Confession, I Can't Dance

February 18, 1999

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I can't dance - At least not that kind of dance.

Not on a dance floor.

I don't have that grace, or rhythm.

However, I do love to dance. A little extreme this dancing, sometimes alone, sometimes with one other.

Unlike some that make a grand entrance bathed in light and beauty, mine is a solitary jig done without an audience except for the occasional passers by.

I have helpers. A patch of red nylon cloth, gray nylon straps, quick snap black plastic buckles and a bit of aluminum. A thin wire with a black handle connects with elastic shock chord to another thin wire.

It's all for my harness.

The label says L for large, and a brand name and it looks like a strange collection of buckles and straps. I stand and place each leg through the leg straps and put my right arm through the shoulder strap. The left strap is usually hanging down out of reach and is brought over my left shoulder with contortions or a friendly hand. All the straps meet at the buckle in the middle of the harness.

Click - right shoulder

Click - left shoulder

Pull, snug and click, left waist strap

Pull, snug and click, right waist strap (generally at this point I mumble something about love handles and suck it in a bit more).

Stretching and pulling at various nips and tucks, I finally think that it is comfortable, or as comfortable as it is going to get.

Snap, Snap, Snap, Snap.

Harness #2 buckled on.

I am beginning to feel like a 5-year-old bundled into 7 layers of clothing before his mother will let him go out into the snow.

I pull apart the Velcro fasteners and put on the gloves. Glancing skyward I look for my spotlight, searching for the sun.

The calm betrays what is to come.

One last ritual. I test to see if the harness will hold and then I take a thick rope and tie it around two of the straps of my outer harness as I feel my heart start to pound.

30 seconds and I am on stage.

One last look to make sure everyone is clear, and I push off.

The scramble is on. The launch has taken place.

Do it or loose it.

Quickly I jump to the right side of my trampoline and set my right rudder then frantically fix the left.

I reach for the smaller of the two ropes and pull it tight.

About this time there is a large SNAP as the full force of the wind grabs my main sail and we are off to dance.

My launch is from a protected cove and I only dance when the wind and I can try and harmonize with what I would call, serious music.

My stage is a 16-foot Hobi-Cat (catamaran), white pontoons and white sails and giant black numbering on the main sail.

A clear patch of plastic is placed as a window near the bottom of the sail.

The notes of our music will be played on the surface of the water. In this clime, the summer wind is fickle, almost never steady, gusting. However, as I race across the lake I can watch the wind just before the boat, betrayed on the surface of the water. If the wind comes from behind, my head is constantly turning to see with what intensity the orchestra is going to play.

The trampoline sits about 9 inches above the pontoons, white nylon with blue ropes hold the two halves of the tarp together. The metal edges of the trampoline are covered with no-slip tape, as are the complete sides of the pontoons.

The heavy rope tied to my lifejacket controls the main sail. If the boat and I are parted, I will be dragged along in the water until the sail will become tighter and tighter and the wind blows the empty boat over.

For the first run I stay seated, feet anchored against the long straps which are sewn onto the bed of the trampoline. I pull in the mainsail rope until the boat starts to tip and then begin to play with the wind. The lake is small, and I quickly turn after a fast mile run and head back. Often times it takes two or three mile runs before I feel confident that my movements will match the song of the orchestra.

Attached to the thin trapeze wire is a small stainless steel ring. The main buckle of my harness has a single hook on it, which hangs upside down through the buckle of the life jacket. Kneeling, the sails somewhat loosened, the rudder extension in my right hand, I slip the ring up onto the harness hook and quickly grab the trapeze wire with my left. This is the most treacherous moment, when the boat is barely under control and I must pitch backwards off of the pontoon until the wire is snug and hook and ring are secure.

I think they call it a leap of faith.

The dance begins.

The rope and pulley system for the main sail can be anchored in place. However one cannot count on a complete movement out of this orchestra, the tempo can change so quickly that a cleated rope means a tipped sailboat.

I gaze out across the open water and begin to tighten the main sail. Early on, before the boat is at full speed, I can cleat the rope as I wrap one length around my hand. Cleat, coil, cleat and coil until the boat and I are on the edge of the wind.
Slowly I start to pull in the line and the pontoon begins to rise out of the water and the real dance begins. Up, up, up, glancing back to the rudder which is lifting out of the water. The moment of the successful dance is made when the rudder leaves the water, and the boat is tipped high on its side.


The sun blasts across my face, the wind ripples the water. The edge of my trampoline is now about 6 feet above the water and I am the only counter-balance to the wind. This is a precarious place, the slightest wrong move with the rudder, the rope or the balance, and the dance is quickly over.

This is the raw edge of the dance.

Sunlight for my spotlight, water splashing across my feet, I have to move back and forth across the edge of the trampoline to maintain balance. Depending on the velocity of the wind, the pontoon in the water has a tendency to bury its front edge and submarine. Unless you are careful, a buried pontoon will soon stop the boat cold and the dancer and the boat cartwheel forward in a smashing conclusion.

It may not be on the dance floor, but I have a trapeze.

On my stage I dance with the wind.