Two boats sailed tightly together, no more than 10 feet apart, less than half a boat length. Water sprayed over the two bows fiercely as the hulls cut through the ocean, forcing the mighty waves to part. Their close proximity exponentially upturned the chop surrounding them. Both ships were sailing close hauled, 30 degrees off the wind with true wind at approximately 16 knots, seas 3-5 feet. But the trauma to the water made the apparent seas feel bigger and choppier than the weather station reported.
Neither boat could hold this position long. They were approaching the mark. Much further on this tact would push them past the desired layline. Both crews were on the rail, hiking as hard as they could, keeping the hull as flat as possible against the powerful breeze. What could not be seen from the downwind boat, Glamorous Ginni, was the upwind boat’s subtle movements, preparing for a quick tack. If the crew of Spring Forward could keep their intentions secret until executed, they may gain a few boat lengths on the competition. Time was running out. The crews on both boats were getting anxious. The downwind boat was trapped, Spring Forward had to make the call soon.
“3…2…1… Tact!” Peter, the tactician for Spring Forward shouted. With that the crew jumped to action. The two men on the foreword sail were off the rail in seconds, cutting the active sheet and bringing the lazy sheet into action. The crew scampered across the boat, shifting their weight to the new high side, balancing the boat the best they could. The turn went seamlessly.
Unfortunately Ginni was expecting this quick maneuver and their turn matched Grace’s to the second. But they hadn’t lost any time either and the mark was fast approaching. Within seconds the rounding would be made. The crew needed to scramble to prepare the sails. Kat, the bowman for Spring Forward sprang into action as soon as Spring Forward was up to speed after the tact.
Opening the foreword hatch, she pulled the top of the spinnaker out of the bag and released the halyard, ready for hoist. Davin, the mast man, prepared the topping lift and foreguy, readying the pole for action, before he jumped on the halyard. When the front of the boat was prepared for rounding, the countdown commenced and the back of the boat sprung to action, changing jib sheets for spinnaker sheets and readying the pit for a simultaneous takedown and hoist. The pace was frantic, but each movement was orchestrated and precise.
“3…2…1… Hoist!” Peter shouted, and the perceived chaos was released again. The spinnaker went up and the jib went down. The boat executed a perfect rounding, just slightly ahead of Ginni. As Spring Forward settled into her new downwind course, the spinnaker was released to coax maximum speed out of her. Another flawless maneuver.
The downwind leg was a much smoother ride, the crew settled in, happy with their 1st place position. They still had one nautical mile to go on this leg, and they would have to stay focused to ensure that Ginni would not catch up. But the rest of the fleet was just barely starting their turns and were essentially no threat at this rate. The waves that made the upwind leg so choppy and wet, made the downwind leg fast and fun to ride. The spinnaker trimmer was doing a fantastic job riding the waves like a surfboard. With each puff they would find themselves accelerating, joy-riding down the face of the wave.
The sun was setting but it was still mild enough to be comfortable downwind in a t-shirt. As the boat made its way towards the finish line, jackets were tossed off, allowing the crew to appreciate the last warmth of day on their skin. They probably had a gybe or two left, but the crew could do that with their eyes closed.
After no time at all, they crossed the finish line with the shotgun signal, reserved for the 1st place boat. The crew and the committee boat cheered and somehow, instantaneously beers emerged from a hand down below. Less than 30 seconds later the horn sounded for Ginni. Soon the rest of the 12 boat fleet came jockeying across the finish line, each finish marked with a horn that the crew of Spring Forward could hear as they made their way back to dock. Now the real race began, first to make it to the bar.
The crew was cheerful, congratulating themselves and patting each other on the back. Kat sat on the bow. She was busy coiling lines, getting as much done as possible before the boat got to dock. The boat cut through the chop, spraying water into her face with each crash. Salt stung her eyes and made her skin stiff as she swept her wet, stringy hair out of her eyes. Her nails were cut short so as not to break while handling the heavy sails and drenched lines. Her tomboy appearance helped her fit in with the boys. Her arms were well defined and strong, muscles developed by intensive labor running the foredeck. The foredeck is normally a man’s job. But she was lucky to be sailing with a less chauvinistic pair of owners, a value still sadly rare in the sailing community.
