Sailing Stories, Part I


Sailing Upside Down

I found a book on the bookshelves at home "Learning to Sail" by H.A. Calahan, 1944, by the Macmillan Company {still have}. I read this book in the 10th grade. 


Even though I had a 14-foot rowboat with a 7-1/2 Martin outboard motor, I thought it would be ideal to move on the water by sail instead of buying gasoline. I walked home about one and a half miles from school every day by the Elizabeth City Ship Yard and then past Doctor Bonner's house where I had noticed an unused approximate fourteen-foot long centerboard sailboat with mainmast, in his backyard next to the Pasquotank River. One evening about March 1956 I got up the nerve to knock on his door to ask about the sailboat. We discussed the boat and he said he would sell it to me for about forty dollars. I went home and brought back the money and told him that the next day I would bring my other boat to help me pull it to my house which was further down and next to the river. I was able to get this boat home and up an eight-foot bank and pull it to my parents' garage where I was going to make any necessary repairs and paint. After caulking, painting and other minor repairs, it was ready to go back to the river.  Got my friend Warren G. Pierce to help me with getting it from the garage to the bank, down the bank, and into the river.  Wanted Warren to help me sail it the next day but he had some sports activity he was going to be engaged in. Well, the next day Thursday, May 24, 1956, a Northeast wind was blowing fairly good, so outfitted the boat by myself and proceeded to sail the boat on the river.  At some point sailing with the wind, the sail luffed and the wind grabbed the boom and sail and pushed it on the side that I was sitting on.  The boat turned over and swamped with water. I managed to upright the boat, however, when I was climbing onto the transom to get into the boat to bail the water, the weight shifted and the boat overturned again. This time the mast got stuck in the bottom of the river and the wind kept driving it further at an angle. I had an inner tube to float on to access the situation and attempt to rectify it. But on shore, Dr. John F. Weeks a neighbor down the street saw what was happening and thought I was in distress and called the U.S. Coast Guard.  Next event was that one of their helicopters piloted by Lt. L. S. McNatt was hovering overhead.  I floated over to the basket that had been lowered and was raised up into the helicopter.  I was interrogated thoroughly by a crew member, finally convincing him that I was by my self and the only individual involved.  I showed them the house I lived in, and the pilot landed the helicopter in the cow pasture across the street from my house.  I was greeted by the local kids who wanted to know "what happened"!  My boat was recovered by an approximate 35 foot Coast Guard Crash Boat and taken to Air Station Elizabeth City Coast Guard Base several miles downriver. Article front page of the "The Daily Advance" Friday, May 25, 1956. The next day my mother had driven me to the Air Station to sail my boat back home.  I outfitted the boat, pushed it back into the water and started sailing home when the exact same wind condition hit and I turned over as before. Got the boat back to shore pulled it up on the bank drained it and left disappointed for home.

Richard Walter