Looking for the Magic

Editor's Letter, September 2005

Paul Cayard's story ("Short Tacking the Shore," p. 60) came to mind as we tested starboard tack off the starting line near Tønsberg, Norway, and found stronger wind and a localized lift along the steep rock wall of a nearby island. If we got there first we'd need to call for room to tack and there'd be a traffic jam; but if the pressure were strong enough, it might pay off. We hit the line with speed and worked forward on David Rockfeller, of Northeast Harbor, Maine, who was just above us-both of us gaining rapidly on the fleet up the line. At the pin below us, our Fishers Island (N.Y.) fleet mate, Kevin Farrar, had a good start with Kin Yellott, of Nantucket, on his quarter, but we and David lifted off just enough so when Kevin called for room to tack, he and Kin both had to duck behind us and David. Moments later, we called to David for room, both of us tacked, and suddenly, like magic, we had both crossed the fleet. We were on our way in a private match race for first and second place. Some people may ask why thousands of you, like me, go to the trouble of traveling to an annual class championship. There are many good reasons, but at the moment, sitting in the faint light of a late Norwegian evening in July, the chance that you might win a race is high on my list. I've raced International One-Designs for 18 years with my four partners (we co-own a 1959 woodie), and every year we qualify, we compete at the world championship. Designed in 1935 by Bjarne Aas for Cornelius Shields, the 33'5 1/2" keelboat was based on an Aas 6-Meter and is now a Classic ISAF class with fleets in Norway, Sweden, the U.K., Bermuda, and the United States. For us, the championship is a pilgrimage, in which we compete against the top qualifiers from 10 international fleets. Each year there are old faces and new, and the fleet is small enough that we get to know each other, not only as competitors, but also each evening among family members and friends. Ten years ago I raced in Tønsberg and brought my wife and my three young daughters, and we attended a mid-regatta wedding for a pair of sailors. This year, we celebrated Bob and Janice Duffy's 10th anniversary, and while many have asked after my girls (now teenage and staying home with summer jobs and camps) others, such as Somers Kempe, of Bermuda, could be found after the day's races changing diapers. For me, the class championship has so many facets. I enjoy competing hard and dealing with the ever-changing mental equation-always looking to balance the priority of speed against execution of the next tactic or boathandling maneuver. Part of the quest is the seemingly simple matter of remaining patient and avoiding meltdowns under pressure. I also love racing in different waters and winds, ranging from San Francisco Bay to Norway's Oslo fjord (kind of like Maine, but with warmer water) on IODs ranging from pine boats with long cabins built in the '30s, to short-cabin mahogany boats from the '50s, to more recent glass boats. But the best part for me is sailing as a crew of friends with the rare chance to work together intensely. In how many team sports does a group of 30-, 40-, 50-, and 60-year-olds, male and female, take special satisfaction in improving their cockpit launches and spinnaker trim despite acquiring bruises, rope burns, and stiff necks? Well, that's our team, and in large part due to our upgraded spinnaker work, we're 3 points behind the two leading boats with two races to go in the series. Although the final results will have long been posted by the time you read this, they're not what really matters. The class championship is about showing up, and it's about finding a bit of magic wherever you look.