As they entered the sheltered waters of the marina the wind felt like it cut in half, the water was flat and the ride suddenly became less wet and more pleasant. She finished coiling the last of the spinnaker sheets and laid out on the bow, soaking up the last of the warm summer sun.
“Can I join you up here?” She heard a voice ask.
Shielding her eyes as she looked up and saw Jessie. Sucking in a bit of air, she moved over slightly. “Sure.” Jessie took a seat next to her and looked out over the harbor.
“Good job up there tonight.” He congratulated her.
“Thanks. The last rounding was tight, but other than that, pretty standard stuff. Sad it’s almost over.”
“So I guess that means you’ll be free most Wednesday night’s now, huh?” Jessie’s eyes were teasing, but he refused to look her way.
Kat rolled over on her elbow and looked at him. He was attractive, in that arrogant, overly confident way. Shaggy, blondish, curly hair. About 5’7, 175-180, not too skinny, but definitely had nice defined arms, even if his stomach was soft. When she first met him she couldn’t keep her eyes off him, or her lips for that matter. He was a foredeck guy for some of the maxi yachts in the marina and did his job like a rock star. Since then he’d successfully moved to the back of the boat and was now a mainsail trimmer, leaving open bow positions for her to fill.
“Oh you are suddenly interested in how I fill my night’s now?”
“Come on Kat, you know I always have been. Things have been really busy at work and I’ve been out of town a lot. But without my weekly fix of Kat on the boat, I hope I can get my fix off the boat. Like maybe next Thursday at the Disney Concert Hall? John Williams is a special guest conductor for the LA Philharmonic.”
Ugh, this is why she liked him. He was the only sailor she had ever dated, if that is what you wanted to call it. But he is also the only sailor she’d hung out with who wanted to do more than just find the closest watering hole and get trashed on rum drinks and Tacate.
“You got to be kidding me.” She laid back down and covered her face with her hands. “So, that is a yes?” He wouldn’t let up.
Quickly sitting back up, she looked him dead in the eye. “Jessie, so help me if you stand me up again, I will personally hunt you down and demonstrate some of the many uses I have for this knife that doesn’t leave my side.”
Laughing at her in his infuriating way, and checking that they were not being watched, he tucked his hand behind her head and drew her in for a quick kiss on the mouth.
“Remember, I carry the same knife. And if you recall, my knot tying skills are still pretty solid, even if I did move to the back of the boat.”
“I hate you.” She said completely deadpan. She didn’t want too sound too serious or too flirty. She was still wondering if she pulled off the desired effect as he jumped up and moved towards the cockpit.
“I seriously look forward to next Thursday night.”
‘What am I doing this for again?!?’ She had known Jessie for almost two years now. Nothing ever ended well with him. Nothing ever even started well, for that matter.
“Kat, grab a dock line.” She heard someone shout up to her. They had made it back. Thank goodness. She was already starting to feel trapped begin on this small boat with him.
The team of 6 was working diligently to put the boat away. The faster we get this done, the faster we get to the bar, was the general attitude. Although this didn’t stop anyone from cracking free beers at the dock. That came with the territory. You couldn’t fold sails properly without a beer in your hand.
Bill Robbins ducked his head out of the cabin, passing over heavy equipment to his partner Doug. The two of them bought this boat together a little over a year together, and neither of them could ask for better partners.
“You want to take the electronics home, in case I get here late next Wednesday? I took on a side project with Boeing next week. Don’t know what the schedule will be like.” Bill asked Doug before ducking his head back down the hatch.
“Sure thing, Bill.” He took the electronics and placed them in protective casings, before stuffing them into his duffel.
Bill emerged with a cooler full of half eaten sandwiches and fruit that had been sitting down there in the stale air for 5 hours. He gave them a quick smell and mockingly past the cooler to Doug, wearing a foul expression. “Take home leftovers? I think there is tuna with minimal bites taken out.” Doug laughed, pulling the cooler up from Bill and stashing it with the other gear to be packed in the car.
