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Catitude

It seemed like a good idea at the time. I missed racing, so
when I found out that a Prindle 19 was up for sale, I was thrilled. This was a
race boat that I could afford! So what if I had never raced a beach-cat? I’d
raced a variety of sailboats – I could learn.

Next, I needed a
racing partner. I hadn’t known Louri Lynn for long, but we got along well and I
knew she sailed … I thought she might be interested. When I asked her if she
wanted to race with me, she enthusiastically said, “Yes!”

Prindle-handling
lessons came with the boat – the first was rigging the boat, and we practiced
every evening. By the second night, we had drawn a happy-hour audience. This
“peanut gallery” included a couple of beach-cat sailors who offered helpful
advice – occasionally.

Before our first
practice, Louri Lynn mentioned that she didn’t know how to sail. I was
speechless while she explained that she had been on a beach-cat … once.
Thinking back, I realized that I hadn’t asked if she knew how to sail, only if
she wanted to race. She was eager and we were compatible … Teaming up seemed
like a good idea at the time.

Our first sail
went well, even though I almost capsized the boat. We had beautiful weather during
our practice sails; Louri Lynn and I quickly gained the confidence we needed to
sail on our own.

Gusty wind did not
dampen our excitement the morning of our first team-only practice. After we
rigged the boat, I walked down to the beach to take a look at the bay.

Louri Lynn joined
me, “Are you figuring out how we’ll dodge the moored boats and get to open
water?”

“No,” I replied.
“I’m wondering if we’ll be able to get off the beach.”

She laughed … then
realized I wasn’t kidding. Conditions were rough, but we were eager and the
boat was rigged, so we decided to go for it. It seemed like a good idea at the
time.

We rolled Catitude down the beach and tried to
drag her through the surf. Refusing help, we said that if we couldn’t launch Catitude ourselves, we had no business
sailing her …prophetic words, as it turned out.

After 30 minutes
of struggling with 400 pounds of boat, we were whipped. We dragged Catitude above the surf and staggered
into the club for a break. Five minutes later, a squall hit. We couldn’t see Catitude even though she was barely
fifty feet away.

“Maybe we should
forget sailing today,” Louri Lynn suggested.

“Good idea,” I
replied. We had been so determined to get out on our own that we had ignored
the deteriorating weather. Luckily, we’d gotten away with being stupid. One
lesson learned – several more to go.

The conditions
that day set a precedent for all the beach-cat sailing that Louri Lynn and I
would do. Whenever we practiced, the weather ranged from miserable to horrible.
We became skilled at survival sailing while making all sorts of mistakes – some
of which were scary.

On the morning of
our first race we were unconcerned about moderately lousy conditions. As we
sailed, Catitude‘s helm felt
increasingly sluggish; we could barely tack. The problem – whatever it was –
worsened, so we headed in. It was difficult to pull Catitude above the surf line – she was really heavy! Once beached,
water poured out of the hull’s drain holes. Catitude
had been sinking! Lesson two – make a launch checklist … Item one: “Insert
plugs!!”

Undaunted, we
practiced in awful weather; when Louri Lynn trapped out, waves would slam her
across the boat. A sail to BVI, normally an easy reach, turned into an
exhausting three-hour slog to weather. We read books and picked the brains of
experienced beach-cat sailors. Ours was a mighty ambition – to compete in the
Rolex Regatta. We had three months to prepare.

Each person brings
a different ambition to a race team. My goal was to survive the 3-day Rolex
with minimal injuries. Louri Lynn’s goal was to avoid coming in DFL. Although
we were not ready for a major regatta, the weather was deteriorating, and I was
coming down with the flu, we entered the Rolex. It seemed like a good idea …

Day 1: We took forever to sail to the race
course, so started way behind our class. When we finally returned to the yacht
club, the only people left on the beach were our family and friends. Their
welcome made us feel like heroes, even though they were cheering because we
were still alive, not because we had raced particularly well.

Day 2: Our
survival-sailing experience enabled us to stay upright through dense rain and
gusting wind, though we had helm trouble. All seemed well … then Catitude lurched violently during a
gybe. Regaining my balance, I turned see what happened – Louri Lynn was gone!
Her trapeze line had broken, dumping her overboard. Once she was back onboard,
we discovered that our steering system was badly damaged; we could not continue
racing.

Day 3: Catitude never left the beach; I was too
sick to sail. For us, the regatta was over. We hadn’t been injured, and Catitude had not been irreparably
damaged. At the Rolex awards banquet, we learned that we placed ahead of a
beach-cat team that had partied all weekend instead of racing – Catitude was not DFL. We had achieved
our team goals!

I’d like to report
that we improved and went on to race for the next several years – but I can’t.
Three months after Rolex, I stepped in a hole and wrecked my ankle. Three years
after surgery, I finally faced reality … I was never again going to race Catitude.

I hated to give
her up, but I couldn’t bear to watch her rot in dry-dock. Regretfully, I put
the word out – Catitude was for sale.
She was purchased by two women from St. John who, with Morgan Avery’s
expertise, turned her into a power cat. The boat now sports navy blue hulls and
is quite jaunty looking.

I am pleased that
my former boat is out on the water and being enjoyed, but I miss racing her.
All of the beach-cat sailors, most of whom were experienced racers, had
welcomed and supported our fledgling team. The camaraderie of that group, on
and off the race course, was second to none. Racing a beach-cat with Louri Lynn
had been a great idea.

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