Conjuring the Wind
The stage is set, the actors assembled, the weather perfect, but the star of the show-the breeze-is conspicuously absent. We’re in the middle of a dazzling collection of wooden boats, some fully traditional (read: old and cherished), some spirit of tradition (read: traditional styling with modern rigs and underbodies), others lovingly restored to their previous grandeur after years of neglect. The fleet is varied, but all the owners and crews in the Eggemoggin Reach Regatta (ERR) share several common bonds-namely, that the boat they are sailing is made of wood and has white sails and that love of a bygone era of sailing has drawn them to Brooklin, Maine in early August, for the 25th running of this now-classic regatta. It’s a regatta that differs from most: acres of gleaming brightwork and no egos.
The stage is set, but the missing star needs to arrive-quickly.
I glance over at the race committee boat, where a crewmember is jumping up and down atop the cabinhouse in a bright red shirt. Instead of marking the countdown sequence with flags, RC crewmembers wear different colored shirts (white for the 10-minute warning, blue for the 5-minute warning and red for start), “just in case the starting guns misfire.” Elegant, but not nearly as elegant as the 76 graceful beauties ghosting around us onboard Jim and Norie Bregman’s 62-foot schooner, Metani. After an extensive refit, the Bregmans moved aboard full-time in 2007 with their daughter, Nikki, who, now at the ripe age of 10, is big into traditional boats, wizards, magic, and computers. Now, two years later, the Bregmans have cruised most of the Caribbean, have sailed back to the U.S., and are now taking in the sights and delights of DownEast cruising, using the occasional classic-boat regatta as waypoints toward a future of more sailing, raising their inquisitive daughter, and maybe, just maybe, returning to their former realities of law careers. But, judging from Jim and Norie’s love of sailing and living a life less traveled, there’s no need to rush into the future when the present is as spectacular as life aboard.
“That’s a blue shirt,” says Jim from the helm. “Five minutes to our start.”
We’re flying Metani’s mainsail, main staysail, staysail, and genoa, all of which hang listless, unfilled by the thin catspaws that seem far away and far from filling in. I try trimming the main a bit, but quickly realize that my action is futile: you can’t trim what isn’t drafting.
A modest current is running with us, propelling us along at roughly 2 knots. Jim uses this momentum to approach the line just as a crewmember with a red shirt appears on the upper deck of the race committee boat and starts to jump around enthusiastically. A gun fires, and Metani drifts across the line, theoretically on starboard tack. We’d be in clear air, but that would involve a big “but.”
Minutes burn as class after class begins the slow drift past Torrey Island, with Contary Island off their starboard bows. I glance into the pilothouse to see 10-year-old Nikki engrossed in a wizardry book. Three minutes later she appears in the cockpit, her face aglow.
“I’ll cast a wind spell,” she proudly declares. “That should bring up the wind.” I smile at her innocence and recall that decades ago I too believed that a simple spell could solve real-world problems. We can use any help we can get right now.
Three minutes later Nikki arrives back on deck, a blue sticky note in hand. She quietly walks to the mainboom, pastes the spell on it, and cruises back to the cockpit, where she takes a seat next to her dad.
And then the wind picks up.
It’s slow to fill at first, but within two minutes of the spell’s arrival topsides, I can feel Metani’s sailplan powering up as a faint gurgling noise attests to water flowing past her transom. A few more minutes elapse and the sails are pulling, the SOG is approaching 5 knots, and by golly we’ve got a sailboat race on our hands. I exchange a quick look with Nikki; she gives me a small I-told-you-so smile, proof that good thoughts pay dividends when it comes to realizing dreams.
“Let’s hoist the gollywobbler,” Norie suggests. “The breeze is perfect for it here.” The big off-wind sail is passed abovedeck through a glass-and-teak hatch, and soon it’s adding serious pull. Jim heats up in the lulls and bears off in the puffs, keeping the sails filled and the boatspeed hot. A glance around reveals that we’re holding our own against the other contenders in our gaff-and-schooner class.