A Matter of Discourse
A Matter of Discourse
From the America’s Cup to the European Maxi circuit, our sport serves up many a memorable chestnut. "Jobson Report" from our March 2012 issue.
One of my favorite America’s Cup press conference comments, however, came in 1995, from skipper John Bertrand, of Australia. He showed up at the media event red-eyed and frazzled after his boat, One Australia, cracked in half during a race and sank to the bottom of the Pacific. Moderator Bruno Troublé asked, “Can you describe what happened to the boat on this leg to windward?”
Bertrand, with a deadpan stare, simply responded, “Well, the boat broke in half and sank. That’s what happened.”
That was all that he needed to say.
Emotions were running high before the 2003 America’s Cup. You’ll remember the young New Zealander Russell Coutts had left his country’s team and was now racing for Alinghi, the Swiss challenger. There was a lot of tension around the docks. During an interview with Coutts, I asked him if he was nervous going into the first race. He thought for a second, then responded, “Where would you rather be for the first race of the America’s Cup than on the boat?” It was a good answer, and I knew right then that Russell Coutts was confident and ready. His team won in five straight races that year.
And I’d be remiss not to include the most famous of all the Cup’s quotable moments, this one made as the schooner America neared the finish line after racing around the Isle of Wight in 1851. Queen Victoria is said to have asked a fellow spectator aboard the royal yacht, Britannia, “Who is in first place?”
The answer was short: “America, your Majesty.”
Following up, the Queen asked, “Who is second?”
The answer was direct, “Your majesty, there is no second!”
While the Cup has given us plenty of notable and colorful commentary, no other source can top my friend Buddy Melges. I could probably write a book of Buddy’s finest sayings.
“To win, you have to present the boat to Mother Nature,” Buddy once suggested. I’m still trying to figure out that one.
He was once asked about his secret for winning, and he answered with a smile, “You have to sail your boat more quicklier.”
Yes, Melges could make up his own words, and I’m sure everyone would just nod in agreement. The Word according to Buddy.
One time I sailed with both Turner and Buddy on the same boat. During the starting sequence, Buddy was unsure which end of the line he wanted to favor. Turner asked him, “Buddy are you having trouble making up your mind?”
His response was priceless: “Well yes, and no.”
We all got a good laugh out of that one.
It’s not only Buddy who comes up with great one-liners, though. Over the course of my sailing career, I’ve heard many a strange thing uttered as crewmembers banter back and forth on the rail during a distance-race watch, or during the heat of battle in a buoy race.
I was racing in a European Maxi boat regatta, for example, and we had a noted sailmaker onboard. He instructed one of our crewmembers to, “Load up the backstay and see what it can take.” That crewmember loaded up the backstay until it was loaded, alright. The mast broke and went right over the side.
Then there was the time during a sunrise watch on a Chicago to Mackinac Race when a crewmember heard a noise and hopped up on deck, yelling, “What was that?”
The owner answered in a nonchalant tone, “Oh, that was the crack of dawn.”
There are plenty of other great sayings I’ve picked up from my experiences (and I admit to repurposing one or two on occasion, myself). Let’s start with: “If you can’t tie a good knot, tie plenty of them.”
OK, fair enough. But I suggest the corollary should be: “He who ties plenty must untie as many.”
And what about: “Why do some skippers yell more and more about less and less?” That’s probably because everyone stopped listening long ago.
And there’s this: “Every crewmember you add to your boat, you square your potential problems.” I suppose this means that the old saying about more hands making quick work doesn’t apply to sailboat racing. It could also be said that, for every crewmember you add to your boat, you square your potential deli store bill
Of course, there are plenty of classic sailing maxims yet to be uttered. This year, I encourage you to keep a logbook onboard and record any compelling comments you hear, whether on the water or ashore. At the end of the season, you’ll have some great material to share with the crew. Make them guess who said what. Then, send them on to the editors (firstname.lastname@example.org), and I’ll add them to my list, too.