Racing: Bright Lights, Wednesday Nights

Author:
Publish date:
Another beautiful, and competitive, midweek summer evening out on the water

Another beautiful, and competitive, midweek summer evening out on the water

A dozen or so years ago, my wife, Julie, and I arrived at the Cedar Point Yacht Club’s parking lot in Westport, Connecticut, with little more than dreams and ambitions. We’d been told the people there, all strangers, sometimes needed help racing their sailboats Wednesday nights. As outsiders we had often walked the docks admiring their beautiful boats and longing to be part of something we’d thus far only been able to watch from on shore. We made some inquiries. Julie was readily accepted. Me, they let tag along.

“You wrap the sheet around the winch in this direction,” was the first lesson. And, “No, it’s not a rope.” Our first regular ride was aboard a snarly, high-strung boat, brimming with bluster, chaos and bravado. Strange words like topping lift, cunningham and outhaul were thrown around. We were told to hang off first one side of the boat and then the other. Such a lot of fuss, when all I’d really wanted at the time was serenity and sunsets.

As our sailing knowledge grew, so did the number of invitations. “Care to join us in a race this Saturday? There will be sandwiches!” was a typical come-on. Each boat’s crew had a different temperament, different abilities and different things to teach us. One sunny afternoon an elegant Englishwoman calmly asked, “Would you be so kind as to trim in the jib a little? Lovely, that’s lovely, thank you.” A refreshing change of pace.

At one point, we found ourselves spending several years racing with another couple aboard their 1978 Pearson 28. They taught us our jobs and some of the finer points of sail trim and tactics. We learned the value of how to build a team, how the crew has to work in unison in order for a sailboat to perform at its best. The captain would yell, “Coming up!” and the sails would grind in. The captain would yell, “Coming down!” and the sails would ease-out, exactly as they should.

The crew (from left) Annie Cowherd, Julie Carpenter, Adrian Little, Marcus Carpenter, Brian Williams and Peter Kolf enjoy the afterglow of another well-sailed race

The crew (from left) Annie Cowherd, Julie Carpenter, Adrian Little, Marcus Carpenter, Brian Williams and Peter Kolf enjoy the afterglow of another well-sailed race

Six years ago, we finally purchased a boat of our own, the 1986 Sabre 36 centerboarder Nereid. We will race this boat, we said. How hard could it be? We should easily be mid-pack, my wife and I reasoned. We recruited another couple with zero sailing experience but plenty of spirit. “You wrap the sheet around the winch in this direction,” was their first lesson. And “No, it’s not a rope.” Weighed down with 30-years-worth of old parts, two anchors, 70 gallons of water and several leaks, we aimed our bow toward the start line and set to work.

Let’s just we say we were not mid-pack, either that day or for many days afterward. During one trying race, we fell so far behind we lost sight of our competitors. Worse yet, when we finally did spot the finish line off in the distance, the committee boat suddenly weighed anchor and started motoring away.

“Race committee, this is Nereid, over.”

“Go ahead, Merium.”

“No, Nereid (you idiot) we haven’t finished yet.”

“Uh? Nerium, where are you?

“No, N-E-R-E-I-D!” I spelled.

“Let’s just call it a day, Meried,” they said.

Then there was the time we were bringing up the rear in yet another race, and the race committee failed to give us the customary finishing horn. “Don’t I get the horn?” I yelled across the water.

“You are crossing the finish line in the wrong direction, Nerien,” the race committee yelled back, laughing.

As you may have guessed by now, the Cedar Point Yacht Club can be a pretty bare-knuckled place. It includes generations of sailors who have traversed oceans, winning trophies near and far in boats big and small. They are also, for all their competitiveness, more than willing to share their hard-won racing knowledge with newcomers, and I am proud to call them my friends.

One day one of the local ringers would come aboard and say, “Just tighten this, this and this,” and the boat would scoot along faster than ever—until we were back on our own again. Another day another ringer would come aboard and say, “Just loosen this, this and this,” and the boat would again flutter across the waves like a thing possessed—only to mope along as usual as soon as they were gone.

Eventually, though, we learned what to tighten and when, and now we move along pretty well. We even enjoy a podium finish on occasion. Best of all, though, is sailing back home those nights when the sun is dropping in the west, turning up the lights in both the sky and our souls—that and the fact we not only now consider the skilled sailors around us to be our peers, but we know we’re part of a crew that sails its boat as well as you could ever ask for. Well done, Nereid, they sometimes say. 

April 2020

Related

01-LEAD-lagoon46-ncz4503-a3

10 Places to Cruise With a Catamaran

Navel gazing doesn’t get much better than from the deck of a sailboat anchored somewhere exotic. You can think great thoughts staring up at the stars from a South Seas anchorage. It’s also better doing so on a catamaran. Full confession: I’m a cat convert, a cat evangelist if ...read more

Radome

Ask SAIL: Some Random TLC

Q: I recently removed my radar’s white radome, which covers the internal rotating antenna. I gave the radome a light sandblasting to clear it of years of grime and discoloring. Should I paint it, too? — B. Anderson, Aberdeen, MD GORDON WEST REPLIES Stop! First, make sure the ...read more

L42-Sea-Trails-3728

Boat Review: Leopard 42

Sticking with its proven design formula, but also cherry-picking popular features from its recent models, Leopard Catamarans has launched a “best of” package with this new boat that sold nearly 30 units before hull #1 even touched water. Like a greatest hits album, the Leopard ...read more

01-LEAD-Cut8

Know how: Reinforcing Engine Stringers

If I were to ask, “What are the top five parts of the engine you want to be able to easily access?” How would you respond? Would it be the dipstick? The overflow coolant? I’d wager the raw water pump and its impeller would also make the list. Am I right? The reason we want to be ...read more

Sail-VOE-4-a

Experience: Under the Eyes of the Bar Bunch

Sitting quietly at the bar of a local yacht club, I gaze out over a rambunctious Lake Michigan on a sunny but blustery spring afternoon. I am enjoying watching a small sloop approaching the marina and recognize it as belonging to one of our newest members. “Pretty little thing. ...read more

01-LEAD-Bocas_Marina2

Cruising: Hurricane Heaven

As I write this, another hurricane season has passed. In hundreds of harbors and marinas, sailors are breathing a sigh of relief. I know the feeling since I rode out eight spinners aboard my sturdy 30-footer. I can recall the precise moment when I said, “No more!” It was in ...read more

J45-Podcast-vert-600x-02

Point of SAIL: J/Boats Inc. President Jeff Johnstone

In this episode of Point of SAIL, sponsored by West System Epoxy, Principal Editor Adam Cort talks with Jeff Johnstone, president of J/Boats Inc., the company that has brought the world such iconic designs as the J/24, the J/105 and the J/22, to name a few. In their ...read more

100719BTSC-9304

Boat Review: Catalina 545

Catalina has long been the largest All-American family cruiser company, building what sailors might call “standard” boats. Moving up from the popular 30ft to 45ft sizes puts the company into “yacht” territory, and the new Catalina 545, winner of the SAIL magazine 2020 Best Boats ...read more