Planes, boats and birds drop anchor and whatnot in their many ports alongside the Washington Sailing Marina, also home port for runners who sweat from here to Old Town, bikers who pump to Mount Vernon and backwater benchwarmers who plain watch.
Ahoy there: A windsurfer maneuvers toward the dock, sits down and drops his kaleidoscopic plastic sail in the khaki river. Surfer Pope Barrow is splashed from his black knit cap to his space boots. But he's warm in a wet suit and a thick, soiled fisherman's sweater. "Landing's not the hard part," he says. "It's carrying it up to the car."
When he was hardcore, he'd surf through January and February. "It's much better here in the spring than at any other time," he says. And as for the water: "I wouldn't want to drink this, but I'm more worried about ear infections." He hardly falls anymore, but understands why beginners would rather do their falling in the Bay.
"It seems impossible when you're first learning," he says. "Most people try to think. They slowly pull the sail around and they slowly slide into the water. What you've got to do is just snap it." It took him a month to pass the critical point of balance and motion. Now he freestyles -- short of somersaulting through the jib.
But windsurfers may have their keels hauled if the local pols decide that windsurfers are not boats. Barrow, a lawyer on land, says the dispute surrounding his sport's status remains in limbo. In the meantime, windsurfers must have stickers to sail the Potomac or harbor police will hassle them.
Yawl come: The marina is a "poor man's country club," says March sailor Bob Laughlin, who pedals here from his Northwest home. He's fixing up the Kawabunga for the Sunday races. " 'Kawabunga,' that's what Howdy Doody used to say, you know, in exasperation."
Laughlin doesn't get frustrated himself except when "kids I taught the ropes show me their stern." The health-food specialist belongs to an Albacore fleet of 110 boats. Fifty or 60 of these race on a given Sunday, and there's a race for beginners on Wednesday nights in summer. His pier group includes a Teheran hostage and a NASA man, not people he usually meets cruising with the wheat-germ set.
It took him five years "to get the drift of it." But drifting is no longer his speed; he likes moving at beam reach to Mount Vernon for a picnic on a gusty spring day. It takes about half an hour when the winds are high.
And so we leave Laughlin to batten down the Kawabunga. We come about, passing Boat, Blue Whisper and What Next, the wind in the rigging like wind chimes, the sails snapping like sheets on the line. We circumnavigate the joggers, picnickers, soccer practice and slow-pitch softball.
Land ho: The landlocked eat to windward in the snackbar, where there are darts, video games, color TV and beer (by the plastic cup, pitcher or six-pack). There's a bulletin board full of boats for sale and water-sports information. And Nachos.
Outside, old salts eat pretzels and drink wine. Some run afoul of the wind and give up early. Melinda, clutching a blanket, and Fred Shoffner weighed anchor and charted a course to the car heater. Nevertheless, the stalwart Arlingtonians say their failed picnic was the first sign of spring. Usually she drinks a Coke and he has some beers. "I guess you could say it was a one-beer picnic today," he says. But their spirits are buoyed.