Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

I lost but not really – I think

and all of that other *%$# about how you play the game

So I got to the lake Thursday night, so I’d be all ready to get out and practice with my crew bright and early Friday. Great idea, except that none of the people on my crew were available until late Friday afternoon, and then that was only one person. The other crew members and the alternate were in Las Cruces and wouldn’t be able to join us until this morning, right before the racing began. Even the one crew member who was available couldn’t stay after practice for socializing and race planning at the Fleet 141 Compound.

At that point, I was ready to bag it. All of the members of the other two teams had showed up, but I was totally teamless. It seemed like a good idea to just give up and let the other two teams be the two to advance to the semifinals in Austin. I was trying very hard not to break down, because I have worked so very hard, but it just didn’t seem worth continuing. I even planned to call the people in Las Cruces to tell them not to bother coming up to the lake.

Then Zorro stood up, in master-of-ceremonies mode, to introduce all of the women competing for the Adams Cup, and he had each skipper introduce her crew to all of the people who had assembled, and he handed a rose to each of the women. When it came my turn, he told me to tell the audience about my crew, even though they weren’t there. He handed me a rose; it had a thorn that stuck deep into my thumb.

That rose became an obligation. I couldn’t call the race off; I couldn’t tell my crew to stay home. I had made a public announcement that I had to live up to. And I had accepted the rose from Zorro. I had to come out to race.

The weather forecast for today was reasonably nice winds in the morning, stiffening in the afternoon. But since the forecast for tomorrow was for much harder winds, the race committee hoped to get in three races in round-robin format today before things got too stiff.

The first race went well for my team, especially considering that today was the first time that we had all four been on the same boat at the same time. We got a pretty good start. There was a 90-degree wind shift early in the first leg of the race, and I spotted it before the other teams did, to the extent that both the other teams tried to fly a spinnaker on the supposedly-but-no-longer downwind leg. Because of the inexperience of my crew, I never planned to fly a spinnaker, but even if I had, I wouldn’t have used it on that race. I finished behind the A team, but well ahead of the B team. As we sailed past the committee boat to prepare for the start of the next race, Zorro gave me a high-five, and I responded with a thumbs-up – the sore one.

On the second race, the winds had stiffened considerably. We got a good start, although it was hampered by inexperienced foredeck crew who had difficulty calling the distance to the line, so we ended up crossing about 20 seconds late. On the first upwind leg, we were really humming, keeping the boat close-hauled, not far behind the A team and way ahead of the B team. On the downwind, we lost ground to the A team, but even though the B team flew a spinnaker and we didn’t, we held our own. The winds were getting stiffer, but on the upwind to the finish, we were doing well. The B team tacked behind me, and I should have covered, but I wasn’t aware they had tacked – my crew is not experienced enough yet to realize they need to communicate such things. Then when I did tack, things went very wrong – the jib sheet didn’t get released from the upwind winch, and it ended up pulling the boat all the way around. We spun out, and once we’d recovered, we were all right, but we’d done a 360 and killed all speed. The B team waltzed right past us and won the race.

On the way back to the start of the third race, the winds came up really fiercely. We dropped the jib, dropped the main, tried to get back to the starting area by putting up the jib alone, then the winds came up worse, so we dropped the jib again and accepted a tow back to the marina. Zorro really wanted us to come back and race, but with the winds what they were, and with the inexperienced crew that I had, I just couldn’t see continuing to race. The safety of the boat and crew is the skipper’s responsibility, and I couldn’t see this crew continuing to be safe in the increasing winds.

The other two boats had one more race. From descriptions of conditions on the water, I’m glad I wasn’t out there. But it was rather a letdown that, because I bailed out, the other two teams are the ones going to Austin. This evening at the awards ceremony, several people told me that I really should be the skipper of the second team, that I have superior helming and trimming skills, and so forth. I feel especially bad about letting Zorro down. My thumb still aches.

5 Comments:

Anonymous pjbyrnes said...

You did the right thing and put the welfare of your crew ahead of your own goals. That's appropriate leadership. None of what you said, of course, takes away from the accomplishments of the "B team skipper" who did a whole lot in a short time.

Sat Apr 22, 09:53:00 PM MDT  
Anonymous Adrift At Sea said...

Better safe than sorry... Those who have the discretion to avoid really bad weather, will eventually gain the experience to sail in it...and building your crews' confidence slowly is probably a good idea.

Sat Apr 22, 10:22:00 PM MDT  
Anonymous Jerry said...

Congrats to the A and B teams, and to you for making it a race. There will be other races, other days, and a hale and hearty crew is what counts the most.

Sun Apr 23, 10:22:00 AM MDT  
Blogger Tillerman said...

It sounds like you have become the sort of skipper that anyone would be happy to crew for. That's a win for you.

Sun Apr 23, 05:28:00 PM MDT  
Blogger Pat said...

The weather wasn't really horrible stuff at all, and winds for the third race were well within the limits that an experienced crew could handle (15 to 25 mph sustained, 25 to 35 gusts). But, it was beyond the ability and safe sailing level for some of Carol Anne's crew, especially since two of the crew had physical limitations, were unable to hike out at all, and didn't have the speed or timing to help the boat tack efficiently.

That's not meant to sound ungracious or unthankful, because Carol Anne very much appreciates them volunteering to crew and allowing her to have a team to at least try to complete. We appreciate what they did, and their courage and willingness to try. They volunteered to do something difficult, where many other sailing women weren't able or willing to try. In many ways the crew did better than would be expected given their very limited racing experience, lack of practice, and other limitations. In spite or horrible obstacles, the team came close to winning the second-place slot to advance to the semi-finals.

It's possible that those crew members didn't quite know what they were getting into and should have let Carol Anne know early on that they wouldn't be able to practice much at all before the regatta. Unfortunately, that really wouldn't have mattered much, since no other women volunteered to fill out the team, in spite of very strenuous efforts to get word out, call women, and try to persuade them to join. Ultimately, if our region isn't able to field two strong teams in Austin, it won't be because Carol Anne, her crew, and the other women sailors didn't try; it'll be because not enough women (especially experienced sailors) were able or willing to make the sacrifices to be part of the women's sailing program and make it stronger.

Sun Apr 23, 09:44:00 PM MDT  

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