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Try and Stay IN the Boat

You should do it. 

Dangerous words that could mean one of two things:  you have been presented with a challenge or you are about to be talked into something.  Either way, it can be a tricky predicament.  Do you rise to the challenge or do you feel comfortable knowing your own limitations—whether it’s time or ability—and bow out gracefully? 

Of course, when this proposition is made by your husband, with whom you have sailed and raced for over 15 years, there is an entirely different dynamic. 

Come on, you’ve helmed plenty of races. It will be fun.

And it did sound fun.  The Third Annual St. Thomas Radiology Women’s Regatta in 420s—a full weekend of racing, meeting new sailing friends and some good parties.  But as tempting as it sounded, the simple reality was I had very little dinghy sailing experience.  In fact, I may have had braces on my teeth the last time I really sailed a small boat.  And despite reassurances from other competitors that this was a fun and relaxed event, I have a pretty good idea what happens when women compete.  Twelve years at a private girl’s school—and few things were not a competition.

Come on Mum, you can do it.

Another vote of confidence and a couple of glasses of wine later, I acquire the determination of an Olympic-class sailor, temporarily ignore any practical reasons not to enter, and sign up. 

With a handful of practice sails under my belt, the weekend of the regatta arrived.  My enthusiastic crew, Tara, was brand new to racing but was keen and ready to sail her first race. The weekend started off with perfect conditions—a pleasant breeze, clear skies and a good breakfast. There were eight teams of women ranging in age and experiences. The youngest team was braving their first regatta while one of the other younger girls tried her hand at skippering for the first time.  There were also some accomplished sailors in the group.  And despite these differences in ages, experience and capabilities, there was some very tight racing during many of the races.  Of course, there were a couple of exceptions. 

Tara and I sailed around the start line area throwing in a few tacks and getting ready for the first race. Everything seemed in working order and ready to go. However, just as the race start sequence began, we demonstrated a whole new meaning to the concept of “roll gybe” that saw me slip quietly right out of the boat.  By all accounts, I held the tiller firm until the very end.

Horn blows. Three minutes to start. 

Intently focused on sail trim, Tara only became aware of that she was skipperless when her husband, who was watching from a nearby inflatable, yelled “Tara, take the helm!”  With absolutely no desire to accept this new responsibility, Tara focused all energies, both verbally and physically, getting me back on the boat. According to bemused spectators (and believe me, there were many) the two of us respectively demonstrated some remarkable swimming speed and lifting strength. 

Thirty seconds.

Despite rattled nerves, we got the boat across the start line.  Unfortunately, instead of focusing on racing, I spent most of this first race swearing like a truck driver while replaying the scene of “the slippery skipper” in my mind.  By the end of the race—we had a good laugh. 

Saturday was a full day of racing that allowed all the boats to demonstrate their skills over the day.  Boat rotations allowed us to also sit out for a couple of races and watch the starts, the tactics and the teamwork.  The younger girls demonstrated their full potential to be future sailing stars with some great teamwork and excellent boat handling. The more experienced women had great boat speed and consistently demonstrated tactical decisions that got them around the course faster and over the line ahead of us.

On Sunday morning, I headed off to St Thomas Yacht Club with departing advice from my six-year old sailing expert, “Try and stay in the boat today Mum.”  Sound advice that proved to be harder than it sounded. 

As luck would have it, Sunday’s racing presented more exciting learning opportunities, with winds of 15 to 20 knots.  We set the tone early by capsizing the boat before the very first race of the day.  I won’t even try to explain that one, but I will say that I was showing some consistency for how I was starting each day.  We continued with some modest improvements and, later in the day, did go on to post a pair of second place finishes.  It was a great day of sailing, and despite some mistakes, we persevered, saw the results of some good team work, and most importantly, laughed a lot. 

The regatta was a good event and an even better experience.  And you know what?  I’m looking forward to getting out to practice for next year’s event.

Plenty of practice.

Charlotte Wardell is a Canadian freelance writer and business owner in living in St, Thomas.

Results:  St. Thomas Radiology Women’s Regatta, November 8 – 9

First Place:  Verian Aguilar and Joyce Bailey
Second Place:  Cindy Hackstaff and Joyce McKenzie
Third Place: Diane Holmberg and Denise Holmberg

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