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Drifting Away Again

When I stepped aboard Luke Sayer's Catalina 36 Sea-Q to serve as guest crewmember on Day 2 of the 2011 Sperry Top-Sider San Diego NOOD, the wind died. It's becoming a nasty trend.

March 20, 2011
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After a long day of racing in extremely light wind, Luke Sayer (center) and the crew of his Catalina 36 Sea-Q head for the barn in a freshening breeze. Michael Lovett

I probably shouldn’t admit this—because riding along as guest crewmember is one of the highlights of covering the Sperry Top-Sider NOOD circuit—but I’m beginning to think I’m bad luck. When I hop aboard, the wind goes kaput. It happened last year here in San Diego, when I joined Bo Kopaniasz’ team on the Beneteau 36.7 Sorcerer, and it happened yesterday, when I accepted an invitation from Luke Sayer to ride with his crew on the Catalina 36 Sea-Q.

Sayer enjoyed an uneventful delivery from Long Beach on Wednesday night, conducted a successful practice in good breeze on Friday, and even drove out to the racecourse on Saturday in fresh, 10-knot winds. But as soon as we went into sequence, the conditions began to fizzle. By the time the gun sounded, we were drifting toward the pin end of the line with the rest of our 6-boat fleet. Halfway up the beat—one hour and 0.3 miles later—I began wondering if it were all my fault.

It’s moments like this—when I’m crouched on the low side beneath a floppy headsail, counting the minutes it takes for a kelp bed to pass from bow to stern, wondering whether the folks aboard the RC boat are actually members of a sadistic cult—it’s moment’s like this when I’m glad my non-sailing friends aren’t watching. “So this is what you’re raving about all the time?” they might ask. “This is the exhilarating sport to which you dedicate so much of your time?”

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In fact, it is. And even on the drifter days, it’s always a blast, because you can always go faster than the other guy, even if that means slipping backwards at a slower rate. Aboard Sea-Q, we experimented with ways to keep the boat moving through the chop. We loosened the backstay, slacked the jib halyard, rolled in a few feet of headsail to keep it from flogging, and kept our eyes up the course, looking for the breeze that, when it arrived, seemed to reach us last. After nearly two hours of white-knuckle drifting, we finished the race and prepared for another.

A gentle breeze filled in as we sailed back toward the starting area, and things were looking good. We ate our sandwiches and talked about how the next race would be better. Then our sequence began, and the wind shut off. My teammates might’ve been well served to throw me overboard. The wind gods were not smiling upon San Diego yesterday, and I’m wondering what I’ve done to offend them.

And you want to know the bad news for Team Sea-Q? They invited me back today!

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