Saturday, March 7, 2015


***Not posted in real-time due to internet connections in international airports.**

Growing up, my family spent a week every summer at Lake Quinault. The mental file labeled “Lake Memories” is thick and chock full of the kind of stories that magical childhood summers are made of. It was at The Lake that my dad taught me how to sail. My grandfather owned a small (very small) single-hull dinghy that made sailing fairly easy to pick up. That dinghy is the source of one of my more intense Lake memories. It was the day my dad spontaneously taught me about capsize recovery (much to both of our surprise!)

It was late afternoon, the time of day for the best sailing winds. Not a cloud in the sky. My dad was skipper as we pulled away from the dock, but after a brief refresher course he turned the helm over to me. It was smooth sailing. The only sound was the occasional luff of the sails when I failed to trim them right. We were headed into a cove just upwind from our lodging and I knew that if I didn't “come about” soon, we would lose our wind in the protection of the cove. I called out the order and my dad jumped to post with the jib rigging as he responded to my call with a “Ready now!” When the main sail caught the change in wind, the boom swung around and trapped my dad on the down-wind side of the sail. Typically he would have sneaked under the boom, but what neither of us realized was that the boom was running lower than usual due to the fact that the mail sail had not been pulled to the top of the mast. Between his entrapment and the main sail catching wind, our little dinghy started taking on water. In less than a minute, Dad and I were lying prone across the bottom side of our boat, me gasping in shock and bewilderment. We were able to right the boat, but failed to get her to sail again, drifting conveniently back to our dock with the prevailing winds. We were lucky, and I was the brunt of a series of sailing jokes for years to come. I maintain that since no permanent damage was done and all parties involved arrived on land without injury, the whole incident has actually made me a more proficient sailor.

Unlike the skippers who manage to keep their vessel upright, I have had the experience of unexpectedly capsizing a boat. In the event that I should ever again be on a capsizing boat, I know what to do and know how to manage the undesirable situation while remaining calm. (Trust me; you want me as a captain! Hahaha!) Tonight I capsized my boat.

No, I’m not sailing home from India. (Though, now that you mention it that might be my next adventure… Dad, you game?) I am flying home. Actually, I SHOULD be flying right now, but I’m not. I’m sitting in the Chennai airport waiting for my flight, my new flight, to start boarding. Yes. I missed my flight.

We left Chennai by taxi in what should have been enough time to make it to the airport and to my gate. However, we seemed to hit traffic at every turn. It felt like the last four kilometers to the airport took just as much time to travel as the first 120 (or so). While I was sitting in traffic, the Emirates ticket counter was closing its doors. I arrived still hopeful that I could somehow make it through all check points and to my flight; however, when the porter at the door told me the counter was closed I knew my boat had capsized.

I have never missed a flight before. I wasn't sure what protocol would be here in India. I was ushered to the customer service office and was given a help line to call. The problem was I no longer had a phone that would make a call from India. Those at the service office must have felt my distress and told me someone would be by to help me shortly. Within five minutes the phone had been dialed for me and I was talking to a cordial man about my predicament. He confirmed my original booking details and politely passed my case to his colleague. Many “hold please” and a few questions later I was told that for a small fee of $600 USD I would be booked on the same flight 24 hours later. Not my first choice. At all. I was finding it hard to right my boat. I asked the kind lady if there was any way I could fly out on the 0330 flight that left in a few hours and still make my connection flight in Dubai. She told me it didn't look good as the flight was full, but I could try if I called back in a few hours. She also warned me that the flight she offered me might not be available. I took my chances. After collecting my bags, I ushered myself and the knot in my stomach out to the general waiting area to pray out the next hour. I prayed with some kind of fervor, let me tell you.

With a sense of peace slowly settling on me, I tried to distract myself with some reading. My mind was not able to focus on the words on the pages, but instead images of lying prone on the bottom of a capsized boat flashed to mind. I was at least safe and floating. My boat was still up-side-down, but the shock of the capsize was waning. I knew that I would make it home… eventually… and that I would be a more seasoned international traveler as a result of this experience.

An hour later I approached the customer service office again and cautiously knocked on the door asking if I could again try to get on the 0330 flight to Dubai. The man who responded to my plea told me he would do what he could to get me on the flight and that I should have a seat next to him. He began typing away in what looked like MS-DOS format; jibberish to me as I tried to figure out if I was going to make it on the flight. Soon he turned to me and said, “Go out and sit, then check in at 1130. I will do what I can. It might take a while.” I resumed my post in the general waiting area with the sense that he was helping me right my vessel. An hour later I again approached the office and he waved me off to go check in. Wait. What? I was told the flight was full. Did I get on? He confirmed that he had gotten me on the flight and mysteriously the $600 fee was not mentioned or charged. I would indeed make my connection flight in Dubai. If it would have been culturally appropriate I would have hugged the man, shoot dang! I could have even kissed his cheek! However, his stoic demeanor broke into a smile only for a second when I began to variously shake his hand and thank him—thank him for helping me complete a successful capsize recovery. I can now say I have missed an international flight, survived to tell the story, and claim to be all the more experienced for having gone through it. 

As I sit here by my gate, continuously thanking my Lord for answered prayers, I find the irony in missing my flight home. After all, I didn't really want to leave India. Alas and alack, I am sailing home… And if any of you should be leery of international travel, take me with you; I can lend my experience should you miss your flight home. 

No comments:

Post a Comment