Anwar Sadat was on television the other day saying how there are only two experiences in life that tell a man what he's really made of - war and prison.
To that let me add, just for starters, going down, glub glub, in a sinking sailboat.
Like battle and jail, the sinking experience cements friendships that might otherwise never exist. Fortunately for me, in my boat partner Ross I have a sinking companion who can make the descent, if not fun, well, interesting.
We came to be partners three years ago when he rang me up on a bright spring day. "I have purchased a boat; let's go sailing."
It wasn't till we were thrashing about in the middle of Chesapeake Bay that he confessed he had only the guts to sail it once, at which time it sank like a stone in gusty winds.
"Does she leak much?" I asked.
"She leaks enough to keep her sweet," he answered thunderously.
Somehow we survived that first outing and, flushed with success, agreed to formalize our new relationship. I would buy a half interest in the sturdy little boat, Lightning No. 3604 a white cedar daysailer that had been built painstakingly and handsomely by Long Island craftsmen in the year 1949, when Hector was still a pup.
We were happy that first year. Ross had done all the hard work of rebuilding the battered old hull. he had spent hours at the feet of salty masters learning about points of sail and how to tie bowlines hitches. He knew everything anybody will ever need to know to sail around the world.
His problem was that after growing up in the Texas desert Ross wisely was utterly petrified of water. I didn't know a bowline from a bailer and thus was beyond fear.
As I look back now I remember the wonderful predictability of our first sails. Our attempts to get off the mooring inevitably ended with the mast tangled in trees on shore and crowds at nearby Steamboat landing roaring with laughter. Then suddenly we'd be off, tacking uncontrollably as yachts dodged out of our path.
We had our routines. At the sound of the first wavelets lapping at the bow Ross would lean back and announce expansively, "Ah, this is it. Life on the rolling wave."
Then, at the red channel marker where the West River spills into the Bay, he would shield his eyes from the sun and look to thehorizon. In the distance a tiny speck emerged. "To the east," Ross would shout, pointing. "Bloody Point beckons."
These are the warm memories, but not the only ones. The worst cliffhanger was the yearly question of what to do in winter. The first year we chose nothing. That was the advent of the ice age and the boat lay locked in winter's hard and it turned out, sharp grisp.
In March we were shocked to find Miss Fury lying on her side with a gaping hole in her waterline. We pumped and bailed got her right side up, then sailed her two miles to the boatyard on a starboard tack. If she heeled over on the port side where the hole was, we'd go down lie buckshot.
We replaced the chewed-up plank and while she was up spent a month painting, caulking and varnishing.
We vowed to do things differently, and next fall we found a scenic boatyard with a tumbledown shed. We hauled in November and chuckled with satisfaction when the entire Bay freeze, locking oceangoing freighters in the Baltimore ship channel. We had it made.
Until we arrived at the yard in March and made with the paint pots. The bottom planks, accustomed to life in the damp, had shrunk in the dry air. You could read a book through the seams; caulking was hanging out like stuffing from a tattered easy chair.
It meant another month in the yard. "Why is it, "asked Ross, "that we're the smallest boat in the yard and we always have the biggest bill?"
our work done, we popped the boat in the hoist and watched as she was set down in the water. And water. And down down down down.
We got tow from a speedboat the 30 yards to where we could tie up. Both of us bailed furiously the entire way. We were under water at the end. It took three weeks for the plank to swell back up.
This year, for the first time ever, we did things right. Ross is grown up now and has a real job. Me too. So the boat sat at its mooring as fall winds roared and rain gushed down. She sat and, lower and lower, until finally she rolled over and returned to familiar turl at the bottom of the Bay.
Three days later came the ice, and by the time we got around to wondering about Miss Fury all we could do was walk out to her and toy with the first set of spreaders on her mast.
So last weekend we gathered for a sad mission - to pull the battered remains of our beloved boat from the briny deep and give her a decent burial. "I can't stand the guilt anymore," said Ross.
We hooked lines to her, dragged her to the town dock and rolled her upright, then truged the final, painful 100 yards to shore. Where we found . . .
Nothing. Stark, crystal, joyous nothing. She has sat where she belonged, in sweet salt water, all winter long. A quick once-over with a stiff brush and she was ready to go.
"One thing's for sure," saud Ross, who has seen on the bright side. "Is she ain't swelled now, she never will be