Racing Cancelled

All is not lost when racing is called off.

FJ Ritt
FJ Ritt leads a rules discussion after the day’s races are cancelled.Dave Reed

“That blows.”

These are the first and only words I utter as I sit idling at the stoplight at the three-way intersection of Route 138 and Jeppson Lane, waiting for the light to turn green. “No racing today,” the e-mail’s subject line reads. The grill of my beater Volkswagen Jetta faces south, and no sooner do the words leave my lips does a throaty gust from the southwest rattle the little tin car and pelt the windshield with dust from a vast tree nursery across the street.

Yeah, so maybe 30 knots is a bit much for frostbite racing in 20-year-old Turnabouts.

I had a feeling the cancellation was coming before I blitzed from my house 10 minutes earlier. Sure, I could have stayed home, pacing and waiting for the inevitable notice, but over the years I’ve learned the importance of establishing a routine when it comes to sailboat racing, and sticking to it.

For me, that means packing my gear the night before: all of which fits nicely into a sample Yeti Camino Carry-All bag that just so happens to nicely fit my yellow and purple Kokatat Drysuit, my red and tattered Spinlock buoyancy vest, a pair of black fleece pants, wool socks, a long-sleeved Capilene shirt, safety-orange lined rubber work gloves from Ace Hardware, a Ronstan ClearStart Watch, and a full water bottle (room temperature, never cold).

The morning of, I launch Windy, the best weather app ever created, and go straight to the model comparisons to see what the trend will be. Green good. Red bad. Breakfast, hugs and kisses, and out the door I dash at 11 a.m.—sharp. Don’t get in my way. And, honey, don’t ask me to open the chicken coop or take out the trash. I can’t. I won’t. I’ll be late.

On this particular Sunday, all weather models agree 30 knots will eventually become 15 to 20 as a thick cloud deck gives way to sunshine. I have a hunch the race committee will cancel on account of the 20:20 rule, but it’s already absurdly warm for January 12, and temperatures are forecast to hit the magical mid-50s. Given all the Sunday morning joggers I pass along the way, it’s going to be a banner day.

So I drive, ever hopeful, to the club. Please don’t cancel. Please don’t cancel…please don’t cancel.

Ding! Dang! There’s the email, bearing bad news. No racing, but there will be a rules seminar of sorts, on account of all the bumps and near misses of the opening New Year’s Day races. FJ Ritt, the class champion, will lead the discussion. Everyone could use a brush up on the rules, myself included, so…so be it. It’s a classroom and camaraderie day. Besides, Winkle Kelley will kick off the everyone-brings-a-dish schedule with her chili and chips. And the club bartender will be serving, eventually.

Among a few of the faces I recognize from the first week of racing, there are few new ones, so the cancellation gives me a chance to meet some other regulars of this frostbite fleet, which has been active since the early 1950s. Among them is Bob Morton, a guy well known and respected around the club. He’s had a string of famous big boats, and I’m later told he’s a wily one the racecourse and to never, ever, underestimate him. There’s decades of wisdom and experience in his neatly trimmed white beard, ruddy cheeks, and twinkle of a smile.

I also meet Rick Nebiolo, another effervescent and white bearded fellow (I wonder, should I grow a winter beard?) who won Newport YC’s frostbite series in 2014, 2016 and 2017. He’s an A fleeter for sure, and I resolve to pick his brain later.

But for now, Ritt erects an easel, mounts a dry erase board, and cracks open a new box of colored markers and magnetic sailboats. First order of business: Rule 18. That’s the one about boats getting around marks without hitting each other, which apparently wasn’t happening on the opening day. After about an hour and a dozen different possible scenarios: the point is made: late port-tack approach is not recommended. But wait! What about starboard roundings (which we had)? It’s a bit more complicated and unnecessarily convoluted, but I think everyone, in the end, got the gist from Ritt: “Don’t be a tool.”

As we dissect the particulars of Rule 18 and Same Tack, Overlapped, the breeze does in fact fade to a lovely 15 to 20-knot southerly, right on forecast, at 1:30. From behind the large windows looking south, I can see Laser Fleet 413, a distant sea of white triangles rocking to-and-fro as they zoom down a square run under warm January sun. Like a kid stuck in calculus class, I pined to be outdoors, but hey, this school is in session, the crockpot is nearly empty, and the bar upstairs is abuzz. The racing window has long closed, but the camaraderie can continue over pints.

I do try my best to get some Turnabout tips from Nebiolo. Instead, I learn he was groomed long ago at the University of Rhode Island with the likes of greats Moose McClintock, Ed Adams and Skip Whyte; a fast generation, indeed. He’s elusive with go-fast advice, and pretty much tells me outright with a chuckle, “I’ve learned over the years to not divulge too much.”

I’ll have to figure it out myself next week. If it doesn’t blow.