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A novice sailor unfazed by gusts of fate
Special to The Seattle Times
E.B. White is known internationally for writing "Charlotte's Web" and locally for being fired by The Seattle Times. To the boating set, he's known for being father to Joel, a builder of boats, and for penning one of the finer definitions of a little sailboat.
"A small sailing craft is not only beautiful," he wrote, "it is seductive and full of strange promise and the hint of trouble."
It's that "hint of trouble" that trips people up. Experienced sailors dread losing crew, t-boning other boats, running aground, getting pooped and any number of other watery ills.
Would-be sailors dread all that and more, including the perils of learning something strange, if not utterly new.
It's remarkable that anyone actually gets up the gumption to learn how to sail, but all that beauty, seduction and strange promise somehow works its wonders, and learn they do.
For Rory Petrilli, a relative newcomer to Seattle and sailing, it was a love of wind and water, and a fascination with her newfound city's wind-water nexus, that did the trick.
Petrilli, 34, has a little more courage than most. She has rafted and kayaked, survived a brain tumor and surgery, and skied very fast as a competitive downhill skier. Still, she felt the same frisson most every newcomer feels when the wind starts pushing hard on the sail and the boat leans.
"I thought, 'My God, I've gone 73 kilometers an hour [45 mph] on a pair of skis. The boat is slightly tipped, and here I'm having a little moment.' "
Try it yourself
Windworks sailing lessons, Shilshole Bay Marina, Seattle: www.windworkssailing.com, 206-784-9386
Green Lake Small Craft Center, Green Lake, Seattle: www.seattle.gov/parks/boats/grnlake.htm, 206-684-4074
Mount Baker Rowing and Sailing Center, Lake Washington, Seattle: www.seattle.gov/parks/boats/Mtbaker.htm, 206-386-1913.
Center for Wooden Boats, Lake Union, Seattle: www.cwb.org/LearnToSail.htm, 206-382-2628.
Petrilli said this while tending the tiller of a 25-foot sailboat out of Shilshole. A guest was along to pull on the occasional line, but for the most part she was taking the boat out by herself, nosing toward very large ships in the center of Puget Sound, methodically trimming sails, coming about and bringing everyone back to the dock for a soft landing. It's also worth mentioning that the Olympic Mountains were a spectacular study of sun and cloudy shadows, and the water smelled unequivocally sealike.
Petrilli, an environmental consultant, started her sailing lessons last fall. Before that, she had once been out in a catamaran as a child and then on a big sailboat during a party in Bellingham. She mostly remembers that Ziggy Marley was performing, and they could hear him from the water.
As a kayaker, she learned how to read the water a bit, but she did not know how to gauge the wind or figure out the dynamics behind making a sailboat move.
"I still get things backwards all the time," she said. "I'm very upfront with those I take out as passengers with me. I don't pretend to know it all. Or anything for that matter."
That's a fairly common comment from even veteran sailors. The more you know, the more you realize how much you don't know.
Petrilli first came to Seattle in April 2004 to be treated at Swedish for an acoustic neuroma, a benign tumor of the nerve that controls hearing and balance. She returned the following year and spent the summer walking down from her home on Sunset Hill to see the boats at Shilshole. That fall, she signed up at the nearby Windworks Sailing Center for six half-day lessons that certified her to skipper a keelboat of up to 27 feet.
To top it off, she and her friend Elizabeth Rayburn decided to each single-hand across the Sound in May as "virtual riders" in the Brain Tumor Society's Ride for Research fundraiser. Windworks donated a boat. Friends from the center's Women of Windworks sailing club served as a chase boat. After an anxious buildup, they sailed over to Port Madison in light winds, rafted up for a small party and sailed back. They raised more than $6,500.
There were other tests, too, as will happen. Shortly before Petrilli and Rayburn had their single-handed crossings, they went out together and found themselves in winds approaching 30 knots. That's a lot of wind for a little boat.
"We got beaten up pretty good," said Petrilli, "and it was great. It was us and one other boat, and the other boat was getting rescued by the Coast Guard."
The Boating column appears twice monthly in Northwest Weekend. Freelance writer Eric Sorensen, a former Seattle Times staff reporter, keeps two boats in his Kenmore garage and helps sail and maintain Mistral, a 31-foot Seaborn-Blanchard sloop, at Seattle's Center for Wooden Boats. Contact him at email@example.com.
Poetic license: "The Sea and the Wind that Blows" by E.B. White can be found in "The Greatest Sailing Stories Ever Told" ($14.95, The Lyons Press).
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company