The conference room in the yacht club was noisy with chatter and the clinking of glasses. The room was a mixture of blue blazers and SailingProShop dry shirts. Whether formal or technical, almost everyone had on a belt decorated with little nautical flags. It was the unspoken uniform. Men laughed and patted each other on the back, sloshing their drinks and generally making a ruckus. A line had formed at the beer keg, the yacht club equivalent to a water cooler clutch. Uniformed men in penguin suits cleared people’s glasses as they finished their drinks.
Everyone seemed to be there already when Doug and Bill came through the door. They were part of the technical dressed crew, their bags swung over their shoulders. Bruce Mickelson spotted them across the room as they entered and made his way through the crowd toward them.
“Gentlemen! Please have a seat! We were just about to start.” Bruce patted Doug on the back as he led them to a set of chairs.
Bruce’s voice seemed to echo over the crows, demanding attention. He was the fleet captain, and one of the richest men in Los Angeles. He didn’t need to demand attention, he just got it.
Bill surveyed the room. “You put together quite a fleet here Bruce.”
“Well you know we had to find something better to race than those old clunker Rebel 35’s. I’m just glad Bill finally decided to join us. You guys going to join the big boys next year and do the high point regattas?”
Bill looked at Doug. “It’s not official yet, but it looks that way.”
“Good to hear! I need some real competition out there. Somebody has to make winning a little challenging.”
Bruce’s arrogance was not subtle. It wasn’t one of his more charming characteristics, but he wouldn’t be Bruce without it.
“Big words for someone who just came in second.” Doug shot back.
“Ha! It’s Wednesday night racing. I don’t even have my B crew on the boat. But not after today. Every race will be an opportunity to practice. No more slacking off this year. But I’m getting ahead of myself. That’s why we called this meeting. Sit. Let’s get started so you know what I’m talking about.”
Doug and Bill exchanged glances as Bruce walked away. “Like Bruce has ever gone easy on his crew. Wednesday night, my ass. I’m sure his crew is still on board being debriefed.” Doug was not a member of the Bruce Mickelson fan club.
Bruce walked to the front of the room and tapped a water glass with a spoon. “Sprint 40 owners! Let’s settle down and come to attention”
Conversations stopped mid-sentence as everyone turned their attention to Bruce.
“I’m sure you are all wondering why we’ve asked you to meet today. It’s not very often we call an unscheduled owners meeting. But we’ve got some very exciting news to share and I hope you will all be as excited as I am about it. But first I want to take this opportunity to say how impressive the size of this crowd is. A year ago we could have held this meeting in my Suburban and we still would have had room. But thanks to you, we are now one of the fiercest fleets in the SoCal area. I’m impressed with the caliber of competitors that the Sprint 40 fleet has attracted.”
Doug rolled his eyes and whispered to Bill. “Didn’t he just say what lousy competition they all were?”
Bruce continued, “Since the season began, we’ve added 6 new boats, more than half of you made the wise decision to dump the Rebel 35 and sail with the big boys. For that I commend you!”
Bruce clapped and the rest of the audience joined his applause, amongst a scattering of chuckles.
“So, now that high-points are over and Wednesday nights are coming to an end, I know you are all thinking ahead to next season. And that is what I have gathered you here to talk about. As you all know, the Sprint 40 fleet is active all over the United States. Two years ago I was lucky enough to take my crew to compete in the Sprint 40 nationals held in Rode Island. It was a fantastic, albeit grueling experience. We all grew a lot as sailors and the competition was deadly. But it’s an experience that not many of you have had the opportunity to do, since it has always been on the east coast. This year all that will change! In recognition of our SoCal’s fleet incredible growth, the national Sprint 40 committee has chosen Marina del Rey Yacht Club to host the 2014 Sprint 40 nationals.”
The crowd began to cheer. People were clapping and the energy in the room got very excited.
