Pipe Dreams Page 2
While this patient list was to reward him later in his sailing life, a younger Dr. Piper focused on staying at the cutting edge of his profession. In 1970, while working as a resident in Denver, Piper performed his first arthroscopic surgery when the technique was still new, using early scopes that had a lightbulb–not fiber optics–affixed to their business end. “I always worried about losing a light bulb in a patient,” he muses. Soon, the tools of his trade improved, as did his post-resident personal life. By 1973 Piper had his own practice, as well as his first ocean-going vessel, Pipe Dream III, a one-tonner, which he campaigned in the SORC with Gillette.
Soon he was winning races, both around the buoys and offshore. More Pipe Dreams followed, including Pipe Dream IV, a custom Swan two-tonner, and Pipe Dream V, an X-Yachts 3/4-tonner. Walk through the halls of the Piper’s home and you’ll find them lined with framed photos of various Pipe Dream incarnations, each one well-equipped and well-sailed. Along the way Piper served in every SORC administrative position (including chairman), acquired a cruising boat (a J/40) and became a member of the Biscayne Bay Yacht Club, the Coral Reef Yacht Club, the Storm Trysail Club and the Cruising Club of America (CCA). The latter recently awarded Piper its prestigious Blue Water medal, which acknowledges “meritorious seamanship and adventure upon the sea displayed by amateur sailors of all nationalities, that might otherwise go unrecognized.”
Flip through the book of previous CCA Blue Water Medal winners and you’ll see such hallowed sailing names as Sir Francis Chichester, Rod Stephens, Bernard Moitessier and Eric Tabarly. Piper’s various cruises and near-circumnavigations have also earned him 14 CCA Parkinson Trophies, which are “awarded to any member of the Cruising Club of America who makes a transoceanic passage in his or her own yacht, predominantly under sail, and not as a participant in an organized race.” He is eligible for two more.
In February of 1994, while in the Canary Islands after a transatlantic voyage on Pipe Dream VI, his J/40, Piper encountered Jimmy Cornell’s Round the World Rally. “I always wanted to sail around the world, and when I saw this, I said ‘Aha!’” Piper signed on for the 1997-1999 rally (billed as “Expo 2000″), this time aboard his newly built J/160. “I loved the J/40, but there was no way that we could fit all the necessary cruising gear on board–AC, heaters, watermakers, and so on–so I ordered the J/160 sight unseen. It’s the most magnificent boat that I have ever even thought about. I’ve done 28 knots on her surfing down waves, and she will go to weather, regardless of the wind. I can count on 200-mile days and 1,000-mile weeks.”
Piper sailed with the group for most of the rally’s circumnavigation, but left in South America, finding the rally format–and its excessive fees–constricting. “I’m probably a lot different from the average cruiser,” says Piper. “I get antsy in port after three or four days.” Interestingly, Piper, then in his early 60s, was never away from his medical practice for more than eight weeks at a time. “By this point I had built up my private practice and had many patients from my ER days. They were often willing to delay their surgeries and it worked out like a dream.”
Asked how he balanced his profession with his sailing passion, Piper recalls a past conversation. “A patient once asked me, ‘Everybody says that you’re a great sailor. How can you be a great sailor and be a great doctor?’ So I said, ‘You’d prefer a doctor who’s a bad sailor?’”
After departing from the 1997-1999 rally, Piper decided to continue sailing around the world for a second “near” circumnavigation (he never crossed his outward-bound track, thus making all of his cruises “near” circumnavigations), this time sailing west to east, starting in Brazil and ending in Argentina.