“Oh I couldn’t! With you semi-retired now, I don’t know when the last time you worked was. I’m sure Carol would appreciate the generosity of a free meal.”
“Ha. I couldn’t embarrass her like that. She needs to save face in front of fellow yacht club members. She’d be mortified by a handout.”
Bill stepped fully out on deck out, his movements quick and agile for someone approaching 70. He took off his ubiquitous regatta baseball cap off, ran a hand through his grey hair and pulled on a non-technical jacket over his t-shirt sporting a logo of another ubiquitous regatta. It was late in the summer. The Wednesday night beer can races were finishing as the sun went down, and there was a nip in the air by the time the boat was put away and they made their way into the YC for awards and drinks.
Bill relaxed a little, now that most of the work was wrapping up. “It’s great having you for two Wednesday night’s in a row Doug. It’s a treat we didn’t get much this year”
“Yeah, it’s a good thing I’m not married. I’d never get away with this schedule. Traveling all the time, working on other people’s boats, being in town just long enough to sneak a few races in on my own boat and hitting the road again for the next job.”
“Carol would let me get away with it, just as long as I took her with me.” Bill laughed.
Doug turned his attention to the backstay, loosening in preparation for a week of inactivity.
“If only it were as glamorous as people think. These sailmakers are the ones who get the royal treatment. They fly into town, party with the owner, steamroll the tactician out of a job for the week, get paid to be there and collect a commission. I’m just the rigger. I’m not even out for the sail. I’m lucky if I get beers on the dock.”
“Well, we appreciate all your work old man. Couldn’t do it without you!” Bill finished with the backstay and threw the gear in his bag to take home.
“Old man. Nearly 15 years younger than you. When I’m an old man, I won’t have to do all that crap any more. I’ll join the ranks of the gratefully retired.” Both men chuckled.
“So, are you going up to the club for this owners meeting?” Bill asked.
“Yeah, I’m going to check it out. You have any idea what this is about?”
“No idea at all. Probably a new class rule or they want to change our PHRF rating. Like we all need to be stuck in a room together to discuss a rating that hardly any of us will ever use. But at least they provide a keg. Come, I’ll walk up with you.”
“Peter, you got everything covered down here? We need to head up to the club house.” Doug shouted around the boat to the group of men stuffing the last of the remaining sails in their bags. All the crew were fairly young, not one of them over 35. It was a young crew, compared to the other boats in the fleet. They all wore the typically sailing shorts with pads in the butts, to protect their rears while hiking on the rail. Most of them had their shirts off and were posturing with their beers and their sun-kissed hair.
“No worries, mate. We’ve got it covered down here. See you at the award tonight?” Peter asked.
Peter was the oldest of the group, and the most accomplished of them all. He had been a pro-sailor since he was nearly 20 and maintained the racing fleet out his home yacht club in Sydney before relocating to the United States. He had moved here to train with the BMW Oracle crew for the America’s Cup. But he had sustained an injury during a practice and tore his rotator cuff, causing him to announce and early retirement. Now he ran a sailing school for youth and was the fleet captain for the Sea Scouts, an Explorer Scout division of the Boy Scouts of America. As the tactician, it was Peter’s job to call the maneuvers of the boat. He treated the racing course like chess game and skillfully called maneuvers that put his boat in the best possible position on the water. He had a knack for calling shifts in the wind and was able to read the waves on the water to predict where he would be able to coax the most speed out of the boat. But now he was just one of the boys, making jokes and downing beers like they were water.
“We’ll be there.” Doug replied. “If this meeting gets done in time. If not just collect the trophy for us”
“Of course, mate. I’ll lock up for you here.” Doug tossed Peter the keys and the two men strolled up the dock towards the club.
“You would think we sailed with 50 girls on board the way those boys strut around the docks half naked, posing for each other.” Bill laughed. “They really are young, dumb and full of cum.”
