the middle of the ocean in a boat large enough to move around in. You can even go below for a bit of a pee.

There's quite a lot of activity as you clamber over the decks to manage the sails. But, of course, it's not the sort of sustained action you get with rowing or paddling. The owner assures you that you've learned enough to take the boat out alone, and you intend to do so.

In order to put some more exercise into sailing, you're determined to find some way of helping the boat along manually, but you aren't sure how. The next evening, you take this problem to your favorite teacher at the Pacific College of Integrated Thinking.

Chen Yen-ren teaches Tai Chi, but also the history of Theravadin Buddhism. He smiles and giggles almost continuously, but, in a Tai Chi demonstration you watched, he made a man about twice his size virtually fly through the air when caught off balance.

No less remarkable is Dr. Chen's ability to lucidly lay out the highly pessimistic doctrines of the historical Buddha without in the least compromising his own good humor and boundless optimism.

Dr. Chen hardly comes to your shoulder, but you begin to explain your problem. When he hears the word, "sailing", he bursts out,

"Sailing very good, patnakiya."

He knows, by your count, some nine languages. But he sometimes mixes them together. When you look puzzled, he explains,

"It promotes serenity. The long view. If you sail enough, you'll see that nothing matters at all."

Dr. Chen giggles and recommends his favorite text, the Milindapanna. Literally, the Wisdom of (King) Milinda, this Buddhist text has a strange origin. When Alexander the Great reached the Indus a goodish while back, one of his generals was named Menander. Some men in conquering armies always prefer the conquered country to their own. General Menander was one such, and he remained behind to become an Indian king and Buddhist sage. In the process, his name became Milinda.

Dr. Chen reveres the general as an intellectual man of action, unlike most of the wimpy western intellectuals who wouldn't know how to disarm a man with a knife. Moreover, there is also the idea that practical problems can be overcome with a blend of physical energy and a certain kind of mental concentration. In answer to your problem of making sailing more exercise, he suggests,

"Blow on the sails!"

That takes you back a bit, but he demonstrates by taking a deep breath and expelling it violently. You ask weakly,

"Will that move the boat?"

"You must believe! Belief moves anything."

Dr. Chen smiles broadly, and you give a little bow as you retreat slowly. It's hard not to say,

"Yes, Chen tzu."

Despite the undoubted wisdom of Chen tzu, you can't really picture yourself blowing on the sail for several hours. It would be great for the lungs, and would add directly to one's store of chi (a concept of well-being closely related to breath), but it wouldn't really be British. It's instead desirable to do something rather less picturesque which would also be visibly effective in moving the boat.

The sloop seems much too wide to row in the ordinary way, but you first think of skulling her with a long sweep over the stern. Going to the Home Depot that evening, you find a fourteen foot length of Douglas fir handrail. Working in the parking lot as usual, you stiffen it by screwing a one by two of the same wood to the flat side of the hand rail. The sweep is finished with a small piece of plywood screwed to one end as the paddle.

You set out to walk the mile to the marina with the sweep, now about fifteen feet, casually under one arm. There may be some problems crossing the busy streets, but the cars and pedestrians will probably be able to manage. Just then, a young gentleman on a Harley Davidson roars up. You've been told that Harleys aren't the best bikes, or the fastest ones, but are the coolest. Their riders are also known to be unusually enterprising. True to his reputation, this gentleman has vertically extended his fork, and added a vertical stern piece, which together hold his surfboard fore and aft above his head as he rides. He suggests that your oar could be tied on top of his board. Like other Americans, he has bungee cords. You get everything secure, and then hop on behind him.

The rig holds together nicely, but there is a cloverleaf loop which is negotiated at speed. Another driver is alarmed to the point of losing her chi when the sweep bangs her car as you pass inside her on the curve. She brakes radically, swerves, and goes through some low shrubs by the side of the road, but no harm is done. This is, you think, so typical of the way things are done in California.

There is a little bay, opposite the marina, which is almost enclosed by breakwaters. There are fewer boats and prying eyes there than elsewhere, and it's a good place to practice undignified things. You there discovered, for example, that it's easy to right the rubber boat by standing on the wooden frame on one side and pulling on a rope going across the upturned bottom to the frame on the other side. This time, you motor over in the sloop, turn off the engine, and break out the sweep.

The usual side-to-side technique doesn't seem to work very well, partly because it's hard to get a good position in the cockpit. Instead, you push the paddle deep, twist it, and pull up the paddle by pulling down on the handle, the stern rail acting as the fulcrum. You can see against the shore that the boat is moving, probably about one mile an hour. Not a bad way to cross an anchorage, but, when a little breeze springs up, it proves to be difficult to keep the sloop pointed to the wind. This is partly because the bulky sail cover over the jib catches the wind.

