In the 1960s, my wife and my mother were (briefly) sailing TV stars. That is only a mild exaggeration. They appeared on television, on Chicago’s NBC affiliate no less, and in those days that qualified you as at least a minor celebrity.
I’d like to set up a meeting between James Harrison and Rich Wilson. Rich could give James some tips about competing in sports.Harrison is a star linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers whose winning-is-everything attitude earned him $100,000 in fines for illegal hits in a single season. Wilson is a scholarly 66-year-old sailor.
I’m going to introduce you to a man who has learned, refined and perfected the art of finding the simple joy of sailing.
For an activity that humans figured out eons ago, sailing can be complicated. Besides keeping up with advancing technology, it often demands serious planning. Cruises and races require organizing personnel and logistics. Even daysails with friends need arrangements to find dates and times that coincide with suitable weather.
While the First Mate (that would be my wife) leaned over the lifelines in a game struggle to hold the boat off the dock, I gunned the diesel to blast out of the slip through a strong sideways breeze and nasty ferry wake. As the boat cleared the last piling (cleared on the second bounce, that is), I heard a commotion behind me, looked back and saw the First Mate hanging from the dock by her fingertips shouting some words that I couldn’t make out but I assume were unprintable.Schedule
One acquaintance said he spent the better part of a weekend binge-watching the drama unfolding on his computer screen. Another told me he lost sleep, unable to resist getting up in the night to check the latest developments. A number of people I hardly knew regaled me with arcane details of a sports competition they barely understood but followed avidly on the internet.
Mark Twain famously described Bermuda as paradise you have to go through hell to reach.
A chronic seasickness sufferer, he served his time in hell on the dependably bumpy rides to his island getaway.
Twain was no seaman, but even experienced ocean sailors are wary of the 600-plus-nautical-mile passage from the East Coast to Bermuda that features sea conditions energized by a hot Gulf Stream flowing fast through a North Atlantic that is often a speedway for weather systems.
The view through my office window this morning tantalizes with a cerulean sky and green maple tree leaves aflutter in a fresh northwest breeze. The urge to escape to the red sailboat docked a block away is as compelling as the urge to wax nostalgic in this column I am writing for SAILING’s 50th anniversary issue. Alas, I’m going to resist both.
The column was published more than five years ago, but I still get reader comments about the Full and By piece I wrote about the ghost fleet. The column is sort of a ghost itself, living forever on the Internet.
Readers, I’m going to introduce you to one of your mates, a fellow sailor whose story comes with a touch of serendipity while telling us something about the diversity of the sailing clan and the esteem that is held for sailing as a pursuit that offers character-building challenges. I think you’ll be glad he’s one of us.
Guys tell me they wish they had never sold their most-loved automobile, maybe a first-generation Pontiac GTO or a Mustang like Steve McQueen drove in the movie “Bullitt,” but instead stored it and pampered it so that today they would be able to show off a valuable classic.
A mental disease called prairie madness afflicted settlers living on the American Great Plains. It was caused by the wind. The incessant wind blowing over the endless expanse of flat land literally drove people nuts.I believe I was once on the brink of going crazy because of the wind. That was during the worst sailboat race I ever experienced. Unlike prairie madness, my nascent mental disorder was caused by wind that never blew.
Don’t ask how many sailboat shows I’ve been to. I couldn’t tell you. There are so many of these rituals that command the attendance of people engaged in the business of sailing embedded in my memory that they’ve blurred into an uncountable mass.
One day when my mind was obviously a black hole utterly devoid of anything stimulating to think about, I wondered why so few presidents of the United States and aspirants for that office were sailboat owners.I think I found a partial answer when I came across an article in an online archive with a headline that read, “Boxer calls out Fiorina as a multiple yacht owner.”
In 1995, in the quaint era when logo T-shirts (non-technical 100% cotton) were considered as important to business promotion as a Facebook page is today, SAILING created one that featured a portrait of Joshua Slocum and a drawing of his yawl Spray. It’s a classic. If you’re lucky enough to possess one, it might fetch a tidy sum on eBay, but better to preserve it as a tribute to a great sailing trendsetter.
The shapes arrayed on the windward rail are rounded mounds. In the dark they look a bit like a row of igloos.The simile is apt. It’s a cold night. The 15-knot northeasterly wind is heavy with vapors rising from 48-degree water. The sailors are padded in layers of fleece or down under foul-weather suits and inflatable life vests, with boots on their feet, wool caps on their heads. Shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip, they ride high above the choppy water as the heeling boat close-reaches toward a distant waypoint.
Long live the America's Cup! Yes, I know, some of us have been disappointed by the morphing of this historic yachting institution from a respected international competition among sailors representing yacht clubs and their countries into a spectacle that features participants in helmets and body armor and is fueled by the inflated wallets and egos of billionaires and marked by shameless rule-rigging, but now we can again proudly embrace this once beloved sailing icon, for the America’s Cup has finally delivered on its promise to sailors.
I’m pretty sure I sailed before I walked. I know I sailed before I talked. I don’t remember it, but it’s family lore. My parents’ idea of a nice family outing was to put their first-born, while still in the babe-in-arms stage, aboard their 18-foot Seagull sloop and go sailing on Lake Michigan. There is no record of whether I wore a life preserver. I’m guessing I didn’t. The kapok models in vogue at the time would have outweighed the child.