2004 Wrapup

We’ve had our first winter weather of the year – 50s one day then blowing 20-30, temps plunging into the teens, even some lightning – well past time to do a wrapup of Abino’s 2004 season.

We had two races at the end of the year that I did not write up – there was real point – no wind for either and I don’t think we ever finished.

Looking only at the results, this year was a lot like other seasons – a slight disappointment in the NOOD (since we did not win), three Wed night series that are best viewed from the point of beers consumed and making new friends – although the time Mic and I spent marking all the shoals on the GPS by repeatedly sticking Abino in the mud paid off – we had only two (three?) groundings, and managed to finish both races. Then we won the NAs in Chicago with a third and 4 firsts – Dave Sill (now working with Garth at AYS selling boats) is the only one foolish enough to have sailed in all 3 NAs, Garth twice, and the rest were excellent newcomers to the Abino NA experience – Jack Guido (Garth’s secret to success), Steve Mathias (the next generation), Duffy Mazan (regular Wed-nighter and Abino’s sommelier), Shane Zwingleberg (the most quotable sailor I’ve ever met) and our token professional, Jonathan Bartlett. We could have won the Oxford race easily if Jay Hansen, President of North Sails, had not wimped out and decided that a three-inch tear in our North Sails 3DL main in 40-50 knots was cause for concern and a hot shower. Jack Mathias and I tried to argue with him, but to no effect. Nonetheless, even though we drove to Oxford rather than sailed, our time together with Pam, Jay, Marcia and Jack was a highlight of the season – we did not convert Sarah to racing, but she now does have a fine racing story and that’s a start. I had to skip the Mid-Atlantic Championships again this year because of a scheduling conflict, but Abino sailed under a different all-Buffalo team and Don Finkle has already written his excuses for that regatta (I seem to recall lots of talk about the current and not really sailing for the trophies, but rather to improve his skills – I’ve got news for Don – when you get to be our age, you tend to get slower rather than faster – perhaps we need to start a seniors’ division when we get a few more boats – we will not allow anyone from S. Africa to participate). Speaking of old, Abino hosted two sons of former Lightning class competitors of mine – Tom Ward’s son Matt, and Jack Mathias’ son Steve. 2004 was a very good year.

I like going to Church (occasionally, when Abino is out of the water) in part because it gives you time to think – the only problem being that our minister is sufficiently interesting that he cuts into my thinking time with thought-provoking sermons. Last week, among other things (such as thinking how fortunate we are that whoever invented the whole Santa thing decided that 8 reindeer was the right number – picture a sleigh with two reindeer) my mind for some reason wandered to a question that seems to surface with a frequency that is proportional to how much money I have spent on the boat in the last year -- whether there is any point to racing sailboats or sailing in general.

This is a recurring question on which I have spent hours and hours without much progress. I was once obsessed with racing to the point of spending every waking hour of the sailing season in Buffalo – all two months of it – on the water, then quitting cold-turkey when I was 18, convinced – with some pushing from my sisters – that I was wasting my life. What is the point to spending a ton of money on a boat, then a ton more on sails, then hours and hours of work while the boat is either out of the water or at the dock, getting ready to go sailing, only to go round and round some buoys to end up back where you started, then drink enough to get a good headache? (A friend who golfs once said to me, after listening to me explain the process, “Sailing is a sport with a lot of wind-up.”) Only one answer leaps to most peoples’ minds – NONE. This, as Jay Hansen explains, is why sailing is ranked in popularity among sports somewhere behind curling (no offence to my friends who curl).

Don’t get me wrong – sailing has come a long way since it was invented. Ignoring multihulls for the moment, which none of my friends view as sailboats, what we have accomplished through centuries of dramatic technological progress is a boat that travels at the speed of a fast jog when there’s good wind, a slow walk at other times, that is made of much better, or at least much more expensive materials. And for a boat like Abino, it takes eight people to make it go this slow!

But everything is relative – you should have seen how slow the first sailboats were. Early sailors were, after all, obsessed with living through the experience, not sailing on the brink of disaster. And when you are sitting on the vast deck of today’s most expensive boats going slow for hours and hours, sometimes days and days, small technological breakthroughs that yield the slightest increase in speed will often allow the competition to get to port, or around the buoys, ahead of you – whether it is seconds, minutes, hours or days does not matter – these miniscule advances become the immediate and obsessed focus of the entire sailing community for months or years, and racers will spend gobs of money for that slight advantage.

