“Fuel truck in the way of the crane. Six boats to launch.”
“Hmm,” I think to myself. “That’s not something (or is it?) you want to hear when you’re late for the 10 o’clock boat call the first morning of a regatta.”
Traffic, yes, line at the deli, yes. But fuel truck? Nope.
But the morning’s delay gives me extra time for my morning interview with the local professor of the International One Design sailing, Dr. William Widner, aka Mr. IOD. Widner has been sailing IODs since the late 1960s, has “11 and a half” world championship titles in the class, and could tell me stories until the SD card is full, but as we’re talking, I’m thinking… “time to go racing.”
One thing I can tell about Widner is that he’s precise with his morning schedule. He knows the value of a regatta routine. He is a scientist, and the race data he’s accumulated in his head over more than half a century of sailing doesn’t lie: Stick the routine and the good stuff will follow.
Easier said than done.
As Juhnksho, the white-hulled 600-vintage Etchells with ugly (but fast) blue bottom job is sitting in its trailer waiting for the fuel truck to top off Boston YC’s tanks, we are already slipping behind on our schedule, and the mad dash to the racecourse is on.
No sooner has the last Viper 640 ahead of us touched the water and my skipper Joel White, our bowman John Caunter and I are pushing the heavy galvanized trailer across the lot and onto the hoist platform. Sweat is beading down our brows. It’s hot, we’re late, and we need to practice pulling all the strings (of which there are plenty on the Etchells) before the first race.
White can launch this thing with his eyes closed, though, and it goes quick. We’re in and off the dock 10 in minutes flat.
As we sail out of the crowded harbor, weaving through the mooring field, White explains the macramé of control lines spewed throughout the boat: the mainsheet, its fine-tune, pole controls, traveler, vang, the spinnaker box, and the slippery Dyneema hiking line that will be my tether to the boat whenever my backside and infamous white buttcrack is hanging over the side. And those are just the ropes in the middle of the boat.
Caunter has his own pile of spaghetti and he’ll figure them out soon enough. He’s an ace bowman, and a high school buddy of White way back when they were chasing girls at Marblehead High School and hitching rides as teenagers on local big boats. Boy do they have dirt on each other, but they’re two outstanding chums that always laugh at each other jokes and one liners. They’re not quite to the point of finishing each other’s sentences, but they’re close. Whenever White half-jokingly tells Caunter to get his ass over the side and hike, Caunter always responds with a chuckle and a quick comeback. The banter is what makes sailing with friends so unique.
They’re like a Mount Gay and Tonic, better together, especially on the boat, which is why we make the starting line with enough time to sail upwind, take a look at a few lobster pots, and set the spinnaker to be sure we all know which strings to pull. The kite goes up, it jibes, it comes down. We’re good to go.
But the thing about a threesome thrown together the morning of is that the mistakes come fast and early. On the Juhnksho, it was the first start of the day. We talked about how we liked the left and wanted to be down near the pin with room to leeward. The line is plenty big and there are only eight boats. Easy.
But where do we end up at a minute to go? Yup. At the committee boat, pinned by a boat to leeward intent on stuffing us over the line—even if it meant taking themselves out at the same time. This is not the place to be, but here we are, our pointy white bow creeping over the line with 10 seconds to go.
“Bow 664, OCS.”
Back around we go, last to dip, last start and eventually last to finish. That’ll be our throwout. Maybe. “Hey! At least we got that out of our system early!” bellows White with a hearty laugh. Caunter agrees.
And we do. Well almost. We’re OCS again in the next start, but we fight our way downwind on the final leg to get a fourth. We’re on an upward roll and get second with a decent start. With our best finish of the day, there’s a couple of Coors Light silver bullets calling out for us from the red Harken soft cooler stuffed in the bow.
The committee blesses us with a fourth and final race, so those’ll have to wait.
This next start is a thing of beauty. With 45 seconds to go, White sweeps the bow onto starboard tack. This is our hole. We are right where we want to be, in the middle of the line with acres above us and below us. We’re poked out and launched, the sails are full, the boat is leaning against White’s hand on the tiller. The compass is all good news and we’re rockin’. This race is ours to give away, and we eventually will, but how about that start?
It’s the moment we three goons in blue shirts go from shit-show to Juhnksho. You can’t help but look.