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One to Grow On

For one family, a perfect regatta included swimming, a trip to Lego Land, a little bit of sailing, and a last-place finish.

March 29, 2013
Sailing World

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Dylan Flack, age 7, steers the J/70 Torqeedo into the leeward mark while his father (the author), mother, and sister wrangle the spinnaker back into the boat. Their first family regatta in the J/70 was a complete success, even if that wasn’t reflected in the overall finish. Chuck Allen/North Sails Client Services

On the way to the boat from the airport I asked the crew: “Where do you guys think we will finish in this regatta?”

My bowman asked how many boats were sailing. I replied there were 20.

“Well then 20th,” he said. “Sheesh Dad, it’s our first regatta.”

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That’s some realistic perspective from a seven-year-old. For the 2013 Sperry Top-Sider St. Petersburg NOOD Regatta, the Torqeedo J/70 team consisted of my wife (sailor by marriage), our 10-year-old daughter (budding 420 sailor), and our son (Opti green fleet sailor and J/70 bowman/driver-wannabe), who enthusiastically proclaimed that last was just fine with him.

So if our goal isn’t to win, I asked, then what is it?

“To have some fun on the boat, and then go swimming at the pool, of course, Dad!” This little conversation set up the whole weekend.

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For most J/70 teams, the bar was set a little higher. As an extreme example, our slipmate in the St. Petersburg YC marina was Joel Ronning and his professional crew, including Morning Light tactician Jeremy Wilmot and all-star sportboat trimmer Willem van Waay. Both Wilmot and van Waay won the Melges 32 world championship in 2009. Joel has been incredibly successful with his own business, and he took the same approach to the regatta, fielding the most decorated J/70 team.

At the start of the regatta, the family had to define what fun while racing meant for each of us. We decided we would use this event to learn our jobs and get used to sailing the boat as a team.

This was a tough transition for me, and I struggled. After the first day of sailing, my daughter said that I should sleep with one eye open that night. When I asked why, my wife chimed in: “Because when you fall asleep, we are going to write, ‘Stop yelling at us’ on your forehead.”

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I took a mental note: the communication from the helm needs to be toned down a bit.

By the end of the second day, the breeze had built to 15 knots and we were enjoying a great ride, sending it downhill with the chute up. We were having so much fun that we over stood the layline and came in low of the gate, setting us up for a windward take down in breeze. And takedowns had been our nemesis to that point. I looked back at our bowman—who had quickly learned the back of the boat was THE COOLEST spot for riding on a fast wet leg—and said, “Take the stick buddy, I’m going forward to help. It’s just like an Opti, but DO NOT hit anybody!” The sails came down and we had our best race finish to date for the team. We were learning our jobs, having fun, and even getting better! I couldn’t wait to keep climbing the learning curve.

And then Sunday morning dawned: 42 degrees, with 20-plus knots of wind and 5-foot waves. This was not in the St. Petersburg travel brochure. To their credit, the family donned their foulies and timidly headed to the boat. On the dock you could hear numerous other sailors grumbling about leaving their ski clothes up north. We walked over to our boat and greeted our slip mates. Joel could tell I was clearly contemplating whether we should go sailing.

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“You don’t want to ruin a great regatta with a bad last day,” he said. It struck me that he could have been talking about his own team or ours at that very moment. A bad last day for him and maybe he doesn’t win the regatta. A bad last day for us and maybe the kids do not want to go to the next event.

In the long run, we both made the right calls. Joel went sailing, scored a pair of seconds, and won the regatta by 20 points. We went to Lego Land and cemented a fun-filled family weekend that will hopefully lead to many more down the road. We also finished last in the overall standings. But it’s hard to say which crew had a more rewarding and successful regatta—his with the lowest score or ours with the highest?

The kids will remember meeting a world champion at the slip every day, getting coached by Chuck Allen of North Sails at the regatta party, taking a bonus trip to Lego Land, and, of course, swimming at the pool. The parents will take away all the above, plus memories of the special family moments where just being with your kids can make an elevator the greatest place on earth.

I learned a whole new method to measure sailing success; one where the score does not equal the results.

Brandon Flack is a former J World instructor, yacht captain, and sailmaker. He now owns Atlantic Marketing and represents Torqeedo, Musto, and Samson Rope in North America. He loves seeing any kids take to the sport of sailing.

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