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A Quick Swim

Max Bulger looks back at the last race of Act 1 in Muscat, Oman: "As I slid, belly-down, out to the bow of the leeward hull to call our final approach to the line, the media boats caught me with a big grin on my face."

March 20, 2012
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Sailing World

MB Blog 7

Lloyd Images

In a fleet as tight as the Extreme 40s have proven to be this year, being in contention for the podium entering the final day of racing is as good as it’s going to get. The races are short, and there are as many as 10 each day. Every team is well trained, focused and stacked with top talent. It’s a one-design fleet. And the final race of every Act is worth double points. When you combine all these factors with the inevitable unpredictability of sailboat racing, the idea of any team pulling away from the fleet before the final day is close to laughable.

So, as we left the dock to head to the racecourse in Muscat for the last time, were we happy to just be in contention for pole position? Of course not. We were calm, focused, and ready for a fight. That determination and quiet determination paid off in the first three races of the day. We posted top-three finishes while our competitors were stuck in mid-fleet traffic. As the wind lightened and the day wore on, it was feeling good to put a little in the bank.

Then came the inevitable and unpredictable: after a day and a half of feeling more confident with reaching starts, we were OCS (by a few feet!) in Race 4 of Day 4. Re-starting was painfully slow in the 5-knot breeze, and we sailed the entire race staring at the transoms of our seven competitors. It was a tough moment for the team, but, again, attitude is the story here. Everyone stayed calm and collected, with the understanding that this is just the way our sport works. A composed and calm demeanor, modeled by Morgan and Charlie, was a theme of our better moments in Muscat.

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Entering the final, double-points race of Act 1, four teams were in contention for a podium finish. The battle for the blue ribbon was between our French competitors on Groupe Edmond de Rothschild, fellow Omanis The Wave and us. The breeze was dying, so the course was even shorter than usual. And, to make things more fun, it was a reaching start– our favorite.

In the pre-start, Morgan offered some wise words. I won’t share exactly what he said, but it helped us all put the moment in perspective, stay loose and relaxed, and focus on the task at hand. After the customary round of high-fives, we slid into our light air positions and waited for the sequence to start.

I’m not accustomed to walk-off wins. Victories in the last six months at the Canada’s Cup, J/24 East Coast Champs and Key West have all come down to the last day, and the last race. I’m sure it feels great to post a string of bullets early in an event and sail a stress-free final outing, or skip the last start and hit the hoist first. I, however, am way more familiar with the combination of butterflies, confidence, determination and hopeful optimism that fill my gut in those final pre-start moments. In some sick, adrenaline-junky way, I’ve kind of grown to love it. As I slid, belly-down, out to the bow of the leeward hull to call our final approach to the line, the media boats caught me with a big grin on my face. Why? Because, pardon the expletive, I live for that shit. That moment is the reason we all go racing, and it’s arguably better (and certainly more addictive) than a win.

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We started comfortably and hit the all-important first gybe mark in front of the French and The Wave. It was a relatively smooth race, loose covering those two competitors for two runs and a beat. As we rounded our final mark of Act 1 onto a short reach to the finish, Nasser looked over at me.

“If we finish in this position, will we win?” he whispered. I nodded silently and kept hiking off the leeward bow. The hope and jubilation in his eyes instantly justified hundreds of hours in the gym at Tufts earlier in the year. As we crossed the finish line, Will, Charlie and Morgan decided Nasser and I needed to go for a swim. Two thoughts crossed my mind:

1. I’m the luckiest kid ever—for great teammates, friends and family.
2. The water is going to be a lot colder in Qingdao.

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Photo: Lloyd Images

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