Skip to content ↓
MIT student blogger Kate R. '14

An Adventure on the Charles by Kate R. '14

In which Kate fails spectacularly, except at storytelling.

Tonight I was in an MIT admissions webcast, which was targeted towards the Midwest region but was really open to anyone. Basically, I sat around and answered questions about student life while Tiffany (who’s pretty awesome!) answered the hard questions about applications and statistics and stuff.

If you were watching, you may remember that I went off on a tangent about my sailing PE class at some point. (If you were watching, you also may remember that I got asked to prom. What??) If you remember the sailing, you might have been thinking, “Hmm, it sounds like Kate really wants to talk more about this, but also knows that it would be pretty off topic, so she’s restraining herself from going off on a tangent, awkwardly.” Okay, maybe it’s a little plausible that you’d be thinking exactly that. But if you were, as a matter of fact, you’re right! I have a story about sailing.

I’m a “story” kind of a person. I structure a lot of my conversations with other people around telling them stories, and listening to their stories, almost to the point of using it as a conversational crutch. So usually, when I get a good story, or more precisely when something happens to me which makes a good story, I end up telling it to just about everyone I talk to, until it’s good and worn out. And this is exactly what I was doing during the sound check for the webcast: telling my sailing story! Which gave me the idea to write it here: now I don’t have to tell everyone my sailing story over and over because I can tell it to everyone, all at once!

Hamsika just blogged about sailing, but my story is so different that I’m going to tell it anyways. As part of the MIT PE requirement (which might seem weird to some of you, but for me it’s actually really chill because I was required to have PE every day in high school) I’m taking a sailing class! So this morning at 11am I reported to the sailing pavilion for our lesson, and rigged up a boat with my partner Webb H. ’14. The idea for today was to push off the dock, sail about halfway across the river, turn around, come back, and practice landing at the dock. That was the point: practice landing at the dock.

When you sail you can either be the skipper, the one who holds the rudder, or you can be the crew, the one who pulls the rope that the sail is attached to. (Now, in sailing, the crew can let go of the rope holding the sail anytime she wants to, but the skipper can never let go of the rudder. Ever. Ever ever ever. Remember this, it will be important later.) Webb and I went out and practiced landing twice, once in each role. Then, it was time to go out solo. Webb went first, did a fantastic job, and then, there was no avoiding it… it was my turn.

Honestly, I was mostly worried about getting away from the dock. In order to get away from the dock, you have to get the boat going, so you basically run along the dock, pulling it along, and then push away and jump onto it. And I was about 99.8%* certain I was going to land in the Charles River. I carefully planned my route along the dock so I’d be jumping from somewhere relatively dry, bit my lip, and went for it. Imagine my surprise when I found both feet squarely in the bottom of the boat!

So the hard part was over. I sat down on the side of the boat, near the back, right where I was supposed to, and grabbed the rudder and the sail rope, and set sail towards Boston. And it was awesome! And liberating! I felt so self-sufficient and outdoorsy and alive! And then… it was time to turn around.

In sailing, there are two kinds of turns. I like to call them the Easy Turn and the Hard Turn. Obviously, on my first solo sail, I was going for an Easy Turn. Easy Turns, also known as tack turns, involve turning into the wind by pushing the rudder away and pulling the sail in to bring it over to the other side, and then switching sides of the boat. Easy enough, right. “Okay, Kate,” I thought, “here goes. Tack turn. No big deal.” I pushed the rudder away and pulled the sail in and—ran into problems.

See, before, whenever I’d done tack turns, I’d done them with Webb, so I’d been either crew or skipper, but not both. So it took a solo sail to realize that really, it takes two hands to pull in the rope. But you can NEVER LET GO of the rudder! So I pushed the rudder away and pulled the sail rope in…and then needed to pull the sail rope in more, so I used my rudder hand to grab the slack in the rope, which meant my rudder hand was back in the middle of the boat, which meant I was no longer turning! This continued for 3 or 4 tries.

Imagine the scene: slightly blustery, cloudy, chilly. At rise: slightly inept novice sailor, Kate, alone in a boat, center stage (where stage=Charles River), desperately trying to do a tack turn. The boat turns about 90 degrees clockwise to face the Harvard bridge, before Kate’s lack of three arms catches up to her and the wind takes over, blowing the boat back 90 degrees counterclockwise to face Boston. And repeat.

After a while of this, I decided there was nothing for it: I was going to have to try a Hard Turn. Otherwise known as a jibe, Hard Turns involve turning the other way. The advantage here is that you don’t have to do anything with the rope: it just hangs free. You pull the rudder towards you, and then (this is the part that makes it a Hard Turn) once the boat has turned around enough, the sail THWACKS across to the other side, completely unrestrained, really really fast. And it is scary. And I’d never been skipper for a jibe before, only crew. But it was the only way I could turn around, so I went for it.

I pulled the rudder towards myself, and the boat turned around, and THWACK!!! and even though that’s exactly what’s supposed to happen, I screamed. And panicked, a little, I think. And then the boat was tipping wildly so I was trying to move around to balance it out so I let go of the rudder to try to balance the boat which of course made it more tippy and… wait… yes, you read right, I LET GO OF THE RUDDER!! OH NO! So at this point I was totally panicking and I was like, must get rudder and I lunged for it and I got it! And the boat calmed down, and straightened out, and I got my bearings and looked up to the front of the boat… and I was looking at Boston. I’d done a complete 360!

Eventually, I managed a tack turn by wedging the slack of the rope between my knees, and made it back to the dock. It didn’t help that right after my jibe-360 fiasco, the instructors started using the loudspeakers to tell us all to come home. I was clearly the furthest one out in the river, and I did not look like I was planning on coming home anytime soon, and I just wanted to say “No! I’m trying, I promise!” But I did make it back, and the funny thing is, my landing was perfect. Yeah, the skill we were supposed to be learning? I rocked that. But turning around… heh. Heh.

So, sailing aside, I started this blog post talking about the admissions webcast. Which happens to have gotten me into a question-answer-y mood. (There’s got to be a better word for that kind of mood…) The gist is, if you have questions about MIT/Admissions, I’m happy to answer them! (hah. As if I’m not ALWAYS happy to answer questions about MIT!)

*Did you know that 72.3% of all statistics are made up on the spot?

5 responses to “An Adventure on the Charles”

  1. Banerjee says:

    I thought it was 80% of statistics (made up on the spot)


  2. Hi Kate! Nice story. It would look great with pictures though. Wish me luck…I’m going to take my STA tomorrow. Enjoy MIT. And definitely meet you there!

  3. Anthony '15? says:

    Around 90% of all made up statistics are statistics that people have made up giving a value to the percentage of statistics which are made up.

    How’s that for a tongue twister/brain teaser?

    Otherwise, entertaining post!

  4. sailor says:

    hey, at least you didn’t flip! good damage control smile

    maybe try using the hiking stick?…it’s easier to grab that with 3 fingers and use the other 2 to help with sheeting in than it is to do the same with your hand on the tiller