Junior sailors, Sour Apple Straws, and Frosted Animal Crackers at the NOOD

For anyone who has ever wondered how many teenagers it takes to even come close to the 790 pound weight limit in a Melges 24, the answer is five, plus a kid-sized Sailing World editor. In 18 to 20 knots of breeze with five-foot swells, throw in a six-foot tall, 180 pounder to trim the chute, and we’re all set. That’s just the way it happened the morning of the second day: Junior Doublehanded champ Mikee Anderson-Mitterling, his sister, Tinja, Adrienne Patterson, Graham Biehl, and I realized we needed yet another body to enhance the performance of our five in a boat that’s typically sailed with a crew of four, or even three. That’s when 17 year old International-14 sailor Ryan Lawrence, whose ride on an I-14 had fizzled out earlier, asked if we knew someone who needed an extra person. Ryan took to his job of trimming the chute in the endless swells and puffs of up to 22 knots with great enthusiasm.
Tacking is possible with six people on the rail. By Sunday, we were executing very smooth tacks, but that didn’t happen before Graham and I, the only two with nothing to cover our knees somehow wound up sitting side by side and managed to get tangled up in the bottom of the boat enough times to take on some impressive battle scars. Or maybe I should call them “gnarley.”
I miss the word “gnarley.” I remember it as an expression of satiric disgust from the good old eighties that I was sadly made to purge from my vocabulary while studying for the SATs. So I was more than happy to know that the expression is alive and well in California when Adrienne pointed out a not-so-helpful shift on the first day. Watch out, Rhode Islanders, I plan to start a gnarley renaissance in a neighborhood near you. When it comes to spinnakers, a conventional chute is a gnarly one now that I’ve sailed a Melges 24.
All it takes is an asymetric chute and some sharp sailors to make mark roundings, jibes, and take-downs smoother than imaginable. The sailability of the Melges purifies a crew’s performance, ridding it of the mishaps that commonly occur with the conventional chute, rightfully leaving boatspeed as the main factor in determining the outcome of the regatta. So while this crew had never sailed a Melges, it was easy to prove that they sure can sail.
During one windward mark-rounding, I reached a hand out to help Tinja tackle the tacking line, pole, spinnaker, and jib-rolling line. My hand was useless in the face of this 15 year-old’s boundless energy: the chute went up and the lines fell into place with the swiftest execution that I’ve only ever seen a college or junior dinghy sailor achieve.
“Are you overweight?” Nearly every boat in contention with us asked the question on Saturday, when the windspeed reached its peak. As a pinner who regularly sails with the heavier skippers, not even I could imagine how so many people could weigh so little. But we weighed just 780. As I watched other boats death roll, break masts, and collide as a result of the high winds, there was no other crew with whom I’d rather be sailing other than this group of teenagers. On Sunday I was prouder yet when we finished second in the last race, our highest finish yet. We finished fourth overall, and our races got progressively better each time. Beyond witnessing their well-schooled sailing abilities and competence in the high winds and heavy seas, where else could I eat Sour Apple Straws and Frosted Animal Crackers while bringing back my favorite expressions.