With experience comes knowledge

Published on April 28th, 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 one of them:

From Lynn Fitzpatrick:
In addition to having an amazing and dry sense of humor, Bill Ziegler III was a fantastic seaman. Many of us had wonderful experiences racing on GEM, his 50-foot IOR boat, and while he enjoyed GEM, he absolutely loved Jewel, the Sonar he sailed out of Noroton Yacht Club in Darien, Connecticut.

Whereas GEM was a three-ring circus that required a lot of management and logistics to get the rock star crew from one regatta to another, Jewel was dry sailed with four aboard and nothing more than a compass and a few wrist watches.

Also, to say there was plenty of competition in the Noroton fleet was an understatement, yet when we mixed it up with the folks from Long Island’s North Shore, the series was akin to sailing a World Championship. Through it all, Mr. Z’s humor and maritime knowledge kept us laughing and saved us more than once, especially in the fog.

I remember setting out on Jewel with Mr. Z., Tom Kinney, and Carl Ziegler for a Mid-Long Island Sound rendezvous PHRF event that included the Sonars. Not only was there no wind that morning, Darien Harbor was socked in.

We lashed an inflatable to the side of Jewel, and pulled away from the dock. Of course, we did so a little later than everybody else and still had adjustments to make with our novel side-by-side towing system. Before we knew it, we could not see Long Neck Point; not because we had motored past it, but because the fog was that thick.

Mr. Z was in the inflatable. He asked us to throttle back.

“Do you think we are at the mouth of the harbor, yet?” he asked.
The rest of us agreed that we were.
“How fast do you think we’re going?” he inquired.

After some estimating, Mr. Z knew the distance and compass direction to the buoy. With a quick distance, speed, and time calculation completed, we resumed our compass course to the channel buoy toward the middle of Long Island Sound in the fog.

Nearly an hour later, Mr. Z asked for the engine to be cut. At first all we could hear was our wake jostling the two boats together. Then we heard the low hum of a freighter heading toward us from New York City. We determined that it was in front of us, so we throttled up and made a 180-degree turn. Five minutes later, when we throttled down and cut the engine, we were relieved to hear that the vessel passed us and was to the east of us, closer to the Atlantic.

We turned the boat around and resumed our original course. The next time Mr. Z asked us to cut the engine, we heard voices. We were in the company of other boats poking about in the fog for the buoy. Finally, the sun burned through the fog, the fleets assembled, the race committee arrived, and the friendly competition among Long Island Sound National, North American, and World champions began.

With experience comes knowledge. Mr. Z spent a lifetime on the water and served as a Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy and in the US Naval Reserves. With his skill, he etched more than one basic S.T.E.M. and seamanship lesson in my memory forever.

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