Monday, December 15, 2008

Leukemia Cup Glory and School Girl Giggles

At our staff meetings, we've been encouraging our staff to contribute something to the blog, to explore other perspectives of sailing beyond new products. Well, that and Rob, James and I aren't nearly creative enough to write something new every day.

A gold star goes to one of APS' website and catalog production guys, Mike Carter, for actually paying attention in one of the meetings and putting something together.


Why We Sail

We are all guilty of it at some point in our sailing careers -- we get so wrapped up in the finding that right boat, the right race, the right crew, the right wind, the right race committee, and so on, that we lose track of why we are actually out on the water... to have fun! We are so focused on complaining about that bad start, bad RC call, some other boat’s foul, or some crew member’s mistake that we find ourselves going from regatta to regatta filled with negative energy and simply going through the motions. It is usually at this point that we say to ourselves, “Why am I doing this again?”

But, every now and then, the right thing does happen. The planets do line up, the wind sets in, the perfect crew is aboard, the RC sets up a good course and we have the sail of our lives! Sometimes that has nothing to do with the results, and other times you get that bullet as the whipped cream on top of that perfect sailing sundae. Either way, you have that day on the water that puts everything in perspective, reminds you why you sail, and why you love racing! It is simply... why we sail!

For me, that day was October 25th, 2008 racing in the Baltimore Harbor Leukemia Cup. Not a major regatta, certainly no KWRW or Block Island, but this race will go down in the annals of Bay lore as one of those epic days of Chesapeake sailing. There was the requisite carnage, with several boats losing rigs, blowing out sails, and all that one would expect in such conditions. The forecast was calling for sustained winds of 15-20 knots out of the SE, and the weather did not fail to make good on and exceed our expectations. As we motored out to the Baltimore Lighthouse for the rendezvous on the brand new BC27 Problem Child, it was chilly and windy with the promised 20 knots blowing in, as called for from the SE. I was of course decked out in all my APS purchased gear…best of all being my Gill Extreme Gloves and Rocky Gore-Tex Socks. So, my hands and feet stayed warm and dry, even in that severe weather. We had a fantastic crew aboard and everyone was excited to see how evil genius Brian Jones’ newest creation would handle the big breeze. Problem Child had only recently made her debut at Annapolis Race Week, handily winning the regatta with 5 bullets and a 2nd against a very talented fleet of racers. Since Brian built her to race on the Chesapeake and to handle all that the Bay could muster, the pressure was on to prove that what she did so well in the light breeze would carry over to the big breeze and heavy chop as well. This was only her second regatta.

No one, including Brian was sure exactly how she would go. As we lined up for the sequence and began making our moves, the breeze kept building and building. We decided to be conservative, given the conditions and managed a respectable place on the line and a good start. But, as it turned out that was of little consequence, for as soon as we got her dialed in, off we went like a bat out of hell. It became obvious right away that it was not a matter of if we would lead the pack, but when. And we did not have to wait long, because by the time we had rounded the second mark we were solidly in the lead of our class, and soon after that we were ahead of all of the fleets, even those bigger and faster boats that started ahead of us. We kept looking around at one another wondering if this was really happening, but it was. We were flying! I was sitting about as far to stern as I could, and was calling the pressure as well as I could given the slop that was behind us and the then constant 25 knots of breeze. Calling puffs in those conditions was like picking out a mosquito in a swarm of gnats. But, with each call of “PUFF ON” we would get up and go even faster. And on it went for most of the remainder of the race…As we turned into the Patapsco River to make our final run into Baltimore, the wind had built to nearly 30 knots, with puffs considerably higher. It was around this point that I and the rest of the crew had our “WOW, this is why we frickin’ race!” moment.

We had quickly caught back up to the single A0 boat that had waterlined us on the previous “upwind” leg, and put her easily behind us. And there she stayed! As the wind continued to build over to 30 knots, our competition faded out of sight, and there we were all alone in first without even a glimpse of another boat off of our stern. As each new huge puff came in, we felt Problem Child grab and harness the breeze as we surged faster and faster, eventually topping out at just over 18 knots. I’m not ashamed to admit that at several points during this experience, I was downright scared. And judging by the looks on the rest of the crews faces, so were they! These were all very experienced big boat racers with blue water experience, and in some cases had been sailing at the highest levels of our sport. But, a funny thing happened as we were peaking out at max speed….someone started to giggle. Not a laugh mind you, but a silly, child-like giggle. The kind of giggle you once let out when you were sledding down that huge hill as a kid. Apparently, it was contagious. Because in seconds, everyone was giggling like school girls, and with that all our fear abated. As I looked around at the crew, we were all ear to ear smiles as we ripped along at 18 knots, slicing through or sailing off of waves, dodging tugs, barges, and clueless powerboats. And none of that mattered, or perhaps all of that mattered, as we were simply enjoying the very essence of sailing, harnessing our primal fear and excelling at something we all loved to do…sail. Yes, we did win the regatta, finishing an uncorrected 7 minutes ahead of the next boat across the line, but that was just the icing on the cake. And, yes there were a few mishaps and damage during the final leg, but they will forever just add to the legend and improve upon the endless retelling of the tale in sailor bars and regatta tents around the world, as such events always do...

As for me, I couldn’t wait to get out and sail again. I had once again become enamored with racing, and less concerned with the silly details that had before preoccupied my sailing mind. That day for me, defined why we sail!

1 comment:

  1. nice write up Mike. And I'm still smiling! What a ride!

    John

    ReplyDelete