dave reed headshot
Once the boat was put away I sat alone on the transom, gazing out across the marina packed with raceboats, taking in its tranquility with an empty mind before drawing my first thirst-quenching guzzle from a chilled can of ale. My salt-encrusted eyes strained against the late afternoon sun, and although the day’s short distance race had been an easy one, my entire body was tired and ached, but it was a soul-satisfying kind of ache. After a few more sips I was slipping into the hazy meditative state that comes after an idyllic, sun-soaked day of sailing. The regatta’s massive party tent, a few hundred feet away, was coming to life, calling out for my crewmates and me to join in. I thought to myself, how lucky I was. Life was good, for me at least, but what was happening at home?
It was time to make the call.
I swallowed the last bit of my beer, put down the can, flipped open the cell phone, and dialed. Some part of me hoped for voice mail, but when my wife answered, I could instantly tell from her tone that she was at wit’s end. This wasn’t going to be an easy call. The serenity of my moment was shattered by an audible chaos on the other end of the line: one of two kids was wailing, and then both of them cried in chorus. “Hold on,” she told me curtly. I envisioned her holding the phone out away from her, toward my dear screaming offspring. My buoyant mood sank to the bottom of the harbor.
This sometimes happens when I’m away from home, either covering an event for the magazine or sailing a regatta. Naturally, when she knows I’m having fun without her, it’s difficult for both of us. In this instance, so as not to fuel her jealousy, I tried to downplay how good a time we were having by telling her the sail was merely OK, and if it’s any consolation, I told her, I’m sleeping in the cockpit all weekend. It was futile. As far as she was concerned, and rightly so, I had abandoned her and the kids for a three-day holiday weekend regatta with a handful of my buddies, on some faraway island, racing, relaxing, having a good-old time. There’s nothing I could do to assuage her, so we eventually hung up and I went about enjoying my regatta, thoroughly lathered in guilt.
I’m absolutely certain I wasn’t the only one on the island that weekend who had deserted their family or spouse in the pursuit of some self-centered sporting endeavor. Yet this is an inescapable aspect of our sport. We, as racing sailors, are competitive by nature, and yes, even a little selfish because of it. We’re constantly trying to improve, and this often means practicing during the week, racing evenings, and traveling to away regattas many weekends out of the year without our loved ones in tow.
I'm sure those of you many years past my age, and especially those who have been down this well-worn path, would agree that the family circle eventually becomes the greatest obstacle to one's guilt-free enjoyment of the sport. At 36, I'm now facing such a reality, and this was cemented in the aforementioned phone call. I thought to myself later that day that my wife, and maybe even my kids for that matter, should've been with me onboard, or at least on the island. There had been a time not too long ago when my wife and I did race together, and we were a great team. It was always fun and tension free. So why should now be any different? We need to race together again, even if at the most casual level I can find, because there was plenty of room on the transom that afternoon, and the experience would have certainly been more complete with her. I know she'd agree.