Illustration by Elizabeth Skene.


“There you are! Are you out for a sail, or out for a swim?”

With these thoughtful words, a fellow club member sailed by us in his Laser. We were indeed swimming, next to my swamped open-hulled racing dinghy, kept afloat by the buoyancy tanks built into the seats and foredeck. And what brought me to this awkward situation? I’d recently attained the means to satisfy my desire to finally own my own boat.

It was about a month earlier when I found a vintage mahogany International 14 for sale, built by Fairey Marine of England. The owner, also English, assured me the boat was easy to sail. I recall quietly wondering about the reefing ties hanging in a line part way up the mainsail. The 22-foot mast on a 14-foot boat should have raised a red flag. Instead, buoyed by my limited experience aboard Lasers and Albacores, and figured this International 14 shouldn’t be too hard to handle. Blinded by its lovely varnished hull and racy sheer, the deal was done, Pizazz was mine.

A bright, breezy June day was the setting for my inaugural voyage. I had a friend with me and we set our sights on an island lying in a wide section of the Ottawa River, a good lunch destination. The International 14, having been designed for racing, has no real storage, so we put our lunch in a green garbage bag and tied it to the mast. After donning life jackets, we pushed off and raised sail.

Confidence was high until we rounded a point and exposed ourselves to a stiff down-river breeze. With the tiller in hand, I over-corrected, Pizazz went on her ear, and we found ourselves ballast on the wrong side of the large back-winded mainsail. We were suddenly treading water next to what looked like a large floating wooden bathtub with a stick.

We waved off the Laser sailor, bailed vigorously, and managed to get underway again, arriving at the island with only our egos slightly dampened. (The lunch had stayed dry, thanks to the garbage bag.)

When it was time to head home, we gently pushed Pizazz off the sand beach and set sail on a run for the club. Redemption was a short sail away. I knew enough not to lower the centerboard while we were in the shallow water, but I nonetheless placed the rudder onto its pintles as we gathered speed. The loud bang came moments later and the wooden rudder floated to the surface behind us like a dead fish.

I’m happy to report that we rose to the demands of the occasion, fashioning an effective emergency rudder by inserting a paddle into a slot cut into the transom for the tiller. Of course, using the paddle as a steering oar, navigating down river, I felt a bit like a Venetian gondolier, minus the singing.

Paying close attention to our sail trim to maintain better balance, we made it safely back to port.

Ready about?

I’m working on it…