Sailing Sense, Neighborly Misconduct - Sail Magazine

Sailing Sense, Neighborly Misconduct

Originally published in February 2009 issueWinter is biting deep now, and there isn’t a lot of sailing to be had in my local creek. It’s a grim scene in business too, so all I can say is thank goodness for the swinging oil lamp and the yarns that stand in for that stiff, cleansing beat to windward those of us in the north are missing so badly.Last weekend I was a guest at
Author:
Publish date:

Originally published in February 2009 issue

Winter is biting deep now, and there isn’t a lot of sailing to be had in my local creek. It’s a grim scene in business too, so all I can say is thank goodness for the swinging oil lamp and the yarns that stand in for that stiff, cleansing beat to windward those of us in the north are missing so badly.

Last weekend I was a guest at the annual Snowstorm dinner of an internationally famous yacht club. I don’t know about you, but I always view these functions with some trepidation. Will I be placed next to the secretary’s beautiful and witty daughter, or is my neighbor to be the local mayor who will spend the evening describing the deck he has just built beside his barbecue?

Whoever arranged the seating plan spared the young lady my company and did me the favor of keeping me well clear of the visiting dignitary. Instead, I dined with an elderly yachtsman who had been well known as a race navigator back in the days when the sport was still truly Corinthian.

I don’t recall much about the food, but the old boy made sure the wine flowed like a spring tide. By the time the port came around he was reminiscing in grand style. Like the reminiscences of all real sailors, few of his tales recalled the big seas and great gales of his youth. Instead, they concentrated on people, sailboats, and how the former behave when aboard the latter. One incident proved relevant to us all in a way that I don’t believe he’d considered. As a respectable reporter, I’ll change the names to protect the manifestly guilty. We’ll call my new friend Freddy.

Freddy is still a mighty man. He weighs in at 240 pounds even today, and, as he pointed out, he wasn’t much daintier back in the 1960s. On the night in question, he’d been piloting an ocean racer of around 50 feet; the crew had done well in a tough event, and the boat was in the silver. After the finish, the boats began rafting up and the crews clattered ashore for the awards, a bite to eat, and a few drinks. Like the rest, Freddy was experiencing that release from tension that comes after the finish gun, and he joined in with relish as his skipper filled and refilled their trophy with champagne. One thing led to another, and, as so often happens to the dedicated funsters of this world, he was one of the last on the general retreat back to the waterfront.

Aboard the boat, darkness reigned, but not silence. Creeping below to his pilotberth, he was greeted by the sonorous tones of his captain on the settee below it. In the dim light filtering through the scuttles, he sized up his chances, and the more he peered, the worse they looked. In order to clamber up to his sleeping bag, he’d have to risk stepping on the skipper. This worthy had not only paid for the party, he’d also worked harder than anyone for the three days and nights they’d been racing; he deserved his sleep, so Freddy decided to do the decent thing. He tiptoed back out into the night, padded up to the foredeck, opened the large hatch to the sail locker, dropped down, and kicked his way into a bag containing the 1-ounce spinnaker, which he reported to be as soft and warm as his high-mountain special. Fueled by Napa Valley’s finest, he was soon in the Land of Nod.

He’d no idea how long he’d been asleep when he awoke to the sound of footfalls above his head. There was something shifty about them, and in a second he was as awake as if the boat had gybed all-standing. Next he heard whispering, then a distinct female giggle. Ah well, he thought, good luck to them, and was about to turn over when two heads appeared in the hatchway, silhouetted against the stars.

“We’ll be okay on the sailbags,” whispered the male voice, and down the ladder he came, followed by the unmistakable form of a woman.

At this point in his tale, Freddy broke off the narrative. “Put yourself in my place,” he said. “By this time I’d recognized their voices, and, if you follow me, they had different surnames. They were both flag officers, and they hadn’t come down for an extraordinary committee meeting. It was as black as the inside of a cow in that fo’csle, and they hadn’t seen me. For all they knew, I was just another of the sailbags they were rearranging for their comfort and convenience.”

