A Tortured Death

A valued sail bites the dust, the hard way

Our boat came with a lot of stuff.   Tons, actually, most of which we had no idea was aboard until we moved on ourselves.  One bit was a large, kevlar ($$$) sail, used for light wind.   It's referred to in the sailing world as a "Genny", short for Genoa.

We had used it during our test sail and noted that it was not in the best of shape.  It's also a huge amount of area to manage with three kids and a wife so it sat rolled in its bag for the first several months of our trip.

Finally, the day came.  I had extra muscle in the form of a sailing buddy.  The winds were light and projected to get lighter.  We had an 80 mile downwind run to the Virgin Islands from St. Maarten.  What a perfect time to fly the big boy.

In its golden days, pulling us northward towards the Virgin Islands.

We raised it in the early evening.  It promptly unrolled itself and started flapping with a sound like rolling thunderclaps.  Heads popped out of boats anchored nearby.   We eventually got it under control and enjoyed an 18 hour downwind slide under its quiet current of power.

With that good experience under our belts, we used it numerous times throughout the spring and summer.   Eevery time it came out of its bag it looked a little worse.  At first, only a few panels were delaminating.  Then it was 7, then 12, then nearly every panel was crackling, losing chunks of mylar and trailing cobwebs of vectran fibers.  On it's grand finale, it pulled us 54 miles across Maine's mid-coast region in a nice northern breeze driving us in the 9-10 knot range for hours on end.  I was afraid it was going to explode at any moment.

A new one was 3 boat bucks, or $3,000; we just had other priorities.  Eventually, I managed to dust off an old genny in a grungy basement of a consignment chandlery in Newport, Rhode Island, that had roughly the right dimensions.  While we were on the hard and on hold in Deltaville, I took the old genny to little sail loft that lived in a converted double-wide trailer on the cheap side of town.  I wanted the hardware cut out of it for reuse.

Coming out of its bag, it was a tangled mess of dangling yarn-like strands and crackling plastic wrap.  The guy with the big scissors asked, "Hey man, what you going to do with that old sail?"  The idea of stuffing it into the boat yard dumpster was just too cruel, too heartless to envision.   This once beautiful sail had known the fair winds of the Spice Islands, the near and far West Indies, the cool flows of the downeast coast and seen the sun set over many fair horizons.   To stuff it in a stinky metal box in the dead of night was just too sickening to imagine.

I sized up the offerer.  He was in his mid-thirties with cropped, dyed blond hair spiked well with gel.  He had a carefully manicured black goatee, and a prominent studded lip ring.   He sported a smoker's complexion and the beginnings of a beer lover's curve.  He was just the guy to do the dirty deed.   I could give him the sail and never really have to see it die.

"You want it?  You can have it!" I exclaimed without waiting for an answer to the first question.

"Right on, man!" he chortled, his eyes glittering over a pudgy smile.  It was October 29th.

I was a bit ashamed of leaving such a faithful companion in the care of stranger.   To a sailor, old sails are like a dog, a horse or a favorite old Honda Accord from college; you know you must part some day, but it's best done quickly and with minimal ceremony.   I wanted all its associated memories to be rimmed with its finest hours, glinting in the setting tropical sun pulling hard and pulling silent, drawing our craft through the cleanest of worlds towards the rising moon.   It's demise should be quick, quiet, dignified and over as fast as possible.

But, it was not to be.

I had some other sail work done and returned a week later to retrieve my bags and settle up the bill.   The guy with the big scissors was there.   I avoided his look as one would hesitate to meet the gaze of a hired assassin.   What was done was done.

"Hey man!" he hollared from the back of the shop charging my way as he reached into a pocket.    There was no avoiding him.  "Thanks again for that sail, man!"

He whipped out his cell phone and gleefully exclaimed, "Check this out!  We had this big Halloween party and I hung your sail from these trees, and put some lights under it!  I mean, how gnarly is this..."

He flicked up a photo in full living color.  There, lighted by a ghostly glow against a background of spidery trees black in a late evening sky, was my genny hanging like a slaughtered lamb.  Its three corners were splayed between trees, its artful curves now inverted, its entrails dangling like spider webs making a freakish canopy of spooky shapes and shadows.  Bodies could be seen creeping under the once lofty folds.

"Wow, that looks like, er, fun." I stammered too shocked at the spectacle to react quickly.

"Yeah, it was the best Halloween party ever, dude.  It rocked.  I rolled it all up afterwards and stored it away for next year.  The kids loved it.  Thanks again!"

I tried to smile, really.  I was happy that he was happy, but that's as good as it got.   I think my mouth started to turn upwards when a sickening sensation rose in my spine.  I tried to suppress it, but it burst upwards in a nervous neck twitch.   I looked away quickly with a jerk.  I tried to cover it all with a pathetic fake cough but failed abysmally.   

"Great," I managed to mumble in a hoarse growl, doing my best to remain civil.   "That's just great."

Ignorance had been bliss, or something close.