I had completely different plans for 12 hours later, when a phone call from a friend and academically irresponsible decision (I had an appointment with the EM facility) had me travelling to Poland in a car. What had me excited was that it was going to be my first sailing trip. I had been first excited by the idea of sailing on reading Treasure Island, and twenty years on, I had a real chance of sailing. Tomek, the guy who invited me, has no idea how much I am thankful to him for the trip.
We drove about 6 hours to a lake called Drawsko, one of the biggest lake in Poland during the glacial periods. We reached there by late evening, bought food, loaded our boat, and set of to sail. Even though it was dark and completely incomprehensible as to where we were heading, Tomek, the local guy, knew the lake like it was his home. I did have a look on wikimapia how the lake looked from the sky, but had no idea where we had started from and where we were heading. Moreover, as we went farther into the lake, all the civilisation we could see seemed to float away. The moon rose, we had some light, and the only sounds we could hear were of cows from the Stare Drawsko, the village on the lake, and the gentle sound of the water being dissected by our regatta. The moon rose higher and we could now see the horizon. In the calm evening waters, the world was symmetrical at the horizon. There were times when it appeared to not move at all. It was only a boat's way to teach you patience.
We parked our boats at a peer on one of the peninsulas on the lake, had our dinner and went to sleep. Of course I did take some pictures. The next morning saw us waking into bright sun and a windy weather, of course, we didn't want to lose the wind and set up the sails, starting right away into the lake. We learnt a lot about the particular boat we were on. It was designed and hand made by Tomek's father, who participates in some sailing races on the lake. The Laba, or 'Leisure' had the tallest mast of all the boats on the lake and was one of the lightest. The tall mast allowed it to catch more wind and at certain windless times, the high winds. This made it one of the fastest on the lake. The regattas have a sword extending into the water, keeping the boat straight against the side winds and providing a net forward vector even at high water currents. The boat direction was changed using a rudder at the back. on going in shallow waters, both the rudder and the sword had to be pulled up accordingly. The winds are caught by the two sails - the front sail and the main sail. The joy of riding the winds using the sail is something I will cherish forever, and I wouldn't spoil the fun for the readers by describing too much into it. But, it is basic physics.
Sailing on a boat is quite diiferent from driving a car. You do not have a road to know where and how you are going, you have to have a lot of intuition, specially sailing against the wind. Sailing against the wind is never straight. You do not have an engine, to stop when you want and to start when you want. You playing with nature, and winds do not come at uniform speed. You have to know all the ropes on your boat, do multiple things and foresee many things. Tomek was a real experienced sailor, although he was quite young. The reason being he had been sailing on the lake with his father since he was seven years old, and he knew the Laba as if it was his soul. And little lessons on sailing he did give me. I, of course put away my camera, though sacrificing many nice pictures, for the sheer joy of being with the winds, holding them in your hands and riding them.
On the horizon, against the sun, we saw something magnificent. A large number of birds circled around the woods, gathering and widening the circle. They did this for about half an hour, and all of a sudden, they formed an arrow head and flew south. Winter is coming.
We went around many other boats, racing against them one after the other, circling them and teasing them. One couple on their boat were annoyed enough to turn sharply away from their course and go away from us.
Then we went back to the village, had lunch at a small restaurant. We had the fish from the very same lake, called 'Shelaba'. As the sun crossed the midpoint, the weather grew dark, the wind died down, and the waters calmed.
We decided to go on to an island on the lake and camp there for the night. We sailed there in the slow wind, with the calm waters like a perfect mirror extending as for as our eyes could see, wondering if it was the same world on the other side of the mirror. Occasional shallow waters did pull us out of our fantasies as we could see the floor, with plants extending upto the surface, schools of fishes circling them.
We found a spot on the island, lit a fire, roasted the sausages, and the world seemed perfect, atleast those few moments. We had food, beer and Wodka. We chatted a bit and went off to sleep. The Kazach (the Wodka from Kazakstan, brought by the Russian girl, Anja, who in turn got it from a friend through illegal smuggling from Kazakstan into Russia) put us to sleep.
Awakening from a sleep from Beer and Wodka could be easily one of the worst combinations ever, specially if you are expected to be active and physically and mentally involved in sailing. The local rule was - a good dip in the ice cold water woke you up from anything. And so I did have the coldest dip in the crystal clear water.
The weather looked better and again we sailed aimlessly on the lakes, racing against other boats, and learning to make circles with the boat. The boat usually tilts at an angle of 30 degrees, depending ont he speed, and this, Tomek said, was the default position of the boat.
We then went close to an island, known as the Bird Island, inhabited by numerous birds you could see on the branches. The whole island consists of dead trees. The trees dried up, unable to withstand the poop from the enourmous number of birds on the island. As a child, Tomek said, they would go near the island, and start clapping wildly, and watch the birds fly away from the island. Now, he said, the birds got used to it, and do not fly on clapping anymore.
Soon, our sunday was coming to an end, and we got back to the village, docked the Laba. I had almost, by now, had my nerves feeling the Laba, her sails fluttering and swelling in the ever changing winds, her sword cutting through the water, and vibrating with the catching speed, the horizon tilted against the bow of the boat, the flow of the water against the rudder. We were never afraid to change directions, yet, we had to know where to go. We played with natural forces, yet, respected them.