What you’ll need: a boat, a bottle of rum

Songlist: Come Sail Away by Styx, Ocean Breathes Salty by Modest Mouse

Further reading: The Old Man and the Sea by Hemingway

I spent much of the Fourth of July at Lake Harriet, a beautiful lake right in the heart of Minneapolis. We’d brought books and a frisbee, but spent all our time lying in the shade and watching either the dogs on the path behind us (an activity I call dogling) or the sailboats on the lake in front of us. I was particularly impressed by an elderly man who jumped into the lake near us, swam through the weeds to his boat, hauled himself on board and hoisted the sails all in about twenty minutes.

I always loved sailing as a kid, and even went to a sailing camp at Lake Harriet when I was about thirteen (unfortunately, the weather was all over the place that week, and we ended up spending more time on tying knots than on the water). Knowing of my boat-love, my grandmother set up a sailing lesson one summer when I visited her in the Caribbean.

The lesson was with my grandparents’ neighbor’s son, Tim, a boy of nineteen, who’d recently fallen madly in love with my cousin (she had spent the previous month visiting our grandparents). Tim was then in training for the 2004 Summer Olympics in Greece, so he seemed uniquely qualified to teach a lesson. However, this Olympian status coupled with his love for my cousin made me, sixteen at the time, even shyer around him than I would have been otherwise.

Tim picked me up in a red jeep and brought me to the St. Croix Yacht Club, where we got his Laser sailboat, which he’d picked up from the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. He explained the basics of sailing physics and boat-parts in the beach sand, gave me a life jacket, and we were off.

Buck Island, off the coast of St. Croix, USVI

Once we were out on the water, I immediately felt at ease. Tim let me man the jib and he took the rudder. Usually, he explained, he would do both–the laser is a small enough boat that it’s really meant for just one person. In fact, Tim had never let anyone on this boat with him before, a fact of which I was quite proud.

The wind picked up when we got further out from mainland St. Croix toward the tiny Buck Island. For a while we were really flying, and I laid back out into the waves with my feet stuck under the hiking strap. Every once in a while, Tim would yell out a direction. Mostly we just enjoyed the beautiful day.

And then he forgot to yell out a direction. He had to come round quickly, which meant the boom shifted position. This type of change was second nature to him, but I of course was not expecting the boom to come directly at my face, which it did. It caught me right in the mouth and knocked me back. Since my feet were strapped in, I didn’t just fall in the water–I brought the whole boat down with me. All I remember is seeing spots of bright blood on the white hull, and feeling utterly confused as to how I’d ended up in the water.

Hiking out on a laser

Tim was horrified, and couldn’t stop apologizing. He got the boat back upright while I hazily watched a manta ray swim along the ocean floor. We weren’t too far from Buck Island at that point, and we sailed over to a boat where a bunch of people were having a party. The girls at the party took pity on me and got ice for my lip, and a mirror to see the damage. I’d cut my lip and chipped a front tooth, but nothing that would require special dental attention. As soon as the blood stopped and Tim stopped feeling guilty, we got in his boat again and sailed back to mainland St. Croix. He remembered to give me directions the entire way back, but I wasn’t overly worried about the trip–I was having too much fun.