The apartment was built right along the mile-wide Caloosahatchee River in North Fort Myers, Florida. I’d rented it with my buddy who would later become my brother-in-law. The seawall was ten feet from our dining room window.
After a tough shift at McDonald’s, the walk through our surf-scented courtyard, toward that spacious river, gifted us instant calm.
The apartment complex owned a small sunfish sailboat that tenants could borrow. We’d never sailed before, but how hard could it be?
One afternoon, we spontaneously put in right off the seawall. For the first 15 minutes it was a blast. Close to shore, we practiced tacking. This is when you adjust the sail into the wind, gain some speed then turn the sail and rudder quickly to angle the boat toward the opposite direction. Like operating the clutch on a manual transmission, it took some practice and massage to make a smooth transition.
As the wind blew harder, we enjoyed the effortless speed increase that carried us toward the middle of the river. Ah … the sailor’s life. We could get used to this.
We were slow to notice our speed kept accelerating. What had started as a breeze had developed into the front edge of an approaching afternoon squall. The wind has driving us farther away from our apartment. Time to tack and head back.
The trouble was, the wind was now ten times stronger than our 15 minutes of tack practice. The calm river had developed a chop. This wasn’t ideal, but we had to get home.
We were far too slow on the sail turn. The wind caught the sail sideways and threw us hard over, an inch from capsizing, soaking and terrifying us both. We desperately straightened the sail, leveling the boat, which now skimmed even faster away from home. The gale mocked our inexperience. We’d never be able to turn this thing around.
The far bank of the river was getting bigger and looked much safer than this damn sunfish. It was our only choice. Wet, frightened and arms exhausted, we rode the wind where it took us. We came ashore on the beach of the Thomas Edison Winter Home & Museum.
As we crawled ashore, two ragamuffin castaways, chewed up and spit out by nature, a tour group stepped through the palmettos.
Our defeat and humiliation now had a dozen witnesses.
In real life, we were management titans of the hamburger industry. We could choreograph dozens of employees to feed thousands of hot Big Macs in a clean restaurant with 60-second service times.
But as sailors, we were total screw-ups. Over-confidence, inexperience and cavalier attitude were all classic mistakes.
Being good in one thing doesn’t mean you can immediately step into competence in another.
That may have been these burger titans’ biggest mistake. And it was a Whopper.
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