Monday, August 16, 2010

Sailing the Good Ship Ponczka

Ponczka was born to captain her own ship.
On our first date, by way of introducing herself, alerting me that I was dealing with a woman of substance, and letting me know what I was in for, she announced how in the office of the architectural design company where she worked, she had all the guys trained. “They all know,” she declared, “that when it comes to working with me, it’s my way or the highway!” and she burst out with her characteristic, cartoony laugh.
Ponczka likes to steer her own course, and she has unlimited ideas about where she’d like to go and what she’d like to do. Which is what led to my role as First Mate and lackey on the Good Ship Ponczka, otherwise known as Bubbles, or Wannabe, or the Bathtub.
Let me tell you how I first learned that sailing was in my future.
Among other things, Ponczka is an artist, a painter of acrylic cityscapes which sell really well, and which her buyers tell her capture the spirit and energy of the city. She generally participates in two or three outdoor art shows a year, where she sits and drinks her red wine, with old friends who visit, and with the new friends she invariably makes, cajoling and laughing her way into the graces of both other artists and potential customers.
A few years ago, she was working the Queen West Art Crawl, and I, as always, was keeping her company and making coffee and food runs. Upon returning from one such errand, I found Ponczka excited and beaming.
“I just got us a sailboat!” she announced.
“I was gone about 45 minutes,” I said. “What happened?”
Well, you see, she’d done some painting, outdoors, en plein air, on the Toronto Islands. And some of the pieces featured boats in the small marina at Hanlan’s Point. Now, she was no sailor. She’d been sailing maybe three or four times in her life, twice the sailing I’d done. But she’d said, during the one sail we’d had together, that she always thought she’d like to have a boat someday. And she repeated this notion to a guy who stopped to admire her paintings. He focused on the boat paintings, and said how he admired them, as he was a passionate sailor. He had no money, but once she mentioned her longing, he let her know that he did have a couple of boats that had been sitting in cradles unused for a couple of years. And by the time I returned with fish and chips and club soda, the two of them had hatched a deal. For a bit of cash and three paintings, Ponczka would become the owner of a twenty foot sail boat.
I admit I wasn’t overjoyed at the prospect. I knew from sailing friends that the hobby is obsessive, labor intensive and expensive. Some hobbyists spend way more time on upkeep and maintenance than actually sailing. And didn’t we have enough hobbies and sidelines to keep us busy? But I kept my tongue bit down to a nub and the deal was finalized. After all, I wasn’t against the idea so much as ambivalent. There was lots that appealed about owning a sailboat: it was large enough to sleep on and would be like a miniature, mobile cottage; there seemed to be a community of interesting and friendly boaters ready to welcome us; it was both a green pursuit and a beautiful science, channelling the forces of wind and waves; and then there was simply the romance of blowing about on the vast lake, exploring an entirely other dimension of city life, one that echoed through the ages of human kind.
The hardest part for me has been feeling unnatural in the alien environment of the sea. And to me, any natural body of water larger than a pond might as well be the sea...or the ocean. The liquid part of the world operates differently than the solid part, and the laws of physics that I know and understand, don’t apply there as consistently as they should.
So we got the boat, and Ponczka was immediately won over. From the beginning, she’d have sailed every weekend if she could. She had her moments, sure. On one of our first sails, tutored by a sailing friend, she was like a kid bouncing with eagerness to get on board and out on the water, and five minutes later was bouncing with nervous upset and annoyance at the lapping and slapping light waves, and insisting we head for shore.
But all that’s in the past. Now Ponczka is the intrepid captain who wants to sail when she wants to sail. Phooey on those forecasts that say there’s a sixty percent chance of rain.
“Look at the sky. You can plainly see it’s not gonna rain. Besides, it’s perfect for sailing. If it starts to storm, we put down the engine and head back in.”
I’m the one reminding her that, well, we don’t really know what we’re doing. It can get hairy out here in a hurry...
I don’t feel safe.
So, like in everything else, we find a tolerable compromise, and we sail the edges of storm clouds, drink wine and have a hell of a time.

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