Lost at sea … on a Sunfish

Published on November 19th, 2020

We’ve all done stupid stuff, and eventually there’s a time when it’s safer to share these “teaching moments.” For Walter G. ‘Buzz’ Luttrell, that’s about 30 years as he shares this story in the Martha’s Vineyard Times:


OK, you’re off Cape Cod, in your mid-40s, way out in the Atlantic, circa 1989, clinging to a little 13-foot, 9-inch “recreational, personal” Sunfish sailing vessel. Sleeps none — just a dugout “sitting spot” beneath the sail. You’ve lost sight of land.

You’re exhausted from recovering control when the mast would swing, knocking you into the ocean. But that wind would be welcome now, as your single sail is flapping, and you are stranded at sea! Thank God (you haven’t spoken to him in years) the sail is attached by rope.

You’ve lost your “provisions,” beautiful ribbed yellow shell pullover and suntan lotion (;-o). The wind is nil, eerie now — ominous for this moment. Overcast, gray skies have replaced the blue … and the sun has disappeared. So, you wondered when you recovered from your last dunking, which way is home?

Fast-forward 30 years, 2019, you’re vacationing at your stepdaughter’s home in Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard, looking out toward Falmouth, from the Inkwell (beach where Black folks tend to gather) — and considering all you would have missed had the Coast Guard not sounded their “Missing” alert that fateful day. And contemplating the Lie that nearly cost you your life back then.

We were down from Boston, visiting a college friend in Falmouth, when she and my then wife decided to sunbathe on a beach a few miles east of Falmouth Harbor. I’ve always been adventurous, so I said, “No thanks,” but asked if I could use her son’s “little sailboat” out back to “tool on down” and join them. Then came “the Lie.”

She said, “Oh, do you know how to sail?” Thinking quickly, I said, “Oh yeah, I used to sail those things when I was in high school.” (That, you see, was before I met my wife — who still gave me that little cocked-head, doubtful look that said, “Never heard that before.” (My lie would have been true had I said I had seen those things.) – Full story

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