I thought I had gotten over the boat racing thing this year. I had no commitments before the International Rolex Regatta, although I had cast my eyes on the message board. I wasn’t really looking for a ride you understand, just gathering a little extra information to share with the press people I work with. Well, there was a new 30 footer with a top-notch captain, and a nice 48 footer wanted a couple of people. But I can’t really bring the beef to the rail or a grinder, and I didn’t want the pressure of a top notch boat so I kept on walking.
My façade was working pretty well the first morning of the regatta, with one exception, my sailing kit and shoes somehow got in the truck with me. I usually get to the club before the parking is too bad, and my usual spot was open, so I parked, grabbed both my press and sailing goodies and strolled into opening day swirl. Most of my press people arrived in a timely manner, a bunch were going up in helicopters and were off my press boat radar for the morning. Everything was settling in nicely and the fresh urn of coffee was pretty darn good, I was eyeballing the rapidly emptying chairs around the club when the seductive whisper drifted past the edge of my hearing range.
“My crew is stuck in San Juan, is there anyone available to crew with us on a Melges 24?”
One of my friends brought the desperate skipper and me together for a quick pow-wow on the situation and my role. The boat was entered with a four-man crew, the minimum allowed for keelboats. The vital fourth had an airline schedule foul-up that left him arriving in St. Thomas at 10:30 a.m., too late for the first race. At this point, any “body” would do, the fact that I had sailed a Melges a few years back was icing on the cake for the team.
So I was signed up and the skipper ran off to join the boat and sail to the course. I would follow in a press or rescue boat of some sort and join them before the first start. This plan had worked for me in the past, and I felt excited as I emerged from the porti-potty in my sailing costume. Cell phones have really put a dent in the choice of changing rooms. Then I got the last of my press folks briefed, and looked down the dock and realized all my possible rides had left.
I quickly jumped into one of the 10-foot dinghies running racers out to the boats and looked around for a way to get out to the course. We spotted a mark boat heading out and I jumped dinghy. A few minutes of conversation confirmed that the trusty mark boat was heading directly and unalterably to the wrong course. Luckily for me the Melges guys were monitoring their VHF. They sailed back towards shore, picked me up, and we were off to the races.
Or race in my case. For practice we got in a chute launch and drop, followed by a few tacks before the start sequences got going. I helped keep most of the sails out of the water, and wind was about 12 knots, not death or even control defying conditions. Unfortunately, light winds combined with increasing chop are not peak Melges sailing conditions either. Our sister ship was holed at the start so we could not tell if all the Melges would be slow in the conditions or if the pick up crew was slowing the boat down.
They got rid of the pick up crew. The delayed crewmember got a ride out to the course between the first and second race, and I headed back to the club. The question quickly came, what happened, why are you back? I accidentally blurted out the truth, “We sucked and they threw me off the boat”. No, what really happened? I answered with the same line, however including the fact that the regular crew had showed up. The boat never placed as poorly as that first race the remainder of the regatta. I attribute this to the improving conditions.
The following morning, I was ready to relax. I had talked with a high school classmate of mine, unseen for some 25 years and made some vague chat about joining them for the racing down to town and back. They, at least, were not depending on me to make them legal to race, and had finishing the race as primary objective. This time I got a ride out to the course in a great Protector RIB photo boat, and was ready to sail or watch, which ever way the cards fell.
We found the race boat and I was on board for another racing adventure. This time I was aboard a 35-footer, sailing in the non-spinnaker class, so I didn’t have sails to drop in the water. In fact, we didn’t even have any other sails than the ones flying, so changes were out of the question.
A good start and we were off on the downwind leg to the harbor. We seemed to be holding our own on the downwind, but a small tear appeared about 8 feet up the leech of the jib. We only had about four tacks on the short upwind leg before a reach to the harbor. The crew was attempting a repair, but a sudden lurch, and some extra stress, and we had a rip from leech to luff. We retired, cranked up the engine, and beat the rush back to the club.
My first two results were not going to get me any calls from a pro team.
Last day of the regatta, I don’t even bring my shoes or kit. My gloves and long sleeves are drying in the truck. The wind has lightened up a bit, but still good enough to keep the boats moving. Most of the crews have left the beach and all my press people are off the dock. I’m free to put my feet up and enjoy that cup of coffee.
“Wanna go catamaran racing?” is shouted up from the beach.
What, is someone kidding me? I last raced a cat in the early 90’s, fun but pretty strenuous. But the wind did look pretty light.
“Hey, why not?” was my answer, “I can go barefoot, right?”
Now all I needed was a life preserver, (a life preserver, what am I getting myself into?) and a quick fit into my trapeze harness. I was briefed on the trip out to the start line. I was able to get out on the wire and back in without too much trouble. We got off to a good start and enjoyed a nice windward leg. The light wind slowed down the usually lightening fast cats. This was good for me as mistakes did not cause any crash and burn action, but bad for the cats in general as the committee had laid out a long course expecting us to cover the ground quickly. The light wind did not favor our relatively heavy crew either. I spent a lot of downwind time lying low and forward. Good thing I surf because it felt like I was paddling out on a long board. Relaxing time on what I expected to be an intense ride.
The course was looking really long for us until the last downwind mark sprouted a committee boat and finish line. Some of the smaller cats caught a tow in, but we enjoyed the last of the beautiful afternoon and sailed back to the party.
This was supposed to be my fastest day on the water and ended up being my longest. There was still plenty of party action going on at the beach, and thankfully they had not closed the kitchen. I had gotten too used to coming home for lunch, and we only stocked water on the cat.
Three days of the International Rolex Regatta, three different boats and three different classes, but I was able to consistently work my host boats into the bottom half of the results.
The moral of this story, there is always a ride if you are ready; just don’t expect to get a Rolex at the party, oh and maybe practice really does help your performance.
Special thanks to Guy Eldridge and the crew of Mistress Quickly, Jack Keniley Jr. and Sr. and the crew of Nikki, and Davis Murray and Team WOW. All winners in the desperate captains trolling the beach contest.