Gayle: "They can't make us sail." At least that's what I told my best friend, Marjorie, two weeks after we booked what seemed like the ultimate girlfriend getaway: three days at an all-women sailing school in the Florida Keys. We'd live on a sailboat, lie in the sun, swim in the sea, and have the sort of conversations we once took for granted (conversations that aren't constantly being interrupted by 2-year-olds demanding yet another reprise of "Wheels on the Bus"). Oh, and we might even learn to sail, something I'd been hankering to do since spending part of my honeymoon cruising the Turkish coast.
Marjorie: And then the paperwork arrived. Uh-oh. The packing list gave us visions of George Clooney in The Perfect Storm, and not in a good way. Foul-weather pants? Heavy slicker? Warm hat and sailing gloves? Gloves? Our little pleasure cruise was starting to sound like work. We vowed that we wouldn't pack the damn waterproof pants. If it were that rainy, we'd stay below deck and drink.
Gayle: As soon as we board Sunday Morning--a 35-foot Beneteau, for you sailors--and meet our captain, Jennifer Wirth, we relax. With her soothing presence and crinkling laugh lines, Captain Jen is nothing like the bullying phys-ed-teacher-type that Marjorie and I were dreading. She introduces us to our fellow sailors: Vanessa Rogers, a photographer, and Ann Angers (it's a soft g; she's not at all mad), a Kansas City, Mo., native who recently bought a large sailboat with her husband. Everyone has much more experience on the water than Marjorie and I do. We're a couple of Jewish girls. Except for Noah, Jews don't sail.
Marjorie: After a quick equipment check (and an embarrassing moment when I spot what I think is a blender and squeal, "Yay, margaritas!" only to be informed that I'm holding a lantern flashlight), we're off. We motor out of the marina and into Biscayne Bay. The Miami skyline shrinks behind us as Captain Jen coaches Gayle and me on how to raise the sails for the first time. Gayle lurches across the deck and begins pulling the halyard to raise the mainsail. (Listen to me use the lingo!) I tighten the line. The sail begins to rise up into the sky, fluttering ever so gracefully and easily. Then Gayle starts having trouble; she's tugging heavily at the now-resistant sail.
Gayle: I think, This is hard! I'm such a wuss! It's exactly what I was dreading.
Marjorie: But Captain Jen sees what's happening. She tells Gayle to lean far back while holding the halyard. Then she tells her to let go, and she shows me how to take up the slack. Gayle and I quickly find a rhythm. It's the first of many times during the trip when Captain Jen will demonstrate ways we can use the wind, the current, and our bodies to accomplish physically demanding tasks. Gayle continues to jump the halyard, I tail it and winch it, and Ann points the bow into the wind, putting us in irons. I have no idea what I just said. But it's in my notes.
Gayle: Once the mainsail is up, we unfurl the front sail (also known as the jib, the headsail, the genoa, and the jenny--sailors love their synonyms). Then the boat begins to move. Woo hoo! We're sailing!
It's all about the wind. Not just in the obvious, you-need-to-fill-the-sails-somehow way, but in how you steer. Understanding where the wind is hitting the boat, your so-called point of sail, determines the position of your sails and your ability to move forward. This all sounded academic when Captain Jen explained it, but now that we're on the water, I start to get it.
After a few hours, I'm steadier on my feet. My body is sun- and salt-kissed, and I'm feeling the Zenned-out floppiness of being on the water. A pod of dolphins arcs out of the bay on our port side. I adjust the jenny and start singing, "I'm just Jenny on the boat. I used to have a little, now I have a rope." Ann chimes in.
Marjorie: They sound like dying goats. At the helm, I go all Mom on their asses, "If you guys don't stop singing, I will turn this boat around!" In response, they switch to Streisand. Kill me now.
Gayle: Captain Jen knows how to avert disaster. She shows us how to drop the anchor and then pulls wine and beer out of the little fridge nestled in the counter below deck. After some decompression time, we cook: blackened tilapia (no, we didn't catch it; we bought it in Miami) with couscous and a salad. Because we each have two X chromosomes, we all pitch in, bustling around the tiny kitchenette. We eat on deck, under the stars. It's quiet save for the lapping of the waves and the sounds of our laughter. It feels like we're floating in our own little world.
Marjorie: As we pass around the Mint Milanos and sip chardonnay, someone finds an '80s station on the ship's radio. Late into the night, we lounge on the white leatherette banquettes around the table in the cabin and sing along with Cyndi Lauper. We segue into impassioned discussions about Angelina vs. Jennifer, whether Madonna's a baby stealer, and how we all (Republican, Democrat, and libertarian) feel about our president. It's a safe space for Vanessa to confess her love of vintage red-haired musical mallrat Tiffany.