“This is a great opportunity for all of you and I hope every last one of you takes advantage of this rare opportunity! I want to make sure that we have a strong representation. We want to put our best foot forward and be gracious hosts to the committee and the rest of the national fleets. But above all, let’s show the rest of the nation that we are a force to be reckoned with! We may be a young fleet but we are some of the best!”
The crowd cheered and applauded. Bruce held up his beer bottle. “A toast to the Sprint 40 national committee!” Everyone raised their beers and started clinking bottles.
“You will all be receiving regular updates on the logistics and there will be plenty of opportunities to volunteer. I expect that everyone will lend a hand where they can. I know most of you want to get back to the trophy ceremony and I’m sure you’re all eager to tell your crews, so I will cut this short. But be expecting e-mails from me soon.”
With that the conversations started back up at full volume. Doug and Bill turned to face each other. “I guess we’d better start confirming our plans pretty quickly.” Bill said to Doug.
“I guess the hell so.”
In the yacht club bar, drinks were being ordered just about as fast as Mario could pour them. Wednesday night was by far the busiest night of the week. Mario had been working at the YC for almost two decades. The members were like his family. He knew each person’s drink order by heart.
The crew for Spring Forward was gathered in their usual spot, right by the popcorn machine. Kat was stuffing fist-fulls of salty popcorn in her mouth between swigs of beer. A Lakers game was playing on the television set behind the bar. The yacht club was her second home, ever since she moved on to her boat. She’d come here every night there was a basketball game on, drink beer and eat a bowl of clam chowder. The only thing that made Wednesday nights different was the crowd.
“We should all agree to meet up every Wednesday night, after sailing is done. I don’t want to go three months without seeing you guys, especially when we all live so close.” Spencer suggested to the crew.
Kat rolled her eyes, facing away from Spencer.
Peter spoke her mind for her. “I don’t know mate, my eyes need a break after being forced to stare at your ass in the pit all these months.”
“What’s wrong with my ass? I’m surprised you were able to resist touching it all this time.” Spencer shot back.
“You’re right. In fact I’m having a hard time not touching it right now. In fact, come ’ere big boy!”
Peter pushed Spencer back against the bar and straddle him with his legs humping him like a dog.
“Uh, that’s good. You like that, baby? Oh I know you do.”
“Get off!” Spencer tried to push Peter off him, but he was obviously over powered. Peter was at least a half a foot taller and 40 pounds heavier.
“What’s that? You want more? You want me to take you all night long? Oh baby, you know I will. I’ll bring make you breakfast in the morning, just the way you like.”
The rest of the crew cracked up. Peter finally let up and tossed Spencer the hat that had come off in his hands during an attempt to ruffle his hair.
“I’m just messing with you buddy. You know I love you.”
“Yeah, yeah. Very funny.” Spencer shoved his hat back on his head. Covering up one of the worse cases of hat-hair Kat had ever seen.
“Hey now, no inter-crew hanky-panky.” Jessie chimed in, glancing over at Kat with a secret smile in his eyes. “It could lead to tension on the boat.”
Right then a voice came over the loud speaker “Attention Wednesday Night Beer Can Racers! We are starting the trophy ceremony. Please come downstairs to support your fellow racers.”
“I told Doug I’d pick up the trophy. Anyone care to join me downstairs?” Peter asked
“Let’s all go down guys. We got first place. We need to represent. Besides they have a keg downstairs.” Jessie added.
“The Lakers are playing the Mavericks and I just ordered some clam chowder. You guys mind if I stay up here?” Kat asked.
“We would expect nothing less. Kat is always too cool for school.” Jessie teased.
“Come on.” Kat returned.
“No worries Kat, enjoy your soup.” Peter and the rest of the boys left the bar, leaving Kat alone with her beer and the TV. Before long the bar started to fill in with those racers who hadn’t place and saw no reason to join the crowd downstairs. It was mostly yacht club members, interspersed with crew who thought the free beer was beneath them and needed to pay $15 a piece for a rum drink. Kat barely noticed when one of the grey hairs took a seat next to her.
