She was one of the fittest, trimmest women among the 120 seniors gathered for the post-race luncheon on the lawn at the Card Sound Sailing Club. And she was one of the few women of any age who, an hour earlier, had been maneuvering one of 16 little keelboats into place on a crowded starting line. In either group, Lucille Dingley was also the oldest.
Meeting this remarkable individual and sailing in her 90th birthday regatta last winter was pure fun and left me feeling that staying involved in sports all your life really does keep you vital. The experience also underlined a basic principle of sailboat racing I learned as a teenager.
I grew up racing in a Bullseye, a 16-foot fiberglass boat built to lines drawn by Nathaniel Herreshoff. My Uncle Bill loaned me his boat for our club junior series, and I crewed for him on Saturdays. I liked skippering Sea Witch, but crewing was more exciting because we raced against sailors from 16 to 66. The oldest sailors in the fleet would often come out ahead, and I quickly came to respect their steady speed and knack for playing the tidal currents to their advantage.
I didnt realize it at the time, but I was being brainwashed. Ever since, Ive never questioned that sailboat racing would always provide me with an intellectual, physical, and competitive outdoor challenge. So to race with Mrs. Dingley and the rest of her Bullseye fleet merely offered proof of what Id known all along.
Card Sound SC is part of Key Largos Ocean Reef Club–a unique, extraordinarily attractive resort community set in a wildlife preserve at the eastern end of the Florida Keys. Private homes, condos, and several hotels overlook beaches, a marina, quiet canals, and three beautiful golf courses. Having migrated to this beautiful spot, a group of racers has created a simple, inexpensive way to race: Ocean Reef members who buy a Bullseye can join the sailing club and annually enjoy four cookouts, 16 cocktail parties, and 16 races for only $175. Theres no clubhouse, but when its 85 degrees in February, who needs more than a nice lawn, a plate of sandwiches, and a cooler full of drinks?
On the racecourse the competitive spirit displayed was anything but retiring. I crewed for George Fenner, a past commodore. His co-skipper, current commodore Bob Holtzman, crewed for Lucille in this event, making room for me. We led the way around the course in the opening race, but after one untimely tack I suggested in the second, half a dozen boats zipped by us for good. Another past commodore, Jim Leenhouts, won the two-race regatta, which seemed fitting since he wrote this issues feature profile on Lucille.
The skipper of honor didnt lead the fleet, nor has she in recent years, but she wasnt last, and she kept a steady hand on the helm for two long, light-air races. Even after a couple more hours spent under the luncheons mid-day sun, Lucille was among the last to leave the party. As she got ready to go, I said goodbye and, feeling a little overexposed myself, asked, “Are you ready to get out of the sun?”
“No,” she replied. “Im going to play a round of golf.”