What a day. Please forgive a noobie master sailor - you have all seen days like this, do it all the time - but for me it was quite an experience. Sunday morning. I deserve to go sailing. People take off for an afternoon of skiing all the time - I need to go sailing. 6 gallons of gas - $18. Some gatorade. Pretty cheap date. How much do we spend going skiing for the day? Way more than that. All my weather info (since I'm 80 miles away) says west winds 10 to 20 mph. A bit much for me, but I need the practice in real wind. Pretty smokey when I arrive at Big Arm Bay, from many forest fires in the region. Out on the lake it's much nicer. This bay, now, is maybe 4 miles by 5 miles, on the west side of Flathead Lake in NW Montana. I've never been to the Great Lakes or sailed offshore, but to me this is impressive. Usually reliable thermal wind on this bay. Contrary to the reports, it is blowing from exactly the opposite direction about 5 to 10mph. Odd. Put-in is full of trucks and big fishing boat trailers. The guy next to me with his family in their camper wants to know all about this boat, and helps me rig up. He plans to build a wooden sailboat someday. What is it about these boats that brings people out of the woodwork? Lesson 1 - your downhaul line on your rudder is not enough to hold your slick new carbon fiber tiller into the head, and you will steer all over the lake wondering what is happening. I will drill a hole for the pin. Lesson 2 - a 4 foot tiller extension is the cat's meow. I love it. (when did we quit calling them hiking sticks? - maybe when I was 12..) Lesson 3 - check the knots on your vang etc. Heard a bang and almost lost some important little blocks over the side. Hard to tie little knots on a rolling lake. A lovely day putzing around practicing my trim, position, tacking, jibing (not so good yet). A couple of keel boats drift up close to chat. They secretly covet fast little boats. Met some nice people. The keelboat and I are stuck in the doldrums. Dead calm. We see a large boat on the horizon heeling way over and rough dark water. Takes forever to get to us, then bam! I love the acceleration. I leave my new buddy behind. I work on how high I can point and maintain speed, without pinching. Fun to sail where you can stay on the same tack for miles, but I should be practicing tacking. A very small sail on the horizon the other direction now for some time - is that a Laser? Not too many around here, I better reach over there and meet him. I encounter a lovely fellow in a brand new Laser from Alberta, no less! That's a hell of a drive. He's on vacation, loves Flathead Lake, brought his boat, has never sailed together with another Laser. So we chat a bit and then take off chasing each other. In serious wind, he pulls away due to adequate ballast and keeping his boat flat. I am pointing higher and pull even. But it's a lot of work. (Note to self - Keep working on those crunches and wall sits) I ask where he put in and he describes a state park. Wow, I say, that is several miles the other direction. It's 5:00. We go downwind in a good east breeze, planing past a good-sized island. The wind dies suddenly, I assume a wind shadow on the lee of this forested island. We sit in the cockpit with our feet in the water. Wind comes from everywhere, but not enough to fill a sail. The water is dark out beyond us, we assume something will happen. It does. The wind flips 180, starts to blow, then starts to howl. This must be the west cold front the weather reports mentioned - several hours late. White caps and spray. He has to go straight upstream to get home, and I decide to see if I can see him home for the safety and the practice. Wait - that means I'll have to go downwind in this to get to my ramp. mmm.. It gets so bad I am totally overpowered, at 155 after a big plate of spaghetti. Lesson 4 - rig your cunningham so that the blocks don't bottom out before the cringle has reached the boom. Big gusts and waves, I am knocked down. Lost my favorite bike water bottle. Decide to reach by and grab it...at screaming reach speeds. Missed it twice, dumped it. Jibed. Flipped. Getting a bit shakey now, hmm. My friend is reaching now, not making any progress to west shore. Lesson 5 - leave the damn water bottle! It's not worth the 5 bucks and near exhaustion. I reach over and hail my friend. Offer to take both boats out at my ramp, then drive him to his car. He thinks he can do it and heads upwind into the blast. Water is starting to look angry, and it's hard to hear. Respect the big lake. She is beautiful and powerful. I try some beam and broad reaching. WOW, I have never gone this fast in a non-motorized device in my life! (take that back - once went 50 on a bike down a pass). I am piloting a speedboat, this is nuts! Note - keep your boom from digging into waves at this speed. Scary. Lessee, can I go DOWNwind? Are you nuts?! Lesson 6 - a deathroll does not happen in slow motion like the Steve Cockerill video. You are thrown into the water before you can react. I am trying to remember high wind trimming from TLF and all these damn books - no time! I am tired - stupid water bottle. At one point I am thrown clear of the boat by 15 feet. Nice swim back. It's quieter down in the water. Lesson 7 - Trust your boat - she is a little island and will take care of you. Don't fight the boat. I am climbing on the daggerboard and realize the boom is straight up, sail full and pulling. So I'm standing on the board and this thing is heading downwind at quite a clip - should I just sit tight and cover some ground? What about the broken mast thing? Decide to spin it around. Finally (I know I know) I make the dock and tie off and get the trailer. A couple of older guys are taking the mast down on a wooden Lightning. 1951. Sweet. I am just glad to be on solid ground. They say they are glad they dropped the spinnaker when they did or they'd be history. I help them with their mast, they help me wrestle my bouncing boat onto the trailer. Lesson 8 - Sailors are the nicest bunch of people. The wind has completely cleared the sky. Large fires in the distance look like volcanos erupting - giant white columns of smoke miles wide going straight up to 40,000 feet, then turn horizontal and blot out the horizon. The Swan and Mission mountain ranges are clear now and lit up by the sunset. Like driving home through Switzerland. Hit the Polson Safeway on the way home for some gatorade (water bottle gone). Somehow that huge piece of chocolate cake ends up in the bag. I wolf it, and several packages of peanut butter crackers. Lesson 9 - one envelope of powerbar goo is not enough calories for a day like that. Two hours later, as I drop back down into the Missoula valley and home, I hit a wall of thick smoke trapped by the mountains. Yuck. I'll bet they have no idea what it was like up there. What a great sport.