The ol’ J/24 Crack of Noon doesn’t leave home often. Its longtime caretaker, Ian Scott, is a busy guy in the summertime, bottling and delivering crisp, clean natural spring water to thirsty and demanding customers. Come June, the rest of his aging crew are busy too, yours truly included, with all the usual excuses. But we show up to race on Thursday nights, as we have for decades, because by 5 o’clock our skipper has the rig tuned, the beer on ice, and the sails on deck. You could say we’re Pavlovian to the sound of ice cubes tumbling onto cans in a cooler.
While the competition and fleet size here in Newport, Rhode Island, is a shadow of its former glory, 10 boats regularly show up, so it’s still plenty fun and challenging for us weekend-warrior types. It’s all good right here at home, so why leave town when good is good enough?
I suppose that is why we don’t leave often, but when we do, we don’t go far. This summer, it’s the J/24 North Americans—our first road trip in nine years. Our destination is Blue Point, New York, home to the unpretentious Sayville YC, a hidden gem on Long Island’s south coast. The clubhouse is stilted on a strip of beach on Great South Bay, a 151-square protected skinny water that averages only 4 feet (and 20 at its deepest).
For hotshot pros and traveling teams, hooking up a trailer and wandering about the country to regattas is no big deal, but for the Crack of Noon boys, leaving town is a complex affair. Planning is not our specialty, and while we always start the conversation enthusiastically and early while standing over a pile of empty beer cans in the cockpit (“Let’s do the North Americans!”), we tend to leave things to the last minute, kicking our proverbial Heineken down the road (“The regatta is next week, right?”).
Procrastination is how we end up needing only two hotel rooms and four beds in a rundown Clarion Conference Center hotel in Ronkonkoma, New York, which looks like it hasn’t been occupied since the pandemic hit. Procrastination, in other words, is how we fail to line up a fifth crew to get us to maximum weight. We’ve raced four-up plenty of times on Thursday nights, however, so we figure we will manage. Plus, weigh‑in will be a piece of cake. In fact, we can eat all the cake we want before stepping on the scale.
When we do finally step into the registration room at Sayville, there are at least eight friendly club volunteers to greet us. They efficiently escort us through our registration and onto the scale behind the privacy divider. There we are, a bunch of old dudes, still stripping down to our skivvies and sucking in our guts, even though we don’t have to. There’s no need to pretend—we have a good 140 pounds to spare, and come to find out, we sure could use it.
For four glorious days, Sayville delivers spectacular summer sailing conditions, with gusty sea breezes whipping the bay into a steep-lump racetrack that requires full-crew hiking and hyperactive trimming on the sails. Our starts are good, but without those extra pounds, we don’t stand a chance of hanging in skinny lanes, especially when we’re alongside the top boats.
Race after race, we’re having fun mixing it up in the middle of the fleet, which is a blessing because it helps us forget about one nagging bummer that we will eventually have to deal with when the regatta’s over: Our tow vehicle died upon arrival in Sayville.
True story: We were a few hundred feet from the yacht club’s driveway entrance when our trimmer Herb McCormick’s 2005 Ford F-150 croaked. We nursed it and the boat through the gate, parked alongside the gin pole, and that’s where the old beast would remain until a AAA tow hauled it away to the local Ford dealer.
To our good fortune, however, our regatta hosts, the good Samaritans of Sayville, are standing under the gin pole ready to lend a hand in our time of need. “Don’t worry about it,” rear commodore Steven Thomas assures us. He’s got a skid steer to get the trailer to its parking spot after we finish measurement, and then he offers his personal truck to get our boat off the island and back to Newport.
I mean, we’ve only just met the guy, and yet he’s giving us his wheels?
Throughout the regatta, Thomas, who commands the bow on the navy-blue J/24 named Shake and Bake, checks in with us twice daily to see how we’re managing and if we need his truck. And every time I see him at the club, he’s either hustling to or from his boat while putting out tinder fires, or making sure all of us racers are having the best time possible. He’s manning the skid steer, he’s directing trailer traffic, he’s pushing boats around with a Jeep, he’s slinging drinks at the bar when the tenders are backed up, and he’s hustling buffet trays of meatloaf from the kitchen to the food tent so the sailors don’t have to wait in line.
He’s always busy, but never too busy to ask, “You guys having a good time? You need anything?”
Word eventually gets around that the poor lads from Newport are stranded in Sayville. The dealer’s diagnosis is that we’ve blown a crankshaft bolt and the engine is kaput. But that’s when another Sayville Samaritan, Jim “Seamus” Keeley, who’s on race-committee duty, steps out of the blue and hooks us up with a local mechanic, who eventually saves poor Herb from having to go into debt on a new truck. Keeley not only helps line up the mechanic, but also later drives to the opposite side of the island to pick up Herb at the ferry terminal so he can retrieve his ride.
None of us on Crack of Noon had ever been to—or knew anything about—Sayville, but when we gather again for our normal Thursday-night affair afterward, we all agreed, and Herb especially, that Sayville is one of coolest places we’ve raced, with some of the kindest and most helpful people we’ve ever met.
In hindsight, while we were underweight and potentially stranded, we are all the better for getting off our little island. From the moment we coasted into Sayville to the moment we rolled out with the boat hitched to a U-Haul box truck, we thoroughly enjoyed the regatta, our outstanding hosts, the welcoming club and its amazing sailing conditions. It’s a reminder that it’s good for the Crack of Noon crew to travel once in a while because good enough should never be good enough.
Next time, we’ll have our fifth, but I’m not sure about Herb’s truck.