My husband Andy and I naively thought that our sailing game plan would remain the same after our daughters were born; we would just incorporate the children into our regatta mode and not skip a beat. So far, we have skipped beats —and runs, and even entire races. We have arrived late, gone to bed early, sailed better, and had more fun. Avery (8) and Jordan (6) love regattas, but their game plan trumps ours every time.
Children alter the regatta experience. When ours were small we would tell the girls, “we’re going to a different sailing club,” on regatta day.
Avery would shout, “Great! I’m going to play with my buddies!”
Once, racing was the intense part of the weekend. Now, arriving in time for the start, finding a sitter, rigging the boat with two “helpers” in tow, and dealing with tired children at the end of the day are our challenges. Racing is downright tranquil.
During one regatta, I held the boat at the empty dock—every other competitor had left while we were meeting our sitter—and braced for an outburst about our delayed departure. Instead I watched as Andy moseyed down the ramp from the parking lot. He was thrilled that we’d made it at all.
I was 700 miles from the racecourse when the major game-plan deviation occurred. Andy called from our then-home South Carolina to report, “We raced in the club race.”
“Who?” I asked.
“Avery and Jordan and me. It was blowin’ about 8....”
My jaw hit the floor at the thought of my four-year-old, my two-year-old, and my oh-so-adventurous husband out racing on a very deep lake. “I didn’t take the chute,” he said.
I let out a screechy noise. “They’re home safe and you’re shopping in New York,” my friend advised me. “So shut up.”
If you find that sailboat racing has become stale, add children to your team. There are endless ways for the diminutive crew to add zest to a triangular course. When wearing life jackets, two-year-olds resemble the Michelin Man and cannot cross the centerboard trunk unassisted. Tacks stretch into eternity and nearby boats send waves of panic to the mom-middle crew.
“Just give us a minute,” I’d say and smile at competitors — pretending this to be a legal hail. This got dirty looks from the husband-skipper, so I found it best not look at him. For fun, the wee crew holds the tiller, goes “fishing” with jib sheets, and hikes off bungee cords. Mostly, they move around the boat a lot.
Avery and Jordan don’t know when we have crossed the starting line, or what our finishing position is. They do know if they are hot or bored or if there is chocolate stashed in a duffel bag. They gauge the fun-factor with laser precision. They tell made-up knock-knock jokes—sort of. “Knock-knock.” “Who’s there?”
“Patty.” “Patty who?” There’s never a punch line. Even so, this game lasted all summer. The crew understands what’s important.
Andy and I understand that if the fun-meter dials south, something’s gotta give. Once, this meant first place in a small regatta. Rather than risk mutiny, we retired. We are betting that the occasional missed race now will pay dividends later. Focusing on fun has made sailing infinitely better, even when we watch the race go by from the beach.
With each race, we incorporate the girls into the team by showing them a single new thing. One venture included a lesson on how to adjust the forward hiking straps. Moving line though a cam cleat is wonderful fun and if your legs are short it doesn’t matter if the cleat catches or if you simply rely on the stop-knot. I learned in a heart-stopping moment not to hook into the forward straps, and I have ensured the middle straps are so well-knotted that only a knife can change their setting.
The small crew is learning to identify puffs, follow sailing lingo, and hold the tiller straight. The big crew is learning patience, the value of humor, and to bring candy that won’t melt.
When they are tired, my little chickadees roost in the bow. In addition to being a great sail, the spinnaker also makes a fine nest. Most of the time, the extreme forward crew is agreeable about exchanging their nest for a fort and will help by pulling down the jib. The skipper has learned not to mention the speed of sail-change maneuvers.
One lovely summer day, Jordan, then 4, decided to learn the mechanics of the forestay tensioner. We were about 100 feet from the windward mark when she extracted the pin and lifted the lever. The entire boat shuddered and then relaxed. Amazingly, all her fingers are still attached to her hand and she didn’t cry until she saw the horror on her parents’ faces. After a few minutes of assessment, Andy eased the boat back upwind, but my heart was the only part of me still racing.
By ages 7 and 5, Avery and Jordan were at home on the boat. Rail walking is Jordan’s light-air entertainment. She holds my shoulders then slips around the outside of the shroud, moves over onto the grating, back to the thwart, and up on the rail again. While she practices on the Thistle’s 3-inch-wide balance beam, I promise myself that if she bobbles, I’ll push her out of the boat so she doesn’t fall onto hard-edged blocks. Long-legged Avery loves a hiking breeze. She leans out so far that her hair touches the water. Only once did I have the girls’ hair cut before the start of sailing season. If the goal is to get one’s hair wet, longer is better.
A couple of years ago, we moved from South Carolina to mighty Cowan Lake near Cincinnati, Ohio. The lake is seven hundred acres huge, making a good, long beat last about five minutes. One day on the 3-minute sail out to the course, Jordan proudly displayed an empty water bottle, the contents of which she’d consumed since leaving shore. Her needs and the short course legs made for a busy race. It also prompted a new rule on our boat:
Don’t put lunch in the bucket. Ever.
My job on the new team is to filter information that streams simultaneously from two directions, for example, “Can I what do have you think looks better some raisins left or please right?” I weigh the urgency of the requests. The race depends on forward crew contentment so I answer them first, “Yes, you may have the raisins.” To the skipper, I say “left.” Maybe it really is left. Or maybe I have not looked out of the boat since the start and I really have no idea where anything is except the raisins. And if Andy thinks I can handle bucket duty, snack supply, and the big-picture duty on the racecourse, then I really am the woman of his dreams.