At this moment, three louts with fishing poles appear in a little white boat. The boat is wide and very low to the water. It has, not only a square stern, but a square bow, evidently in order to accomodate the largest lout with the most beer in his tummy. It has an outboard motor being run by a degenerate little man in camouflage clothing who looks as if he might own an Uzi. The boat, considering its full load, goes surprisingly fast. You know that these mariners are going to be obnoxious in advance, and you get some ideas.

The derisive shouts which come from the louts, so much like the soccer yobs at home, are sexually harrassing. You reply in a modified Cockney accent. You've already discovered that Californians take such an accent to be Australian, and Australians are supposed to be bad people to mess with. You tell them to get lost without recourse to obscenity, and they zoom ahead. Unfortunately, they circle and come back just as you finally have the sloop turned into the wind.

As the unwelcome visitors cross your stern, you suddenly point just beyond them and screech in an alarming way. You don't actually say anything at all, much less, "Look out behind you", but your general demeanor is that of one who sees a jet ski on a collision course. You are, in fact, pointing to a seagull which has just landed on the water, and you are prepared to comment on the symmetry of its figure. The steersman reacts suddenly, but what transpires takes place in lovely slow motion.

One of the reasons not to have a square bow, you realize, is so that one corner of it won't dip beneath the water in a sudden turn. As the little boat turns away from you, the near corner of the bow does go nicely under with lots of water coming on board. The louts react quickly, leaning to the other side, and the whole opposite rail goes under. They again recoil, this time toward you, and, by some miracle, the boat remains on a fairly even keel. However, there's a quantity of water sloshing around in it, and you remain hopeful.

As you watch with interest, the internal water surges forward, and, even though the propellor breaks surface with a nasty whine, there's enough momentum to take the bow entirely under water. The little lout in the stern stands and waves his arms just before the boat goes bottom up. It doesn't stay that way long as the heavy motor drags it down. There's just enough bouyancy in the boat to keep the very bow afloat, and all three louts are soon clinging to it. They look the sorts of people who might not know how to swim.

By this time, you have a good rhythm to your stroke, and, as you leave the louts behind, you notice the lifeguards racing up in one of their patrol boats. You have met some of these gentlemen, and you're sure that they'll make the most of the occasion.

A little later, with the three louts in the stern of the lifeguard boat, one of the lifeguards points to them and calls to you,

"We're having a special on drunk half-drowned fishermen, five dollars apiece."

You suggest a donation to the Salvation Army as you skull home. The wind is with you all the way until you get into the flat calm of your own little channel, and you lay the sloop gently into her slip. It's obvious that you won't be able to take her to sea by skulling alone, but it may be possible to combine it with sailing.

The next time, you motor out to sea, hoist the main, and put the sloop on the larboard tack in the light breeze. Without the big Genoa jib, which is meant to drive her, the sloop makes little more than steerage way. That's just what you want. The addition of vigorous skulling takes you along nicely. There's a noticeable wake, and there are happy gurgling noises from forward. You skull for a couple of hours in the ocean, and then, carrying the main most of the way, skull back to the slip.

It's only that evening, while eating at the local seafood shack, that you notice that something has gone wrong with your right elbow. You've heard the word, "ergonomic", and you don't know exactly what it means, but you suspect that you're being punished for some ergonomic sin. In particular, that twisting of the oar, particularly because of its size and weight, must have strained something in your right arm. You could skull with your left, but, then, both arms would be sore.

For some days you've noticed the semi-crazed senior citizen who gave you kayaking advice around the marina. He seems also to live there, and you ask a Scotswoman you know from the laundry room about him. She replies,

"That's auld Sandy. He's a retired philosophy professor, a bit daft actually."

"I've talked with him occasionally. He seems to have ideas about lots of things."

"A million ideas has Sandy. Nae one o them a bit o good to anyone wi any sense o fear. Or sense o any kind."

With this testimonial in mind, you consult old Sandy about your ergonomic problem. He dives into the recesses of his old sloop for some tools, and accompanies you to your boat.

Using a bit of two by four and a doorknob liberated from the men's room, he attaches a cross piece to the handle of the sweep with the knob near the end of the cross piece. The knob spins freely, and, with one hand on it and the other on the handle of the sweep, you're able to use it without twisting your wrist or arm. He adds, however,

"Better give your tennis elbow a rest while we develop some alternatives."

