Rooster one day, feather duster the next

Published on April 7th, 2021

Avoiding collision requires visibility which is hard in the fog, and once was a whole lot harder before pinpoint navigation tools. But what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger and provides good stories… here’s two of them:

From Jim Durden:
Way back in the 80s, on the day of a California Yacht Club Cal Cup race, I ran into a guy in CYC’s men’s room before the race. I asked (Drew from West Marine) if his skipper needed any crew. He quickly said yes and I realized I just got my first ride on a sled.

This was a dream come true for a recently transplanted Oregon sailor who was used to plying the muddy waters of the Columbia River on nothing bigger than a Choate 40.

While I can’t remember the name of the sled, it had some really good crew on board, one name in particular I’ll never forget. Not only did the crew do a great job getting sails up and down, which didn’t seem to matter much with the talent in this fleet until the fog rolled in. This is when I learned first-hand the importance of having a great navigator who started doing his magic.

I also learned the importance of a well-honed crew who listened carefully to the navigator and performed their tasks perfectly. No yelling, no panic, nothing but focus. Of course, I had absolutely no idea where we were, but I knew we were supposed to be heading to the finish.

None of us could see 10 feet in front of us. Call it potato navigation, in which stories have been told of having a sailor placed on the bow, throwing potatoes and listening for the splash. No splash…tack! After several tense minutes, the stern of the committee boat appeared through the fog accompanied by a loud canon blast as we crossed the finish line in first place!

We were told later at the clubhouse that some boats were still out there trying to find the finish. I also got to meet and shake the hand of our navigator, Dennis Durgan. This is one of those races I’ll never forget and the beginning of an awesome era of sled racing.

From Ernest Godshalk:
I was sailing my Shields with my 10-year-old daughter outside Manchester, MA harbor when the fog closed in, also fogging my glasses so that I couldn’t read the compass. I gave the helm to my daughter, estimated the course back into the harbor as 30°, and asked her to steer that compass course.

She steered the course to perfection, but I had forgotten the numbers on the 1960s Ritchie compass dropped a zero, so 30° was actually 300°. As a result, we sailed into the tiny harbor Misery Island, which I recognized because of its Trustees of Reservations moorings. We picked up a mooring and waited for the fog to lift.

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