It began with a phone call: "Would I like to crew in the Regata al Sol?" The Regata al what? It was, it turned out, a sailboat race, a 560-mile sailboat race from Biloxi, Miss, to Isla Mujeres.
Isla Mujeres? Never heard of it.
Neither had a few million other people. It was a small island off the tip of Mexico, near Cozumel, in the Territory of Quintana Roo. Beautiful place. Untouched. Wonderful beaches. No telephone. Great fishing.
What kind of fishing?
Sign me on.
I had never participated in a sailboat race, but I figured I could put up with anything that placed me among bone-fish and tarpon. Besides, everyone knows that a sailboat race is just the shortest distance between two cocktail parties. I envisioned day after day of languorous cruising in tropical climes: sunny mornings, slumberous afternoons, a drink or two before dinner. And after dinner, time before bed to stretch out under the sails and drag one's feet through the luminous waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
Yachting had always seemed to me a rather mindless activity, and I imagined, if anything, that my ignorance would prove to be an asset. I went off to buy a pair of canvas yachting shoes—since walking on a deck seems to require a different tread than walking on a tennis court—and while crossing the shopping center parking lot, I heard a lion roar.
This turned out to be only the first surprise of a surprising experience, and I mention it here because later I was to wonder which creature was more out of place, that crated carnival lion on a dozen acres of asphalt or me on a yacht.
Flying down to New Orleans, I filled the first line of my notebook. "Am now jetting through the air who knows how fast, to catch a boat, who knows how slow, Ask the pilot of this plane what he thinks of sailing and 2 to 1 he'd burst out laughing." That sounded pretty good until I met a crewmate and learned that his profession was flying airplanes. Surprise No. 2.