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Going Out in Style

On the last Wednesday night of summer, we finally scored our bullet in Shields Fleet Nine.

September 23, 2010
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It’s been a long summer in Shields Fleet Nine in Newport, R.I. Aboard Earle Stubbs’ Lisa, we began the season with new sails, a tune-up session with North’s Chuck Allen, and a string of top-five finishes. As the water warmed, the days lengthened, and the breeze lightened, our scores took a turn for the worse. But we never gave up, and we never stopped enjoying ourselves. Or Stubby’s Budweisers.

We’ve made some improvements of late, clawing our way back into the hunt the last few races. When we showed up at Ida Lewis YC yesterday, the dock was devoid of the usual suspects, many of whom are racing this week in Shields Nationals in Mystic, Conn. Wednesday’s race wouldn’t count towards the season standings. Which is why we knew, with our luck, this would be the race we finally won.

Ten boats made the starting line off Goat Island. With a southwest breeze, we’d be heading to the mark off Hammersmith Farm. A cruise ship off Rose Island created a significant wind shadow on the right side of the beat, and the point at Fort Adams truncated the left. With an unfavorable tide flowing into Narragansett Bay, we’d be facing a decision every Newport beer-can racer has made before: Do you short tack along the graveyard, avoiding the current but suffering the traffic, or do you take your chances out in the channel, in bad current but good air?

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As luck would have it, we didn’t have to make that decision. We had a good start and zipped past Fort Adams at the front of the pack. We got to have our cake and eat it, too, tacking up the shoreline in clear air, only venturing out into the current for our final approach. Downwind, we drove right at the mark on a rocking and rolling starboard jibe—to the annoyance of the foul-mouthed skipper nipping at our heels on port—and rounded just ahead. A few quick covering tacks, and victory was ours.

I don’t mean to brag, but I will. The taste of victory is oh so sweet, even when it comes with an asterisk. We showed up and gave it our all every Wednesday night this summer. With fall looming—it began at 11:09 last night—and the harvest moon on the rise, we pulled off our bullet.

Victory couldn’t have come at a better time, especially for me. I won’t be a regular on Stubby’s crew next summer, as I’ll be taking my talents—thank you very much, LeBron—to Cleveland, where I’ll continue working with Sailing World and, hopefully, get back in touch with the Thistle class. I’m excited to be returning to my hometown, but I’m sad to be leaving Rhode Island, where I’ve made some great friends and learned from some great sailors.

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What I’ll miss most is the sail in from the racecourse. No matter how we finish, the mood is always jovial when we cross the line and dig into the cooler. Newport really is a beautiful venue, and it always seems to reward you with a sparkle when you take an extra lap on the sunset harbor tour.

So what did I learn last night? It’s sappy, I know, but it’s true: I’ll never sail in a nicer place, or with a nicer bunch of sailors.

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