This was it–the final day of the 2001 Shields Nationals and a shade more southwest breeze than the previous two days, maybe 14-15 knots at about 235 degrees. Anthony Kotoun/Jerome Jordan (#57) and Bill Shore (#224)were essentially tied counting a throwout, and our #107 team held third, a few points astern. Our mantra was “Sail fast, sail well, sail clean,” which essentially meant to focus on our own boat and try to avoid screwing up. This we managed to do, getting a good start and extending to the left, then taking a long port tack all the way back to the right side of the course. At the first weather mark, after ducking two boats, we rounded not far behind the leaders.
Just ahead of us, however, Bill Shore had tried to tack on the leebow of #226 (Chuck Allen/Pete Denton) and fouled them, and we sailed by while he was doing circles. Later in the race, Bill hit the leeward mark and did another turn to finish 7th. We moved up into third place behind #226 and #57 and held that position to the finish. When we counted places, we found wed moved into second place, 4 points behind #57 and a point ahead of Shore. Behind us, however, with their third straight win, Allen/Denton had moved within 4 points of us by dropping their disastrous opening race result (a withdrawal after clipping the committee boat with their boom at the finish), so it was still a horse race.
The breeze eased up a knot or so for the last race–and actually fell to 10 knots or less for part of the second beat. We had a fair start and were forced by #222 Bill Doyle/Jed Pearson after a couple of minutes to tack right, but we found a lane and concentrated on our speed and managed to stay in contact with the front-row boats. Bill Shore redeemed himself, launching into a big lead on the left side and never looking back. At the first mark we were about eighth, with #57 and #226 also several places ahead of us.
As had been the case all regatta, Kotoun steered beautifully downwind, working the waves and gaining on #226. We jibed soon after setting and made a big move to the west, which picked us up a few boats to round about fifth. On the next beat we headed left and found better pressure, passing #57 and ducking #226 as they came out of the right side on starboard in second place. But on our approach to the mark we overstood, letting Kotoun/Jordon and George Petrides/Reggie Wilcoxs #61 slip inside of us at the mark. Downwind we were fast again, however, passing #61. With Shore in first and Kotoun/Jordan four or five lengths ahead, the former had second place sewn up and the latter would be the new national champion if they avoided error or breakdown (which they did). Our job, then, was to keep #61 behind us so, at most, wed only have #57 between us and #226. When RC chair Robin Wallace signaled a change of course for the last leg with only a .75-mile beat, our job became easier. Still, we had some anxious moments, as Wilcox was driving the blue #61 upwind like a bandit; but we kept them astern and celebrated our fourth-place finish for the race as if wed been given the gun.
To say we were happy with our third would be an understatement. My college racing buddy Reed Baer and I bought Grace a year ago and have been on a steep learning curve ever since, starting with a nice rehab job at MMR Associates (in Middletown, R.I.) where we had the hull and bottom partially faired, hull/deck joint re-glassed, new toerails, coamings, and deck hardware installed, and most surfaces repainted. As for sailing the boat, we werent brand new to Shields sailing; Id crewed for several talented skippers including Matt Buechner, Jim Estes, and Charlie Levy, and together Reed and I had crewed last season for Nicole Alio. They were all really helpful to us, especially Matt, who crewed for us this year, and Charlie, who came along to help us win a Wednesday race earlier in the summer and who has relentlessly drilled into me the values of mid-line starts, great boatspeed, and attention to detail in boat preparation.
Id love to take credit for the solid speed we had during this regatta, but the truth is Im a little lazy on remembering all the details sometimes, and its been Reed who absorbed and kept us both focused on processing all of the trim and tuning knowledge we could accumulate. When we were working our way quickly up those long beats, it was Reed who took the lead in figuring out how to trim the sails while I steered. When I add to that the fact that Reeds taken the lead in pushing our boat and our team to a high standard since we started out, I have to admit that it was only through true partnership and a bit of good fortune that we found ourselves in the hunt in this regatta. It may also help that Reed was ordained a few years ago and has friends in high places. I know it helped as we shot the weather mark in one race and crept past it to the sound of the minister praying, “Please, please, please….!”
Besides giving full credit to Reed, Id like to acknowledge Matt for getting us great line sights, coaching me on speed and point upwind, and trimming the chute downwind. I looked around far less while driving during this event than any in my 30 years or so of racing, and it paid off. As did having the same steady team aboard that weve raced with all summer. First of all, nobody yells (well, except the minister occasionally) and everybodys egos seem to be in check. We have fun laughing about how we sail with a dancer, a preacher, a glass blower,a dentist, and an editor. In fact, my wife Rachel, Reed, Matt, and Dr. Peter Schott each bring extra-professional talents to the racecourse. Peter does the foredeck, as he did with Charlie Levy for several years, and called every wave we were about to hit for three days running. He even held off on the jokes hes so well known for and, in the last race, bled rather profusely for the cause after I surprised him with a sudden tack. Rachel untiringly called the puffs and the compass, handled halyards and twings, and–during the racing on Thursday–graciously celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary with me (and the three other guys). (The fact wed scheduled a formal celebration for later seemed even smarter when the Middletown, R.I., teachers went on strike that day, which would otherwise have been the first day of school for our three girls.)
Finally, Id like to thank all of our competitors. Many of them freely gave us advice during the season and even during the regatta–Chuck Allen, Bill Shore, and Anthony Kotoun among them. Getting to know each other, having a good time on the water, and passing on what you think youve learned is what its all about. This seasons not over yet, but Reed and I are already looking forward to the next.