My dad was a perpetual boat shopper. Never a buyer. The local J boat dealers were always patient though. They’d regularly take my family sailing on their J/24s at reservoirs around New Mexico. I was 8 years old when he first shared his love of sailing with me, but my own infatuation with the sport came from watching the 1987 America’s Cup in Fremantle, Australia, on TV late into the night.
By the time I was a senior in high school, I was sailing a lot, traveling to the Dillon Open, first with a J/24 team and then with a J/80. We trailered the J/80 to Key West, Florida, in 1999, and that same year, I raced with friends at the San Diego NOOD on their Ultimate 20. Soon after, I moved to San Diego, got a job as a sailmaker and raced Lasers, Capri 14s and J/105s. College sailing followed, as did a few offshore races, such as the Pac Cup, from San Francisco to Hawaii. Countless races to Mexico and stints on boats big and small gave me a steady diet of races. My last major regatta of those heady days was the San Diego NOOD in 2007, on board a Beneteau 36.7 called Kea.
That was before a “real” job landed me in Utah, where I started sailing with yacht clubs on Bear Lake and Great Salt Lake. It was fun, but being away from the ocean, my interest waned. I traded race boats for bicycles, but kept in touch with my sailing friends around the country.
Sailing kept calling to me while I was coping with major life changes. I finally answered in 2016, literally, when a call came from a cycling friend who owns a daysailer. He mentioned he wanted to get back into racing boats as well. We dived in, spending the entire spring tuning up the boat. At the same time, I joined the Park City Sailing Association and chartered one of its Elliot 6-Meters for Thursday-night racing.
Eventually, a 1985-vintage Capri 25 named Little Wing came into my life. It was showing its age, which you’d expect of a 30-year-old fiberglass boat, but it was everything I wanted: a sleek 1980s design, a decent interior and a wide deck. It had a few new bits and pieces, some cracks and fading paint, but nothing my elbow grease wouldn’t take care of. The Capri 25 came with a pedigree as a great club racer here in the Intermountain West, but most important, it had a spirit, that of a sailboat ready for more adventures.
After more than 30 years in the sport, I was captain of my own ship.
I’m lucky to have found such a solid little craft. I wasn’t keen on the name initially, but the boat spoke to me and told me its name was indeed Little Wing. It’s now my prize possession, and it’s amazing how a grown man like me can be so obsessed with 25 feet of fiberglass, wood and lead.
The boat is 33 years old, remember, so the work list was long. I first overhauled the trailer and then tackled Little Wing‘s bottom with hours upon hours of sandpaper and epoxy. My major projects included replacing a bulkhead, painting the deck and rearranging a few pieces of hardware, but my appreciation for Little Wing grew deeper with every tattered piece of sandpaper, empty tube of goo and quart of paint.
Our first race with the boat was Father’s Day weekend at Bear Lake, a 109-square-mile oval-shaped stretch of fresh water on the Utah-Idaho border. My dad was visiting from Albuquerque, New Mexico, and my buddy brought his daughter along for the race. Even in adulthood, I try to impress my dad and make him proud. Racing this day proved no different. He was a bit rusty on account of not having raced in many years, so I guided him through spinnaker jibes and sail changes.
With the roles of our youth reversed, the dynamic on board Little Wing was far more relaxed and fun than the early days. There was no frustration or impatience, just old-man jokes and a few bumps and bruises along the way. Every maneuver was an opportunity to connect with him in a way that was completely different from when I was the one learning to sail as a kid.
Thankfully, my dad was impressed with Little Wing and what I’d been able to accomplish with it. Our new racing sails weren’t on the boat for that first outing. On account of it being our first true race, we were plenty rusty and finished dead last.
It didn’t matter. That day with Dad was perfect anyway.
The summer sailing season continued, with excursions and overnights with my family and booze cruises with friends who’d never sailed. They regularly reminded me how the daysails were the most fun they’d had all summer.
We improved our racing results each weekend and eventually took Little Wing on the road, to Flathead Lake for the Montana Cup. We later wrapped up our first season in the best way I could ever imagine: the annual Bear Lake Monster Race, a 22-mile lap of the lake. As the slowest boat in A fleet, we did our best to keep our air clean and sail the boat fast. At about the halfway point, we figured we were winning, beating the seven other larger and faster boats on corrected time.
The fleet inverted, however, when a new wind filled in along the western shoreline, springing the other boats ahead of us. The wind shift was so agonizingly close; there were whitecaps 500 yards away that we just could not reach. Off they went with the new breeze, leaving us in their wakes.
Once we finally got to the new wind, it was gusting 20 knots and higher. No one else was flying a spinnaker, so what the heck, if we were to have a shot at getting back in the race we had to push ourselves. We popped our spinnaker, it snapped full and Little Wing surged onto a sleigh ride to the bottom mark. We turned the corner within striking distance, and with our heavyweight crew, we were able to keep the boat flat and the heavy No. 1 flying. At one point, I could see my 30-year-old genoa literally coming apart at the seams. I wondered whether the sail would endure the five or so tacks we needed to make the finish line.
The straining genoa got us there, and by our rough calculations, we were close on corrected time, but unsure of the outcome. Once at the dock, we anxiously made our way to the race committee. They calculated everyone’s times, and finally the suspense was over — we won. We whooped and hollered, and I’m sure the entire marina heard us celebrating. There were high-fives, hugs, pats on the back and smiles ear to ear, rewards for all our efforts. We headed for the nearest burger joint and cracked open our celebratory beers, toasting as though we’d won the America’s Cup.
This was a hard-earned win against fast boats and great sailors. Until this summer, the Monster Race perpetual trophy sat on my shelf, engraved with Little Wing‘s name, reminding me each day what this boat means to me and all who sail it. And while my purchase was based on many factors, the potential for one-design racing was a big part of it. There are now five Capri 25s in Utah, with passionate owners who share knowledge and keep these cool little boats alive and sailing fast. We’ve proved to ourselves that having fun and being successful is possible in older boats, and that even in the middle of the Mountain West, sailing is where the excitement is found.
Ben Towery, of Ogden, Utah, splits his free time between family, sailing, swimming, cycling, skiing and pampering his Capri 25. He was unable to defend his Monster Race title in 2018. “Little Wing is definitely in her element in light air,” he says. “But we have yet to figure out how to handle her in heavy breeze.”