How We Roll

It only takes a few weeks to get back into a well-known summer routine. Editor's letter from our July/August 2011 issue.

Sailing World
August 2011 Cover

After the long, hard winters of the Northeast, summer just seems to show up out of the blue. The crew-wanted e-mails start pouring in, and before I know it, my calendar is a grid of multicolored blocks and commitments. The excitement is electric, but I also know that a Newport summer is fleeting. That’s the gut-wrenching reality of a New England sailing calendar: there’s a definitive beginning and end, and looking at it makes me anxious about making the most of those four precious months. Memorial Day is the official summer kickoff, of course, but fortunately our local J/24 series kicked in a few weeks early this year, and it took only one night to feel as if I was right back into summer routine. I also found myself asking some familiar questions.

Like, why is it that the “launch” never goes the same way twice? Our J/24 sees the hoist twice a year: it goes in, and it comes out. We’re not nearly as proficient as the teams in the fleet that dry sail their boats. We’ve launched in the same fashion for about two decades, so you’d think we’d have it down to a routine. This year, the rig went up with the headstay through the spreader, and then the lowers dropped out. Every year it’s something different.

And why do we forget to back up our mental hard drives. The courses for our weeknight series never change. Navigational marks don’t move. The current flows essentially the same way as it has for centuries, and the same is true for the wind. So why is it we can’t remember from one season to the next what “works” and when?

Shouldn’t we record the minutes of our post-race debriefs? We’re great about rehashing the races and eventually drilling down to the root causes of our mistakes and successes. We’ll go at it at the dock until the cooler is barren and the cockpit full of empties. With each round, our “clarity” improves, but somehow, the next morning, it’s all a blur. A secretary would help, but luckily we have SW’s senior editor, Stuart Streuli, chronicling our efforts in the “What I Learned Last Night” blogs (sailingworld.com/blogs).

And why are we so compulsive about rolling our sails? De-rigging the boat at the end of the night is as much of a ritual as the racing itself. As soon as the dock lines are set, the five of us just quietly go about our business, stripping and coiling the sheets. But my favorite part is rolling the sails; it’s something I take some strange pride in. It’s probably because, as a junior sailor, our club had the rattiest Club 420 sails of any of the nearby clubs. When we’d travel to area race weeks, there’d always be one team with a fresh set, and you could just hear the crispiness when they rolled them. Man, we were always envious. They rolled. We flaked. But when our club finally got around to buying new sails, we learned the fine art of a good roll—no creases, no bends, battens perfectly in line. I guess it’s one of those life skills we carry on as sailors, knowing that every crease in the fabric is a fraction-of-a-knot of speed lost. That’s why we’re so meticulous about our rolling. Our skipper surprised us with a new North 3DL genoa, and there’s no better roll than that first one. When it only takes two guys, we know the sail is fast, but when the third hand is required to support the middle, there’s always a sense of disappointment. It’s not necessarily the end of the jib; it usually means it’s the end of the summer.