Racing: Bright Lights, Wednesday Nights

Published on April 16th, 2020

by Marcus Carpenter, SAIL magazine
A dozen or so years ago, my wife, Julie, and I arrived at the Cedar Point Yacht Club’s parking lot in Westport, Connecticut, with little more than dreams and ambitions. We’d been told the people there, all strangers, sometimes needed help racing their sailboats Wednesday nights.

As outsiders we had often walked the docks admiring their beautiful boats and longing to be part of something we’d thus far only been able to watch from on shore. We made some inquiries. Julie was readily accepted. Me, they let tag along.

“You wrap the sheet around the winch in this direction,” was the first lesson. And, “No, it’s not a rope.” Our first regular ride was aboard a snarly, high-strung boat, brimming with bluster, chaos and bravado. Strange words like topping lift, cunningham and outhaul were thrown around. We were told to hang off first one side of the boat and then the other. Such a lot of fuss, when all I’d really wanted at the time was serenity and sunsets.

As our sailing knowledge grew, so did the number of invitations. “Care to join us in a race this Saturday? There will be sandwiches!” was a typical come-on. Each boat’s crew had a different temperament, different abilities and different things to teach us. One sunny afternoon an elegant Englishwoman calmly asked, “Would you be so kind as to trim in the jib a little? Lovely, that’s lovely, thank you.” A refreshing change of pace.

At one point, we found ourselves spending several years racing with another couple aboard their 1978 Pearson 28. They taught us our jobs and some of the finer points of sail trim and tactics. We learned the value of how to build a team, how the crew has to work in unison in order for a sailboat to perform at its best. The captain would yell, “Coming up!” and the sails would grind in. The captain would yell, “Coming down!” and the sails would ease-out, exactly as they should. Full report.

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