Caller ID can be a wonderful thing. On one of the coldest days of the year, my mood was immediately brightened seeing the phone ring from an old sailing friend. Hoping the call was an invite to a tropical sailing event, I picked up the phone. “Did you hear about the Admiral?” Tom asked. “He’s very sick. I’m going to see him now, you should come along if you can.”
The words hit me like a breaking wave. The Admiral, as friends fondly know him, owned a number of successful raceboats that competed in the Northeast and Caribbean. He took a chance on me back when I was young and had more attitude than ability. Through a combination of luck and circumstance, I became part of his sailing family. And a family it was. While the Admiral made a living as a shrewd and innovative businessman, his true skill was surrounding himself with loyal and dedicated people. To become part of his crew was to be accepted into a group of people unlike any other. Every event and regatta became an extravaganza, right down to the day the Admiral retired from competitive sailing. He decided he couldn’t donate the boat without an unforgettable sendoff party.
Since the Admiral’s retirement, some of the crew spread to other programs, while others have returned to the “real” world. Like any other family, though, we drop anything to be there for each other.
Walking to his door, I was terrified to face what might be behind it. This was a man who always attacked life. What would he be like when life started to attack him? He was weak, but it was clear that the Admiral was thrilled to see his extended family coming together again. As more of the crew from over the years arrived, the stories of the “old days” ramped into high gear. Some of the stories have ascended to legendary status, and none of them can be published. But to us, they were some of the best times of our lives. We had all taken these times for granted, but now we understood that these moments must be savored and treasured.
In many ways, crews take on the personality of their owners. For some teams, the boat is run like a business, and at the end of the race day everyone goes his or her own way. Sailing with the Admiral was different. His crews were always just happy to be sharing another adventure. Victory simply made the time even sweeter. The magic of sailing with the Admiral that the crew stuck together through thick and thin. From the first beat to last call, the team was the team. The Admiral wouldn’t have it any other way, even in his last days. On his final run through life, he made sure to stay alive long enough to say goodbye to all of his team.
Generations of the crew all came from near and far, 15 years of teams in all. While not happy with the circumstances, we were happy to be together again, and the positive energy filled the Admiral’s house. For perhaps the very first time, the Admiral’s real family saw why these sailors were so important in his life.
In the end, the Admiral couldn’t outlast his disease, but his spirit lives on in other sailing programs. We spend much of our free time on the water, sharing a passion. We take time away from our real families to get together and go sailboat racing. As we anticipate a new racing season, let’s commit to spending as much time building our sense of team as we spend wet sanding the bottom. Boats come and go, but crews last forever.
Fair winds, Admiral. We all love you.