“Red Strip. Irie mon! You smoke the ganga too, mon?
Kat looked over at the unfamiliar voice. “Oh, ha. Well you know I’m kinda Jamaican, so it suits me. My parents honeymooned in Jamaica. And I was a honeymoon baby. So I figure that makes me at least a part Jamaican.”
Kat wasn’t sure how it was possible that someone was actually uglier when they laughed. But something about this old man’s ruddy, flakey skin repulsed her. Especially when he tried to look friendly.
“Ha. Well you certainly don’t look Jamaican.” The way his eyes slowly moved up and down Kat’s body, even though she was sitting down, made her shiver.
“You look like you were out on the water today. What boat do you race on?” he asked her.
“Uh, I’m on Spring Forward.” Kat’s attention was already back on the television. She was trying to end the conversation as quick as possible.
“So you like one designing racing. Competitive.”
Kat took a sip of her drink. She didn’t have a response.
“I own a TP 52. Are you familiar with those boats?” He kept persisting.
“Yeah, I know the TP 52’s. Not too many of them in our area. Sucks you have to race PHRF.” If she was going to be forced to have this conversation, she wasn’t going to be easy on him.
“Ah well… At my age, I prefer cruising these days. I own Margaritaville. It’s the one with the big margarita on the spinnaker.”
“Yeah, I’ve seen it out there.” Kat had been sucking down her drink, trying to show interest in anything other than what this guy was saying. Her last swig came up empty. She sighed and put it back on the bar.
“Mario! Another Red Stripe for the lady!” Kat’s gentleman friend called down the bar. “You don’t mind do you? My names Richard. I’d love to buy a pretty girl like you a drink. Old men like me don’t get to cozy to up with pretty girl at the yacht club very often. We’re usually stuck talking with other old farts like us. A girl like you is a rare commodity. And besides, I can certainly afford it.”
Kat weighed her options. She wasn’t going to be outright rude yet. She didn’t even know this guy. She shifted and made a miniscule turn towards him. It was as polite as she was ready to be at the moment, with or without a free drink.
“No, that’s fine. Thank you, Richard. I’m Kat.”
“Kat. Sweet little kitty-kat. Nice to meet you Kitt-Kat. I didn’t realize we had such pretty girls hanging out at the yacht club these days. I don’t come up stairs enough, clearly.”
It took every ounce of Kat’s restraint to stop her eyes from rolling. If she had a nickel for every time someone made a kitty-kat joke, she could afford Richard’s TP 52. Mario came back with a fresh napkin and placed it in front of her with her fresh Red Stripe.
“Put it on my tab Mario.” Richard gave her a little wink as he said it. Her internal eye rolling just wouldn’t let up. “They just charge me at the end of the month.” He explained to Kat.
“Yeah, I know. I’m a member. But thank you for the beer.”
“You’ve got to be 30 years younger than the average member here Kat. Well I’m glad to hear it. We need some fresh blood around this place.”
“Tell me about it”. Kat replied with a smirk.
“So are you new to the area?” he continued.
“I’ve been racing here for about 10 years.”
“Wow! A vet. So are you a real racer then? You have a position on the boat?”
“Ha. Are you kidding me?” She couldn’t help herself. “Yes, I have a position on the boat. And yes I guess you could say I’m a ‘real racer’, whatever that means.”
“Easy now Kitty-Kat. Keep you claws in. I’m just an old guy. Go easy on me. What position do you do on the Sprint 40?”
Kat eased up a little and tried to shake off how perturbed she was. It wasn’t the first time she had a conversation like this. Hell, it wasn’t even the first time this week. She needed to learn how to let it roll off her shoulders.
“I do foredeck.”
Richard let out a long whistle. “We’ve got a tough girl here, huh? Well I certainly didn’t mean to piss you off, miss foredeck. You’re more like a cheetah than a kitty-kat. Having someone light like you is good on a boat like that. What do you weigh 110? 115?”