But we are wandering far from the heart of the question. Accepting that the only intelligent answer is that there is no point to this, why do I do it? (I am not going to attempt to represent the thoughts of all my wacko sailing friends.) I’m not all that competitive to tell the truth – I love winning, but I don’t get to overwrought if I don’t (with the exception of losing to DFB – it has taken me two years to appreciate the feelings of my crew who have long sailed on the West River, which appear to be shared by almost all the other West River competitors – but there seems to be one of these in every fleet). The answer for me as to why I sail or race is actually very simple. When I’ve been away from it for a while, I miss it. Not like missing ice cream, but like missing your dog (I really like dogs). I literally start to dream about sailing and racing, from the stress and tension of the starts, the drag race (in slow motion) upwind after the start, the absolute concentration and coordination of everyone on board that is required to win the race, the screaming and jockeying at mark roundings, and the satisfaction at the finish with a job well done. The bad races don’t bother me – I just don’t remember them (none of the “learn from your mistakes” crap for me).

Then there are the people – old friends with whom I’ve reconnected, and the many new friends I’ve made here in Galesville and Annapolis (to avoid any more cracks from Garth, I will not comment on how many crew we had on Abino this year.) Sailors have fun together because there is a common bond.

I love boats and the water period. I am happier on or near the water, on a boat or looking at a boat in a magazine. A painting is better if there is water in it, and even better if there is a boat on the water. Food tastes better on a boat or on a dock looking at boats. I like Christmas tree ornaments with boat themes, and we have more of them every year. Casting off the lines and leaving the dock is always more fun than returning to it.

When I returned to the office after winning the first NAs to proudly hang my half-model trophy on my office wall, Paul Hyman of Hyman, Phelps & McNamara, a non-sailor if there ever was one, took one look and asked “Where’s the rest of it?” Don’t get me wrong, Paul is a very smart fellow and I like him a lot – but he just does not understand.

Sailboat racing, in the end, is a lot like many other sports, and is widely misunderstood by those who have never participated. Like curling, it is not a means to an end, unless you’re racing point to point and need to get to the other end – which is almost never the case. It is an end in itself – and you either like it or you don’t. If you don’t, please stay off the water and decrease the surplus population of boaters.

Now that we have resolved that constitutional crisis, let me close with an announcement and some quotes of significance from 2004:

We are not going to make it to the NAs this year – certain people think three is enough, and I tend to agree.

There are at least 10 funny quotes I can’t remember for every one I do – for some reason I seem to remember most of Shane’s.

“You hit me, You hit me!”

“He didn’t mean to hit you.”

“Nice bumping into you again, Don.”

“That’s something.”

“Tell the crew the reason I don’t race Wed nights it that the wind doesn’t blow 40.”

“You didn’t tell me he was a sexual predator.”

“Who’s the youngest on board? Matt, climb out and hang on the end of the boom.”

“You’re last name’s ‘Ward’?’ Don’t tell me your father’s name is Tom.”

“I’m disappointed – I was really thinking this would be an adventure.” (after the men decided to quit the Oxford race before the start, forcing a quick change of plans)

“Dad, are we really in last place?”

“You’re in a no-go zone!’ (yelled to Abino, while aground, by a bunch of campers riding by on a yellow sausage towed by the Camp Lets power boat)

“We have consulted all of the best weather information, and Ivan is well south with the front from the North clearing out the rain – bottom line, the weather’s going to get better.” (another failed attempt to predict the weather – Jay!)

“If you tack on me I won’t fix the leak in your roof.” (my contractor)

“Nice bag Garth.” “Yeah, but it’s really too big, and I have another back home.” (oblique reminder from my roommate at the NAs that he had beaten me in two NOODs – meant as a confidence-builder)

“Did you win the NAs again this year?” (a family member writing newsy Christmas cards – you have to keep these things in perspective)

To everyone who sailed on Abino this year, and to all of you on this list who have not,

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, see you on the water!

The End