In honor of turkey day, here’s a little sail tale for you to gobble gobble. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

This was my editor’s letter all the way back in the November 2014 issue. 

Happy November, friends! I’ll be honest. I searched high and low for the perfect Thanksgiving-on-the-boat type of article this month, something heartwarming and salty.  It turns out that what I had in mind just might not have happened yet, at least it wasn’t under any of the rocks I turned over. While asking around for boaty Turkey Day stories, my friend Taylor reminded me of our Canadian Thanksgiving rip in 30 knots a number of years back. Hey, that’s kinda close…

A dual citizen, Taylor was in a celebratory mood in honor of the holiday, and wanted a few of us to go for a burn on a J/80 after work. We’d been watching the rain stay away and the wind build to the ‘Small Craft Advisory’ conditions that were forecast. It didn’t take much convincing! Practically skipping out the door and down the dock, we rigged quickly, and headed out of Shilshole and into the southerly breeze that, at last check, was pumping nicely in the low 20s. We set sail, and made our way to weather for a bit, knowing the downwind sleigh ride would be fast and short-lived. The wind and waves were at least as strong as we thought, as they usually are when you make your way against them this time of year.

After our foulies were suitably soaked, and we’d had enough pounding, Taylor and I looked at each other as if to say, “should we do this?” A single nod, and a quick review of everybody’s jobs, and up went the chute. Having shrimped and broached and experienced any number of mishaps when setting a kite in breezy conditions, it’s actually kind of a relief when the spinnaker fills with a powerful, but safe, wwhhaaapppp! Somehow, I drew the long straw and got to start on the helm. What had taken a good 30 minutes upwind, passed by in the blink of an eye downwind. Though lost in the gusts, there was no shortage of whooping and hollering as we planed and surfed in the ever-building breeze. It was one of the better compliments I’d ever received when Taylor, a skiff sailor in the Bay Area for much of his life, looked back at me and said, “You’re driving like a boss!” I was having too much fun on the stick, and needed to share the wealth a little bit, passing it off to Taylor for a few minutes. 

It was at this point I looked behind the boat for the first time in a while and noticed the black water behind us. In no time, this new breeze sent the boat surging forward with speed we hadn’t seen yet. There were plumes of water cascading above our heads off of each side of the bow. We were yahoos yelling “yahoo” until we noticed that…oops, there goes the northern entrance to the marina.

We refocused on getting the spinnaker down. I looked behind for a break in the gusts. Nope. We were rocketing past our destination at 15 knots as we tried, in vain, a couple of the normal dousing techniques. In those conditions, our only option was the emergency take-down where you blow the tack line completely free (which, by the way, worked like a charm, though a letterbox probably would have been cleaner). We collected the now soaked sail in the cockpit, leaving me with a classic visual of our friend Michael laying spread eagle on the green and yellow sail to keep it from catching the breeze. We were halfway to Edmonds by the time we finally got the spinnaker put away, and found ourselves beat-up and beating into the wind again just to get home. When we got back, a check of the West Point Buoy site confirmed what we had guessed: the breeze had built just a skosh while we were out there.

Ok, so that wasn’t quite the heartwarming Thanksgiving tale I was looking for. Liveaboards weren’t deep-frying a turkey on the dock while the propane systems on neighboring boats stayed busy cooking up the rest of the feast. Families weren’t clinking beers in the main salon, rosy-cheeked and dressed in Norwegian sweaters. But it does bring a smile to my face, and actually gets my adrenaline flowing just thinking about it. Mainly, it reminds this sailor of what Thanksgiving is really about — creating happy memories with people you care about. 

Title image by the amazing Jan Anderson.