“You ever race on big boat like mine?”
Kat chuckled internally. Margaritaville might have started out like one-design TP 52, but it had been modified so much that he couldn’t even race one-design if he wanted to now. It was almost a joke around the marina. But Kat wasn’t able to bring herself to be downright mean yet.
“I do distances races on Great White.” Great White was 80’ maxi yacht. It had been in SoCal for almost two decades, had eight Transpacs under its belt and was once owned by Roy Disney, before one of her friend bought it two years ago. Since then they put together a crew of some of her best friends and had been doing the long distance circuit throughout Southern California, including two Ensenada races, two Newport to Cabo races, one Puerta Vallarta and one Transpac.
“You do the foredeck on a big boat like that?”
“There are two of us on that boat. We have a foredeck team, along with a mast man.”
“Probably because of that pole, huh? I can’t image you would be able to handle a pole like that. Even a tough girl like you. It’s just too big.”
Kat put her drink down.
“No. It has nothing to do with the size of the pole. What do you think the topping lift and foreguy are for? You got to be kidding me.” Kat let her eyes roll outwardly this time. “We actually had the pole modified to run an asymmetrical spinnaker as well as symmetrical, so it’s actually 15 feet longer now than it used to be and I can manage it just fine. We have two people on the foredeck because we take shifts during distances races.”
“I’m more and more impressed with you each minute Kat. You should come out and race on my boat someday. We’d love to have you on board.”
Kat couldn’t image what racing on this old guy’s boat would be like. She was sure his crew were just younger versions of him. “Yeah maybe. I’m committed for most races, but maybe one Wednesday.” She didn’t know why she felt bad just saying “no” outright.
“We do race it on Wednesday’s but most of my sailing is cruising. I have a big margarita tub down in the hull where the spinnakers are usually stored. We take it out to cruise every weekend. You should come check it out this Saturday. We’d love to have you on board.”
“A weekend cruise could be fun. I don’t do much cruising these days.”
“Just one rule.” Richard continued. “Don’t bring your boyfriend. That would spoil the fun for the rest of the boys. But you can bring any of your girlfriends. The more girls like you on the boat, the better for the boys.”
Kat looked over at this old grey hair, with his wrinkle, flaking skin. She wanted to vomit.
“Huh, yeah, well. Maybe.”
Richard took the napkin that Mario had placed on the table. He removed a pen from his pocket and wrote down his number.
“Here. This is my cell phone. Give me a call this week. I like you Kitt-Kat. You know, an old guy like me could really enjoy the companionship of fiery, adorable spirit like you. I have a lot of disposable income. I could take good care of you. It could be mutually beneficial for both of us.”
She just stared at him, slack jawed as he handed her the napkin.
“I hope to hear from you this week. And I hope to see you on board this weekend. You might enjoy a pleasure cruise. Just remember. No boyfriends.”
She took the napkin from him out of instinct. But she had no words left. As he walked away she noticed the deep scowl that had come over her brow. She shook her head and eased the muscle in her face till they were back to normal. ‘Did that just happen???’ She thought to herself. She took a swing of beer and crumpled the number up. Taking a shot, she hit the waste basket behind the bar, the napkin just barely missing Mario as he walked back down towards her.
“Did you hear any of that??” She asked Mario.
“That guy is a really piece of work. He’s married you know.” He told Kat.
“Pft. Figures. I’m sure his wife is one of the plastic blonds full of silicone that walk around here with their white wines and dyed hair.”
Mario just chuckled as he cleaned the bar. He was a loyal yacht club employee. He wasn’t going to get involved with too much trash talking about the other yacht club members, no matter how sleazy they were. Kat wasn’t sure, but she suspected that he got a pretty nice portion of whatever the bar brought in. He kept the members happy and lubricated and helped boost sales quite a bit.