With the days growing shorter in Annapolis and summer reduced to memories, I have just completed my 50th year of sailing.
Last winter, as I’ve done every year since I was 12, I planned my sailing schedule. In 2005, after two years of illness, I decided to spend a lot of time on the water and planned a program featuring 10 sailing projects that ranged from dinghies to tall ships, competitive racing to family cruising. Looking back on it now, this year’s been an amazing ride, and it’s given me a renewed appreciation for sailing’s many facets.
Return to Racing
Etchells racing was a good way to get started after my time off. After a Wednesday night race to get tuned up, Jud Smith and Rob Erda joined me in Annapolis for the Lands’ End NOOD Regatta (SW, July ’05). Winning that inspired me to then compete in the North Americans in June in Chicago with Gary Gilbert and Mark Mendelblatt crewing for me.
Among our competitors was Dennis Conner, who is always fun to race against because of his on-course logic. I admire the way he plugs away during a race and rarely goes the wrong way hoping for a break. I also enjoy the fact that all of the Etchells class sailors compete hard, but in a sportsmanlike manner.
The Chicago YC did a wonderful job running six long courses along the lake front. One featured 35-knot winds. We won the start and led by half a leg. It was a super race for us. At one point, on the run, we actually got the Etchells up on a plane, careening on the edge of control.
“We’ve got to be more aggressive!” said Mendelblatt.
“Mark,” I pleaded, “we could broach!”
He looked back at me and muttered, “OK, OK.”
I thought, “Ahhhh, youth.”
Overall, we ended up third behind Conner and winner Jud Smith.
Paradise Found: Sailing the BVIs
Sunsail Yacht Charters invited me to make a film on sailing the British Virgin Islands, and our film crew spent a week following two boats, one with a family of four and one with two couples, to all the good spots in the islands. It was fascinating to observe and record the enthusiasm of novice sailors and to create a film celebrating the magic of adventure under sail for friends and family.
Chasing Charlie Barr
Next was an ocean crossing in the Rolex Transatlantic Challenge aboard the 252-foot clipper Stad Amsterdam, which was chartered by 40 members of the Storm Trysail Club. Twenty boats tried to break Charlie Barr’s 100-year-old record set aboard Atlantic, and two lightweight flyers did it, Mari-Cha IV and Maximus.
At our pre-race briefing, J/44 owner Leonard Sitar asked Captain Pieter Brantjes if we had to sit on the windward rail. That got a good laugh. The ship only weighs about two million pounds. The fastest thing about our ride was that it rolled alternately to port and then starboard every six seconds. Someone calculated that during our 14-day voyage we rolled 119,000 times.
Late in the race, our captain got us back, somberly informing us all that a weather phenomena known as Moroccan Red would soon blow across the racecourse. “The winds could reach hurricane strength!” he deadpanned. Our crew was horrified, until we saw his smile. We were completely fooled.
The highlight of the trip was launching an 18-foot inflatable to take pictures of Stad in mid-ocean. It was blowing 30 and the waves were 15 feet high, so the footage was spectacular. Thirty-two years had passed since my last crossing but two things remained constant. The ocean is still a vast body of water, and the bonds a crew develops during the passage are as strong as ever.
Since 1993 I have been chairman of the Leukemia Cup Regatta Series. This year 8,000 sailors raised $3 million at 44 events, of which I attended 16. Collectively, since 1993, these regattas have now raised $18 million for cancer research. The sport of sailing should be proud of this accomplishment.
The skills of our college sailors always astound me. Working with the Inter-Collegiate Sailing Association, ESPN aired the team race and co-ed championships. The young sailors did not warm up easily to the cameras we put aboard, but I have a feeling that some day they will appreciate watching their precision on the water.
A few weeks later I showed some of the collegiate video clips during the U.S. Youth Championships. You could have heard a pin drop as the junior sailors marveled at the skills of their heroes. We should all work to inspire these talented sailors to represent the United States in future Olympic Games.
Barnegat Bay A Cats
Ten of these classic wooden designs from the 1920s race every Saturday on Barnegat Bay, N.J. I grew up sailing on the Bay and always admired these magnificent, sturdy 28-foot catboats. Over the past year I’ve co-authored a book on this class with Jersey shore sailing coach Roy Wilkins and had my first chance to skipper one in a regatta. We finished with a 2-5 and learned that Bay sailors compete with the same intensity as America’s Cup sailors.
Cruising Down East
Scheduling some quiet time on the water is as important as racing, and the coast of Maine is one of the best cruising grounds in the world. Part of my credo this year was to maximize the sailing and minimize the engine time aboard our Sabre 402 Whirlwind. My family and our friends reconnected during three trips totaling 24 days, and I was reminded how special it is to spend time on the water with people you care about most.
Craig Millard invited me to Newport, R.I., to sail on Courageous, our old America’s Cup 12-Meter, which has never looked better. It was fascinating to race with Craig’s amateur crew, whose enthusiasm reminded me of the energy Ted Turner and our team had aboard the boat during the America’s Cup trials and races. The fleet of nine 12-Meters racing that July weekend had collectively won seven America’s Cups (Columbia, Weatherly, Intrepid, Courageous, and Freedom). It made me wonder if the current America’s Cup class boats will be racing 30 years from now.
New York YC Cruise
My wife Janice and two of our daughters, Ashleigh and Brooke, sailed three races of the New York YC cruise in Maine in August. Two races were abandoned due to lack of wind, and we placed seventh of nine boats in the third. Maybe we were outgunned, but we had plenty of fun watching some of our rivals, including two classic Herreshoff designs, Ticonderoga and Rugosa. I had to laugh when NYYC PRO John Mendez became frustrated watching the crew of one leading boat trying to cross a finish line in no wind and foul current. After 15 minutes waiting, John took the finish line flag from the bow of the race committee boat and moved it aft to the stern. The boat crossed and received the gun. It was a nice touch.
Nantucket Sleigh Ride
Thirteen noted sailors were invited by the Nantucket YC and the Great Harbor YC to sail in a Pro/Am regatta as guest tacticians aboard a fleet of International One-Designs. The roster of sailors who competed for the benefit of the Nantucket Community Sailing program was impressive: Peter and JJ Isler, John Burnham, Chris Larson, Robbie Doyle, Jim and Julia Brady, Kevin Burnham, Jody Swanson, Dean Brenner, television commentator Chris Matthews (who had never raced before), and me.
Nantucket is a magical island with reliable winds, and amazingly, the whole fleet managed to stay within 2 minutes of each other at each finish. Our crew, skippered by Ian McNeice, ended up second to David Poor and Chris Larson. Not bad racing against those heavyweights.
Looking ahead to 2006, the 100th anniversary of the Newport-Bermuda Race will be the event of the year. I plan to sail in that race and to continue to savor every moment on the water. I hope you do, too.