As seen in ThreeSheetsNW, and thank you Don Sarin.
One day in late April I received an email from Micah saying “wanna do Race to the Strait?” I’m not really a racer, but it was a free weekend.
“Sure, who are we going with?”.
“Just you and I”. At the time we were both in a sailing club that didn’t allow boats to enter races and neither of us owned a boat, so this was a very curious statement. I went online and discovered I had just agreed to a two day, doubled handed race, 5 days from now.
“Um, so how and on what boat?”.
“OK, so where is Don, and how do we have his boat?”.
“He’s loaning it to us”.
It is impossible to detect intonation via text, but this seemed a bit nonchalant for the situation. We had raced with Don a total of maybe twice each. I could raise a spinnaker (barely) and Micah could fly it (mostly), and this was going to be the two of us, in a borrowed boat, on a two day race. It seemed a bit ambitious, but I didn’t have anything else to do and it looked like a good challenge.
“Exactly how did THAT happen?” I said.
“I asked him”. Hmmm.
Zap is a dry dock boat and although Don’s wife’s birthday was that weekend, he graciously met us at the dock the morning of the race and helped us crane the boat into the water. I had been sailing inboard diesels with wheels for the most part and was pretty rusty on the tiller and outboard, but that turned out to be my job. Don was pretty stoic as I clumsily maneuvered his boat from the splash dock to the launching dock, narrowly avoiding running into another boat as I remembered how to use a tiller at a time of morning I wasn’t usually awake. This was not a great beginning and I felt sorry for him in advance.
We three rigged the spinnaker sheets (my mind saying ‘this is not a good idea’), and went over any particulars about the boat. Don waved us off the dock and looked calm while I was thinking of all the reasons this was a really bad plan. I wonder in retrospect if he was hoping for insurance money.
Fortunately, for this race each boat had it’s own starting time, so there wasn’t a crowded start line. Neither of us had any experience with helming in a start – we were strictly crew in previous races. We were heading north to Port Townsend and the wind was from the south on a beautiful May morning. This was going to happen.
Shortly after clearing the start I went forward to raise the spinnaker. I slowly and methodically went through what I remembered from a year before, a time when I still would not be considered fluent in ‘the kite’. It went up without a hassle which was a miracle in my mind and had only happened once or twice before. I was elated! Seconds after the fist bump I got a text from Don…”9 minutes”. It had taken us/me 9 minutes to raise the spinnaker from our start, and big brother was watching our turtle-like pace.
Still, we were feeling pretty stoked about getting off the start mark and raising the spinnaker without incident. Around that time, we realized that although I could put the kite up and take it down, and she could fly it, neither of us had EVER been at the helm during a race and neither knew how to drive to the kite. This was going to be an interesting day.
Fortunately the course was South to North, and so was the wind so we had a pretty simple job. We wobbled through learning how to steer with the spinnaker up, and how to take a bathroom break in a boat with no head while doing so. The “Little John” has a “Lady J” adapter, and there is always the “Go Girl”, and we learned how they worked.
When we got to the south end of Whidbey Island and had to jibe within a cluster of boats, we may have made up a sailing move that would not have been approved by any racing authorities, but were pretty happy with the results. It became “the move”. I can’t describe it now because I still don’t understand it, but was in all ways incorrect. We were at the back of the pack…no big surprise in a 27’ boat with two amateurs, but we were just happy to be there trying.
After rounding the mid point, we texted our time to the committee boat, but there were only a few of us left in sight when the wind died. After a while it was clear that there was no way we could make the final mark within the time limit, so we called in and said we were motor sailing, as did our fellow stragglers.
Don had two extra gas cans in the cabin for the outboard. We had thought we would be frugal and rough it by sleeping there with therma-rests and sleeping bags, but after a minor gasoline spill, the fumes made it was clear that wasn’t going to happen. Finally, almost 8 hours after the start, we approached the committee boat at Point Hudson…the last little ugly duckling. This wouldn’t be the first time we were last.
We whooped and laughed at our last status while crossing the finish line and telling the commodore via text that no one was behind us and they could go to the party. Simultaneously, the moment we dropped the mainsail, a gust of wind appeared, and the engine died. No longer able to stay in irons, the mainsail blew off in a heap to one side, and we began to be blown toward the breakwater. I ran to the cabin and grabbed a can as Micah opened the cap on the gas tank as if we had actually practiced the move. Within a minute, still with a sloppy mainsail and no steerage, the outboard was transfused and started, and we got our ducks in a row.
We turned to look at the committee boat, and our beloved commodore gave us the two thumbs up and a hearty cheer. Yes, we were the circus act in this race, but we did our best, and he was just happy we tried. Don’s boat was intact, and I texted him that we were safe. We checked into the hotel next to Boat Haven (the fast boats had filled Point Hudson Marina), walked to the party, drank our share of wine, returned, and slept the sleep of the dead.
The following morning we tried to get up, but already being disqualified was dampening our competitive spirit, as was the wine from the previous night. Looking out the hotel window and seeing all the boats sitting in dead wind with limp sails lifted our spirits and we had a hearty breakfast in the hotel dining room. So much for hard core. As we finally cast off our lines, many of those boats still lingered at Marrowstone Point an hour after we had first spotted them.
Although we knew we weren’t competitors, it was a gorgeous day, and the wind was now coming from the North, meaning another spinnaker day. It went up without a hitch again, another pinnacle for me. We actually caught and passed a few boats, and at one point found a current that let us go 9kts. We were giddy with speed we had not expected.
Yes, we were last. Yes, we were exhausted. Yes, the committee boat waited for us and gave us the horn when we crossed. Don said via text we could just leave the boat on the launch dock and he would crane it up the next day (an entirely sensible idea).
We buttoned it up in the best style we could, coiling and hanging the lines inside. As we cleared the boat, Micah tossed an inflatable PFD to the dock, but it caught the life line and spun a half circle in what looked like slow motion, before going into the drink and inflating noisily. My PFD had just become an additional fender for Zap, and caught the attention of all the other small boats waiting for the crane. At this point, there was nothing left to embarrass us, so we opened a bottle of wine and two bottles of water, and laughed while our fellow racers heckled us and stopped by to talk about the race.
Borrowing someone’s boat is a stressful endeavor. We tried very hard to make sure everything was ship shape before leaving, checking and double checking. The following day I emailed Don asking if everything was OK when he craned the boat to the trailer. His response was not what I expected.
“I thought I had been robbed”.
“WHAT??!!!!” The worst possible things were going through my mind. I had even contributed a combination lock to the hatch.
“The lines were all put away so neatly I thought at first they had been stolen, then I found them coiled below”.
“OH, ok.” I smiled and sighed with relief. That was one of the best compliments I have ever received.