“So what did you do?” I asked, aghast at his appalling predicament.

“If I was going to declare myself, it had to be then and there,” he replied. “I suppose I could have turned over and started snoring to pretend I hadn’t been aware, but I’ve got to tell you I didn’t think of that. So I opted to lie doggo, wrestle my head into the sailbag, and pretend to be a spinnaker.”

Following this bold decision, Freddy did his best to play the sportsman and shut off his ears while the sprightly pair made the most of their opportunity. Just before dawn, they left. He poked his head out through his drawstring, rubbed his bruises, and thought no more about it until both protagonists turned up on board from different boats as guests for breakfast, looking as though the proverbial butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths.

As you might imagine, I was tickled by this tale from a freer, naughtier world, but the more I’ve thought about it, the more respect it has given me for Freddy. Young he may have been, but the sea had already taught him one of its most important lessons. Decisions come in all forms. They’re usually the predictable quandaries about collision situations, tricky piloting, and whether or not to change sail in the dark. We’re ready for these. It’s the urgent ones nobody can predict that test our mettle.

Whenever a dilemma demands what seems an instantaneous response, it’s always worth taking a deep breath to consider whether doing nothing might be better than acting without a fully fledged plan. This is not to be confused with the classic tendency so many of us have to freeze in a crisis. Freddy certainly didn’t freeze. He weighed his options, kept his head, then stuck it as far down the spinnaker bag as he could. From the perspective of forty years, we can see his decision was the right one, so long as he held his peace in the aftermath. The measure of his gentlemanly conduct is that even with two of the three souls concerned dead and buried, this great sailor still maintains silence about who it was that got lucky on the night after the big race.

Related

daviscards

Davis Instruments: Quick Reference Cards

CHECK THESEIf you’re sailing with new crew this summer or your kids have suddenly and inexplicably started to look up from their phones and take an interest in the finer points of cruising, these Quick Reference Cards from Davis are a great way to further their boating education. ...read more

01-rbir18-596

Another Epic Round Britain Race

There are basically two kinds of offshore sailboat races out there: those that take place annually, like the Fastnet and Chicago-to-Mackinac races; and those that take place every other year, like the Transpac and Newport-Bermuda race, in part so the competitors have sufficient ...read more

01b_WALKING-KEDGE-OUT-cmykpromo

Getting More Use From Kedge Anchors

If you are cruising, you need at least two anchors on board for the simple reason that you must have a backup. Imagine having to slip your anchor on a stormy night with other boats dragging down on yours, or having your rope rode severed by some unseen underwater obstacle, ...read more

SailAwayCharter

How-to: Navigating on a Bareboat Charter

So you graduated from navigation class where you practiced dead reckoning, doubling the angle on the bow and maybe even celestial nav, and you now feel well prepared for your first charter trip. Well, you won’t be doing any of that on vacation—not past the first day, anyway.Most ...read more

04-Turtle-rescue

Turtle Rescue in the Vic-Maui

Strange and often wonderful things can happen in the course of an offshore sailboat race, and one of the strangest and most wonderful things we’ve heard of recently took place during the 2,300-mile 2018 Vic-Maui race, from Victoria, British Columbia, to Lahaina, Hawaii.It ...read more

dorcap-open-blue

ATN Inc: Dorcap

COOL SLEEPYou’re fast asleep in a snug anchorage, forehatch open to catch the breeze, when you’re rudely awakened by a sneaky rain squall. Now you’re not only awake and wet, you’re sweltering with the hatch closed. Sucks, right? That’s why ATN came up with the Dorcap, an ...read more

HIGH-RES-29312-Tahiti-GSP

Ask Sail: Who has the right-of-way

WHO HAS RIGHT-OF-WAY?Q: I sail in Narragansett Bay, which is a relatively narrow body of water that has upwind boats generally going south and downwind boats generally going north. When sailboats are racing, the starboard tack boat has the right-of-way over the port tack boat, so ...read more