Boating season is approaching. My son and his friends have races off the dock at our house on the Lake. My husband has the committee boat, with Sherri as able crew to hold flags and signal those at the start, and toot horns at the finish. I watch from the window by my sewing machine. Not much sewing gets done when the races are close. I grab my binoculars and read the sail numbers to see who is ahead. Bill used to be sail #1040 and a neighbor in the tax business told me they rooted for 1040. Now Bill has red numbers and they assure me they and cheering for Big Red.
When the races end, the boats return to our dock. The crew usually run for the bathroom, (head,) while the skippers review every move in the race and every gust of wind. Slowly the boats are pulled up on the dock and battened down for the week and skippers and crew gather on our deck to resume blow by blow reruns of the races.
It has been a family event from the start with kids joining their parents as crew, wives with younger kids enjoying a swim or sitting on the grass to watch.
Two of the sail boats arrived on the dock this week. The committee boat is our own wooden motor boat we bought as soon as we settled on lake front property. We took the Otter to be varnished this week and will take it for a motor check and will launch it soon. Then we will get our sailboat and put that in the water.
Slowly the rest of the boats will arrive and the races will begin. We call ourselves the OtterLanding Yacht club… it is really just our dock and sailing friends. We have reached our limit on what the dock will hold. As the interest in the races continue, we are not sure where other boats will dock. I do know we are a popular event to watch on Thursday nights and some weekends. Real estate ads for lake houses have shown the view of our boats racing on the lake.
I grew up sailing. We sailed Cotuit skiffs on Cape Cod. It is the only place they are raced and they have been there since my Grandfather’s day. In fact, some of the same boats still sailing were the same boats raced by my dad and friends. I say I grew up sailing but that is not entirely true. I crewed… for anyone who would take on crew in the heavy winds.
After my husband and I were married, we bought a boat before we bought a car. We needed the car to get the boat and raced it on the Potomac in Wash DC. When we moved west, we bought a sail boat to cruise in the ocean off the coast of Washington, and to race on weekends. Our son was crewing for his dad from an early age.
When we moved to Florida, we raced a Day Sailer off of Longboat Key. Our retirement on the Cape meant changing to a Rhodes 19, racing off of Osterville. I crewed until my muscles gave up on me and I just watched from my sewing machine which is always by a window view. So it was natural for us to have a boat, and for my son, Bill, and the rest to take up racing when we returned to Bellingham.
You Wonder Why—-Oct. 17, 1949 Upper III
The cold, salt water breezes blow against your damp face. The salt spray is blown up against you on one side, and you shiver with the cold. The skipper calls, “Ready about, Hard-a-lee,” and you wonder why you ever consented to come along. You wonder why they had a race today anyway. The wind was too high for any sailing! The skipper yells, “Grab the sheet and lean.” You do as commanded, but you wonder why the skipper didn’t didn’t ask for another crew. One was not enough. You wonder … but you haven’t time for that.
You’re rounding the buoy for the last time. The skipper pushes the tiller away from him, and the boat begins to turn. “Grab the center board, Quick!” he yells and you hold the sheet and your balance while grabbing at the center board rope. As you pull up the board you hear other skippers swearing and calling similar commands to their crew. You hear a smash and more swearing. One boat has fouled but that isn’t your concern. You’re watching all the boats around you to see that you don’t do the same.
There are two boats ahead of you. You watch them closely as inch by inch you make headway. Your bow crosses one now. It’s your job to tell your skipper what the other boat is doing. If he tacks, you tack. The skipper grits his teeth and you grit yours. Again you hold the sheet and hope for the best, the rope cutting your hands and the water blowing against you. You look behind, just for a moment, and the other boat tacks gracefully and tips, but it tips too far and you see the wet skipper and crew going about their job of rescuing floating articles and pulling down the sail. That’s one worry off your mind, but you wonder if it was your fault. You want to say you are sorry but you must watch ahead. There’s still one boat looming on your bow. One boat to gain on.
You are nearing the finish line. You see the committee boat moored off the pier ready to honk the first boat over the finish line. You have gained headway, and all it takes now is brains, the knowledge of what to do to gain those few inches to first place.
Suddenly a puff of wind comes as if answering an unspoken prayer. You lean and hang on at the skipper’s command. This was unexpected. What will the skipper do? As you straighten up again, you peek under the sail to see the other boat. They are having trouble.. halyards loose? center board?. You cannot stop to help them. You can’t take the time to notice the trouble. Then, you’ve crossed the finish line and the horn blows your arrival over the final point of the race. You have come in first.
The skipper eases up now, and you begin to notice, once again, the cold breeze whipping across your face. You turn to see the oncoming fleet and the boat in trouble, but no more. The skipper takes the sheet from your sore hands. Not a word is said. You begin to hear the voices on the beach cheering you as you approach the shore. You hit bottom with a lurch and you get out onto the solid beach, wet, shivering, and teeth chattering. You feel the slap of your skipper’s hand on your shoulder as he thanks you and tells you what a good job you did, apologizing for the rough language. You see the Commodore come up to shake hands with your skipper and a feeling of pride for him swells up inside you. Then you sit on the beach to watch the rest of the fleet cross the finish line.
You are cold still, but you no longer wonder why: you know why you went along, in spite of the wind. It wasn’t the winning. You know you love to sail, and you love the excitement of the races. Why? You don’t know. It’s just because you do.