One alternative involves plastic pipe. Americans seem to make things from white "PVC" pipe. It was originally intended to carry excrement from the home to the local creek or pond, but it was soon realized that it could also be used to carry drinking water back to the house. The next step was to make everything from soccer goals to baby prrams out of it. On this occasion, Sandy assembles fourteen feet of the two inch variety and hinges a smallish rectangular piece of plywood to the end.

When run out over the stern and shoved through the water, the plywood snaps shut over the end of the pipe, thus offering resistance and propelling the boat. On the return stroke, the plywood flops open and offers minimal resistance and drag.

Using a tee, Sandy mounts a small cross piece on the inboard end of the pipe. You push hard against it on the power stroke, and pull it gently on the return stroke. Although it does take finesse to make the plywood close at the right time, there's no twisting or other funny business. Sandy pronounces you ergonomically correct.

At his urging, you untie the sloop and put the little engine in slow astern, as if to back out into the channel. You then "push-pull" hard enough to overcome the engine and come back into the slip. You can even rev the engine up a little and still manage.

Later that morning, you take the sloop out of the channel into the ocean with both the sweep and the plastic pipe on the foredeck. Once clear, you set the main, without the jib, and put the sloop on the starboard tack. She again moves sluggishly in the light breeze, and you deploy the plastic pipe. It doesn't grab the water as well when you're moving, even slowly, as it does in the slip. But, still, a quick thrust with both hands does help propel you, and you find it fairly easy to maintain your balance in the swells as you stand in the cockpit.

The rhythm isn't as nice and relaxed as that of rowing the rubber boat, but you're out in the Pacific, using your muscles to advantage and adding to the speed of the sloop. A little later, when it breezes up, the sloop sails fast enough, even without the jib, to render any sort of manual assistance pointless. Accepting the inevitable, you sit down and enjoy the sail. Even then, by hanging on to the sheet instead of making it fast, you feel that you're participating in the adventure.

One afternoon, you're attracted by the jovial fun-loving atmosphere of a tattoo parlor in nearby Mission Beach. Two young ladies are lying face down on padded tables, and are having butterflies put on their rear ends. You're invited to join them. When you hesitate, the black-bearded young proprietor, who has boa constrictor tattoos on both his arms, offers,

"We can put a free temporary one on you. It'll last until your next shower, and you can see how you like it."

You adjust your costume sufficiently to be zapped with a temporary golden butterfly, and return, somewhat pensively, to the marina. The butterfly begins to itch, but a permanent one probably wouldn't.

Just then, you come upon Old Sandy, who's been working on his boat without a shirt. He turns out to have a tattoo on his chest which reads,


(even if dead)

He explains,

"I was briefly in the hospital a few years ago for lymphoma, and that's dangerous. A hospital will hook you up with tubes and wires so you can't move, and then they'll plunk you down in front of a huge TV set running a soap opera. The nurses will be gone by the time you've collected yourself, and you'll be subjected to audio-visual torture for some time."

"Unless you become the talk of the hospital to the extent that they'll remember not to put you in front of a TV."

"Precisely. If you feel strongly about something, have it put on you."

You don't show Sandy your temporary itching butterfly, but resolve on something more meaningful and high-minded.

The book of famous quotes in the marina library has a nautical section. There is John Paul Jones',

"I have just begun to fight"

when asked to surrender his ship. You've heard a joke about that. A marine in the main top who's been fighting for an hour says to his companion,

"There's always some bastard who doesn't get the word."

Anyhow, J. P. Jones was an American, most inappropriately fighting the English. There is then Admiral Farragut's,

"Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead."

and Admiral Dewey's,

"You may fire when ready, Gridley."

If that last were placed in a sensitive area, it might invite undue intimacy. More neutral would be Admiral Beatty's remark on seeing his second battle cruiser blow up at Jutland,

"There seems to be something wrong with our damned ships today. Turn two points closer."

But, then, best of all is Lord Nelson's signal at Trafalgar,

"England expects every man to do his duty."

You are headed for the tattoo parlor with that in mind when you meet your friend, the Dutch lady. She isn't very enthusiastic about your plan, and replies,

"That could be interpreted in various ways. Besides, tattoos are hard to remove. England might not feel the same way forty years down the road."

You agree to consider the matter more fully before proceeding.

That evening, you put it to Chen tzu. He giggles, and replies,

"I would say this to you, Elspeth. Out here in California, the natives do some things which one doesn't do oneself. Have these excellent principles tattooed, not on your body, but just under the surface of your consciousness."

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