One of them was missing. Denny, the storyteller, wasn’t feeling well last night so he didn’t make it out to the Portland Yacht Club. Dang. I hated that. I’d read some of his stories. I particularly related to the one about his future son-in-law’s deployment ceremony up at Fort Lewis.
Denny had never been around that sort of thing before. Afterwards he told his buddies: “The term deployment has a new meaning to me now … I thought I was smart. I thought I understood. I know now that I didn’t. The real meaning of that word is not in the politics or the foreign policy or the strategies of war and tactics. The real meaning, for me, is about the people — the real flesh and blood soldiers and their families.”
How can you not want to get to know a man like that?
But Phast Phreddie was there and Skippy, the fellow who invited me, no, I take that back, urged me to join the crew for the last race of the season before the craft headed north to the San Juans.
Phast Phreddie, Denny and Skippy own a Cal 20 named 3 Stooges together. They race the Cal 20 with only the three of them on it. That’s a totally different boat than the one we raced last night.
Tim and Susan own a Cal 20 named Escape from LA. Michelle owns a Cal 20 named River Rose. The current Cal 20 regatta is on Thursday nights. Last night we were racing on a C&C 44 named Fury. Phast Phreddy owns Fury.
Skippy is the brother-in-law of my good friend Connie. Tim couldn’t go because he gets motion-sickness in a limo. Shoot. Tim gets motion-sickness when he’s doing nothing but sleeping sometimes. He didn’t dare go.
Buddy, I’m telling you what, I’m glad I don’t get motion sickness. I would have hated missing out on such an adventure.
They speak a different language, these people with sea legs. Skippy gave me a tour of the 44-foot craft.
Phast Phreddie at the wheel.
Skippy preparing the craft for the waters.
When you’re docked, it’s hard to imagine what a sailing race is like. Especially if you’ve never even been sailing before. I’ve often watched the sailboats while driving through the Columbia River Gorge along Interstate 84. It all looks so placid from the busy freeway. Those colorful sails billowing like anklet socks drying on a line.
It’s all a delusion. Sailing, particularly in a race, takes a ton of physical exertion. Just ask Zach. He’s the 21-year-old runner out of Southern California who was assigned the task of cranking. Everybody on the boat is given a task. I was chief button pusher.
Zach did an awesome job cranking those lines. To the novice like me, racing is all about tension. You have to have skillfully apply tension to the lines that control the sails, depending upon wind direction, course, other racers, and a whole host of other things I know jack-diddley about so won’t bother trying ot explain.
There’s the tension that comes from the crew as well. Zach said when he was younger and went on these excursions it scared him the way the crew was all the time yelling at each other. I don’t know what it says about me that I didn’t notice any yelling. My kids could probably explain that disconnect.
Skippy had given me a crash course in sailing moments before we left the dock. “Tack” he said, “is when you turn the bow into the wind.” Downwind means, of course, the wind is behind the sail. “So guess when you cover more ground,” he said.
Downwind, I said.
“Wrong,” he said. “You cover more ground when you tack.”
Skippy explained that it’s like with a plane. The aerodynamics of the wind over the plane give it lift. The same sort of thing happens with a sailboat. So, depending on all other sorts of factors, generally speaking a sailboat goes faster and covers more ground while heading into the wind.
I wonder if that doesn’t happen with us as people. Maybe we have it all wrong. We think we cover more ground during the easy times, when the wind is at our back. The Irish even bestow blessings, asking God to give us the wind at our back. But it seems like God is often steering us into hard winds, against the currents. Maybe that’s because like Phast Phreddie, God knows we’ll cover more ground, come out ahead of where we ever expected to be.
Phast Phreddie and Skippy wanted to win this race. This last one of the season. Last week they took second place. Phast Phreddie began the way any captain would, by running his crew through the ropes. He’d yell “Gybe” and everybody would do something. Or he’d yell “Tack” and they’d do the same thing a different way. Somebody was all the time yelling at Zach to “Grind, Stallion, grind.” I kinda was glad I wasn’t 21 and a runner. All I had to do was push a button and I only had to do that twice. Otherwise, I hid behind Phast Phreddie in a pretty comfortable seat and watched everybody else work. That’s really the task of a writer, anyway, observing others.
I was a little worried about the dark clouds overhead but when I pointed them out and asked, “What happens if it rains?”
Skippy answered, “We get wet.”
But it didn’t rain and the race, well, I never did once understand the course. It was something like: 14. 2. u. 14. Just trust me when I say that sailing races aren’t like foot races. You don’t go in a straight line. Sometimes it seems like you are intentionally heading into the path of another craft, kind of like bumper cars on the water.
See what I mean? These fellas were so close I could have reached out and grabbed the hats off their heads. It was exhilarating for the Chief Button Pusher, that is. Everybody else was too busy working to notice.
That’s Michelle cranking. She teaches women how to sail. She owns a smaller craft. One that she can run and race all by her lonesome. Michelle has a toddler that she’s been taking sailing since he was six-weeks old. He wasn’t with us last night but that’s amazing. Imagine. I had a hard time getting the kitchen floor swept when I had an infant.
Phast Phreddie grew up in Melbourne, Florida. That’s where he first learned to sail at the age of 12. I felt perfectly safe. No need for the emergency whistle when Phast Phreddie is in charge.
It was pretty smooth sailing from where I sat, pushing buttons and pen.
“Gybe the main, Gybe the main,” Phast Phreddie yelled. “Heads, heads, heads!”
There’s a reason they call it a “Boom.” Michelle got a tooth knocked out once because she wasn’t paying attention to the boom. “That’s why I like being at the bow,” she said, chuckling. “I don’t have to worry about the boom.”
Most of the time I didn’t have a clue which way we were going. I just relied on Phast Phreddie and the crew. It was a good place to be. It reminded me of the way some folks approach life — trusting that whatever comes up God’s got it under control.
But too many of us get tangled up in the little things of life. I do it. You do it, too. We get so focused on what’s out in front of us, we forget about tending to the things right underneath our feet.
We worry about what everybody else is doing, where they are headed. Sometimes we steer off course, as the craft with the purple sail did later in the race.
Fury won the race last night, thanks to tremendous effort on behalf of the crew and Fred Hazard’s leadership skills.
Thanks, Skippy, for the adventure. I’m sure we’d all enjoy the journey so much more if we could appreciate that heading into the wind has its purpose.