Have Wings, Will Sail
Late this summer, I came across a craigslist ad for an old Santana 21 at a very good price. I sent it to my brother Steve as we've talked about getting a sailboat together for years, and his response was immediate: let's do it. The boat was in fairly good condition for its age, with several upgrades and a new outboard engine, and we were proud boat owners a few days later. Steve never sailed before but proved to be a quick study. We had the boat out several times over the remainder of the summer, camped on it over Labor Day weekend, took friends & family sailing, and are already making plans for next season. Since we keep it on the trailer ($3500 for a dock space for five months? No thanks!), we have to raise the mast and do other setup before each launch, a process we have down to about 30 minutes now.
One thing I've been wanting to do for years, and never got around to, is sailing in the Interline Regatta in the British Virgin Islands. It's a legendary annual party and sailing extravaganza for airline people (and friends & family) from around the world. I actually ended up going this year, through a quite accidental last-minute change in plans.
My friend Brad and I had been planning a dirt bike ride down Baja California for mid-October, but it had to be postponed until February after Brad lost part of a thumb in a motorcycle accident (in his garage, heh). I still had over two weeks off work, though. Right around that time, I got a call from my friend Jill, my sim partner in initial training at Horizon in 2004. Jill and her husband Timo used to own a 22' Catalina, just bought a 25' Catalina, and have done quite a bit of chartering with friends in the Caribbean. On a lark, I asked Jill if she and Timo were doing the Interline Regatta in the British Virgin Islands this year. She said yes, and their crew had a few spots left if I wanted to go. Thus did Monday October 8th find me jumpseating (and reliving my freight dog days a bit!) on a Cape Air Cessna 402 from San Juan PR to Tortola, BVI.
There were a total of 17 people in our crew - four Horizon pilots, one ex-Horizon (me), wives, in-laws, and friends. We chartered two boats - a gorgeous Beneteau 505 (rebranded as a Moorings 50.5 for chartering) monohull that we raced in the Regatta, and a massively spacious Moorings 4600 (nee Leopard 46) catamaran that served as our support/spectator/party boat. It was this crew's first year actually racing in the Regatta. Indeed, only 19 boats raced out of an estimated 60 boats participating in the regatta. And that's ok - the regatta would have been massive fun even without the racing. Sailing around the BVI, snorkeling beautiful coves, exploring neat spots like The Baths, meeting great airline folks, and just chilling on the boats with our fantastic crew was all really enjoyable. And then there are the massive themed costume parties held at a different spot every night - the sole reason many come to the regatta.
But I was really glad we raced. Prior to this, only a few of us had racing experience - one who crews on long-distance races like the TransPac & Newport-Cabo, and a husband-wife team who campaigns their E-scow across the Midwest. They and our skipper were regular fixtures on the race boat, and the rest of us rotated into the other four crew positions. All 17 of us crewed at least one race, including a few with zero sailing experience at all; our veteran racers did an excellent job of getting us all up to speed. I crewed on three practice days and two of the four racing days and had a fantastic time. It's a surprisingly intense sport for taking place on vessels that seldom exceed 9 knots. We started the week a little rough but continuously improved, ultimately netting several third place finishes to end the regatta in the middle of the pack. By the last day everyone was talking about racing in two classes next year. I'm certainly hooked...I met several Wayzata Yacht Club members this fall on Lake Minnetonka who invited me to race with them next summer, and now I think I'll be taking them up on it.
Sailing on a larger boat for the first time was interesting. It's faster and points (near the wind) much better than my boat, and with its heavy deep-draft keel it stood up to wind gusts much better and waves affected it less. The forces involved in managing such a huge sail plan are much greater, however, with more chance for injury. In small sailboats I'm admittedly careless in use of the jibsheet winches; the heavy-duty powered winches in the Beneteau scared me a bit, as they'll take your finger off if you're not careful. The things I love about sailing - the peacefulness of gliding along on the wind, the beauty of a boat heeled over under full sail, the feeling of power in a gust, the camaraderie of working together as a crew - remain the same.
One of the long-term goals I've had since I was a teenager is to do some long-distance cruising, perhaps even a circumnavigation, by sail. This may have to wait for retirement, or perhaps my first furlough. But before I even think of asking Dawn to sail away with me for one or two or three years, I need a lot more experience. Buying the Santana & sailing in the Interline Regatta were one little step towards that, but it's a start. Future steps will include racing, chartering, and perhaps crewing on a few passages. I'm eager to learn.