Getting Warm, Fitting In

Pulling rank is rarely pretty, but I’d had enough. "This is my year," I told the other editors here. "I’ve watched from the sidelines for too long. This time I’m racing the whole week at Key West." Assistant Editor Tony Bessinger would be racing, too, but the others could finish editing the March issue and work the boat shows in Atlantic City and Chicago.

So this year’s coverage of Terra Nova Trading/Yachting Key West Race Week comes from Tony and me, with great photos by Peter McGowan. And if that’s not enough, you’ll find our daily stories at sailingworld.com under "More Racing News" and "At the Masthead."

I don’t mean to rub it in, but it was really nice to be warm. I like sailboat racing in a T-shirt and shorts, adding only a light jacket when the wind nears 20 knots. Except for the iceboating crowd, most winter-bound sailors--including the 3,000 or so at Race Week--will probably agree with me about this.

During the week I was reminded how a long regatta is much like an offshore voyage. Making the most of the fun factor and the final score requires that each sailor make an effort to fit into the team. This involves more than pulling on the topping lift at the right time, although that helps. Good crew chemistry is all about sweating the small stuff.

I was brand new aboard John Cooper’s J/29 Cool Breeze, and when you’re new, small stuff is about all you can do. I tried to jump in when I saw a clear need and otherwise regularly ask what I could do next to help. In the process I became a master of shipshape fenders and dock lines, stringing and unstringing the electrical cord for the dehumidifier, and hosing down the boat. On the water I found several good jobs, ranging from fetching water and Gatorade to predicting impending traffic jams on the crowded racecourse.

Working, sailing, and playing together with the Cool Breeze crew was a blast, in great part because the regulars readily embraced the few of us who were new. There are never any guarantees for newcomers, but I’d still encourage any readers so inclined to start looking for next year’s ride now. If your boat won’t be going, try calling sailors you know, posting your name on crew-list bulletin boards, or even just showing up on the docks and passing out a card listing your weight and phone number.

From afar, Race Week may seem to be an exclusive venue for high-budget programs and pro sailors, but that’s only part of it. We met many sailors of moderate means, typically sailing smaller boats and sharing expenses. Crewmembers expressed the feeling that $1,000-plus was a good price for a week that balanced serious fun and stiff competition. You might find a freelance berth that’s less expensive, but if you can, traveling as part of an existing crew will improve your chances, win or lose, of having a thoroughly satisfying regatta experience.

Whether it’s Key West or another midwinter event, all you risk in traveling is a bit of time, money, and ego. And the rewards are worthwhile--both in learning by sailing against tougher competitors and in building lasting bonds with crewmates. And did I mention that warming up feels good, too?