Kat pulled the last Velcro loop through the top of the spinnaker bag and sealed it closed. Picking it up by the straps, she threw it in the back of the truck, ending her work for the evening. Resting her weight on one of the spinnaker bags, she sat on the back of the truck and took her hat off to run her fingers through her salty hair. She secretly loved the way salt water made her hair feel. No amount of hair spray or teasing could replicate the perfect amount of stiffness, separation and bend. She remembered a girl that cut her hair once telling her if she liked that look, she should go get a spray bottle and fill it with ocean water and use that as hair spray. ‘I tell all my ocean loving clients that she told Kat with a straight face. ‘But what about all the poop in the water?‘ Kat had asked in return.
She laughed out loud at the memory and picked up her half full beer, finishing as much as she could in a single swig. Just then Davin, her mast man, came up the dock towards her, still dressed in full racing attire and shouldering a small duffel of gear.
“Things are wrapping up down there. I think they are just hosing her off now.” Davin reported.
“I’ve got a secret foredeck crew only stash up here. Care for a beer?” Kat asked.
“Just finished one, but I see no harm in a second.” He dropped his duffel and caught the can of Corona Kat tossed him.
“It’s either free here or $8 a piece on Bill’s tab in the club.”
The sun had entirely set, but the sky was still light, although Venus was shining bright over the horizon, Mariner’s Twilight.
“I can’t believe there are only two more Wednesday night races.” Kat sighed. “But of course we’ll get invited to King of the Hill, so make it three I guess. I’ve got you for all three, right?”
Davin was the perfect mast man. He was slightly over 6’ and weighted about 180. He had lots of experience on the foredeck, both in mast and bow positions, but enjoyed being the muscle of the team and didn’t mind working with Kat in the main bowman position. Besides his lack of chauvinism was refreshing. They had worked together for years on different teams. Anytime she had the opportunity to request somebody, he was always at the top of her list.
“I’m definitely in for the next two, I’ll be here till the end of regular season. I’ll have to get back to you about King of the Hill. The kids will have started school. Schedules go day by day after that. Especially school nights.”
“Ah, and school time returns. Followed shortly by snowboard season though, so that makes me happy.”
She crushed her can and shoots for 2 points into a nearby recycling can.
“You must be chomping at the bit with that El Nino report floating around.” Devin teased her.
A sly smile crept across Kat’s mouth. “You have no idea! My season pass arrived. I’m counting down the days already. Booked a week in Vail this year too. But let’s not rush the summer. I still don’t have a ride lined up for next year. The yacht club has become an open air market for boat owners trying to recruit meat for next season. I’m just trying to avoid the land sharks till I can weigh my options.”
“I’m sure you’ll have no problem finding a ride.”
Kat laughed at the unnecessary flattery. “Well after two seasons with Bruce, I just want it to be someone I enjoy sailing with.”
“You think Bill and Doug will have it together in time to be competitive?”
“I don’t know. I hope so. Wednesday nights have been great. I guess it will all depend on Doug’s schedule. I’ll be sure to know if I hear something first. You heading up to the club?”
Davin chugged the last of his beer and crushed the can. “Na, my kitchen pass expired. I should hit the road.”
Kat chuckled a little, there was something about the phrase ‘kitchen pass’ that cracked her up, and he knew it.
“Go, be a good husband. See you next week”. Shrugging his bag back on his shoulder, Davin turned and walked towards his car, tipping his hat as he left her.
Kat turned back to the truck, stuffing the sails and bags back into place before retrieving her own bag and slamming the trunk shut. She always hated this time of year. The yacht club was no fun with everybody on the hunt. She might have a good reputation among people she sailed with before, and her resume of boats and regattas was impressive, but that didn’t stop the majority of old men in there from discrediting her on site alone.
She was young, she was agile and she was light, 123lbs. The sailing world is one of the only places it’s not only acceptable to ask a girl her weight, but required, since each fleet has a crew weight limit and weigh-ins at each regatta. But she knew that a lot of boat owners would want her for eye candy alone and she hated weeding through that crowd.
Ah well, she will figure out sooner or later. Sucked she had to make a decision before the season even began, but teams needed time to practice. All the boat captains wanted to make sure they got the best crew and visa versa. She headed back toward the boat after her job with the spinnakers was done. She was still dressed in summer sailing clothes and couldn’t wait to put something warmer on.