The boat was all buttoned up, the dock box locked, and everyone had left to shower, including Jim Cannon, our boat captain. I stood there with my wet sailing shoes in hand, and thought that rather than stuffing them into my backpack I’d stash them on the boat to dry overnight. I knew I couldn’t just leave them in the cockpit like I usually do on other boats. This particular veteran boat captain would never allow it. He’s responsible for the care and maintenance of the boat, to keep it looking pristine, and nothing irked him more than to have it look like Fred Sanford’s front yard. Nothing, I repeat, nothing personal remained on the boat.
I meticulously tied the shoelaces together with a neat bow so the shoes hung evenly when draped from my fingertip. I climbed aboard and scanned the boat for a place to hide them. A pang of guilt hit me. I felt sneaky, as if I was pulling a fast one on the guy. Some part of me feared the repercussions, and I hesitated, but finally settled on the starboard turnbuckles. I hung them nice and low, snug to the deck, completely invisible from the dock. He’d never see them, I thought.
But lo and behold, I showed up early the following morning and they were gone. Nuts! I couldn’t dare ask if he’d seen my shoes. I eventually discovered them crammed into the dock box.
At first I took him as an obsessive-compulsive type, but it was soon obvious that his long career as a pro sailor and America’s Cup crew had taught him how to keep a boat race ready. Yes, he was getting paid well, but while most of us were slurping our first mudslide each afternoon he was down below wiping the floorboards with a chamois and cleaner, getting on his hands and knees to pull yarns or small bits of paper from crevices. His fastidiousness carried over to the deck as well; halyards were coiled and draped over the pit winches the same way every time. Once, I watched him walk past the nearly centered traveler, pause, look down at the track, and then adjust the traveler car another half-inch to bring it precisely to centerline.
Even the dock lines and fenders required his final touch. Any one of us would try and hang the collection of fenders and fender boards properly, but after we’d admire our work and congratulate ourselves on our ability to follow his instructions, he’d be right behind us adjusting the tethers another inch higher. He’s a man of precision.
This is exactly how a good professional boat captain runs his program. After a week of sailing with Jim and learning from him, I have a much higher appreciation for basic raceboat upkeep and presentation. We preach a lot about regular sail care, hardware maintenance, bottom prep, and rig checks, but when it comes to our dockside appearances I’m afraid we’re sorely lacking.
At most big regattas the docks look like a scene straight out of Woodstock, with foul-weather gear draped across booms, dirty socks and clothing hanging from the rigging, shoes scattered about the cockpit, and piles of spare sails and trash haphazardly lumped on the dock. If a boat looks like this from the outside, I’d bet it doesn’t look much different on the inside, especially over the course of a long regatta. We can all learn one simple lesson from Jim, as I did that week: A tight ship is a light ship, and a light ship is fast.
This article first appeared in the September 2013 issue of Sailing World. Click here to read more from editor Dave Reed.