ERIC: A novel by Henry Menin

Published on May 23rd, 2023

Internationally-acclaimed umpire and jurist Henry Menin (USVI), who had chaired the World Sailing Match Racing Committee and spent a lot of hours in RIBs officiating for the America’s Cup and other high-level events, is now a fictional novelist.

Titled ERIC, Menin shares a preview for Scuttlebutt:

This story begins in 1956 when Eric is 12 years old and discovers sailing at his summer camp. The following year, he discovers one-design racing, and he becomes obsessed.

In this excerpt, he is 17 years old, still in high school, sailing mostly against college sailors, and competing in the Mid-Atlantic Regionals in Annapolis in an attempt to qualify for the Nationals in the Streaker (a fictional boat).

He is competing with his close friend, John, against whom he competes regularly on a lake in Pennsylvania. For this event, they are staying with Josh and Susan Borman in Eastport, MD.
He woke to the noise of John in the bathroom. He waited until John vacated and then went in.

He got dressed and grabbed his gear. Susan had breakfast prepared for them.

“Thanks, Susan, but they’re giving us breakfast at the club.”

“Sit down, Eric. You too, John. I’ve eaten the club breakfasts. You’re better off here. I guarantee it.”

The boys laughed, sat down, and enjoyed the eggs, bacon, orange juice, and toast.

At the club, Mr. Billings gave some last-minute news. One of the skippers had withdrawn for some reason. Another never showed up, so they were down to 48 competitors.

Then they launched their boats and headed for the race area.

Eric had been anxious when walking from the house to the club. He hardly spoke to John. But now, once focusing on the racing, going through his routine, standing, and shaking his arms and legs, he felt relaxed and ready.

They did 3 races in the morning. It was not a stellar beginning. He had a 6th in the first race. He knew he had made some mistakes. He picked the wrong side of the course. He had headed left off the starting line, but the wind shifted right. He made up some ground on the beats and on the reaches, but not enough. He knew he was as fast or faster than most of the others. He just had to eliminate mistakes.

The second race was a little better. He got trapped in an adverse current for a while, and it took a minute or two to get out of it. He showed good speed again on the beats and the reaches, planing before most of the others. But downwind was a problem, and Josh had warned him about it. The waves had picked up, and he succumbed to chasing the biggest waves. When he saw John off to his right, gaining distance on him, he realized his mistake and remembered what Josh had told him.

He worked his way out of the adverse current, but now he was back to 5th. He started to make gains but finished 4th. John was way ahead of him in 3rd.

The third race was better. He reduced his mistakes, having learned a lot from the previous 2 races. He rounded the windward mark in third place and got onto a long plane on the first reach. On the beat, it was him, John, and a third guy who had been deep in the fleet in the prior two races.

When they rounded the windward mark the second time, it was just John and him. It felt like all the times on the lake. They dueled all the way down the run. At the finish, John beat him by half a boat length.

He didn’t like losing to John, but it was much better than the first two races.

They sailed over to the ‘lunch launch.’ They picked up their lunches and sailed off the course, stopping their boats next to each other. They looked at each other for a few seconds, and then they both laughed.

“Feels like home,” John said.

“Well, getting there. But watch out, John, I’m coming for you this afternoon.”

They both laughed again.

When they finished lunch, they sailed back to the ‘lunch launch,’ dropped off their trash, and picked up another water. They were small bottles. Eric tucked his into his life jacket.

They sailed out to the Race Committee boat and waited for the start of the next race.

Eric was pumped. He got a great start at the leeward end. The wind was oscillating but shifting more left. John was in the middle of the line. When they crossed halfway up the beat, he crossed John by 2 boat lengths. Eric was out in front. He rounded the windward mark in first place and never looked back. The tide had gone almost slack, as Josh told them it would at this time. The current was not really a factor.

Eric finished 5 lengths in front of everyone. John was 5th.

The last race of the day was another good one, though not quite as good as the one before.

The tide had begun to go the other way. Now it was with him on the downwind leg, and there were almost no waves.

Again, he was first at the windward mark and maintained his lead all the way around. But his lead was not as great. John was just a boat length behind and trying to cover him all the way downwind, but he only gained a foot or two at most as they crossed the finish line.

As he started to sail back toward the club, he saw Josh anchored in a small dinghy just outside the racing area. As he sailed past, he waved. Josh simply nodded.

John caught up to him, and they sailed in side by side.

“You got hot this afternoon. What happened?”

“You happened, John. I had to beat you. Nothing personal, you know.”

He gave John a big smile.

“It’s all personal, hotshot. It’s all personal. But I love you anyway.”

They both laughed.

Back at the club, there were huge plastic cups of lemonade waiting for them. They both gulped down 2 cups before stopping to get their breath.

They hung around until the day’s results were posted. John was in first place by one point over Eric. The third-place boat was 5 points behind Eric.

Eric put his arm around John.

“Nice racing John. But that’s just today, my friend. Just today.”

They walked home together, showered, and came back to the club for another barbeque.

There were burgers, hot dogs, grilled corn, and crabs.

The corn was so tender and sweet that he figured that they must add tons of sugar before grilling.

He looked at the crabs. He’d never eaten them. He sat staring at them. Susan saw him and walked over and sat next to him.

“Never eaten crabs before?”

“No, Susan, I haven’t. I see these guys banging on them with these wooden mallets, but I don’t know what they’re doing.”

She smiled at him.

“Let me introduce you to the land of pleasant living, Eric. Too bad you’re not old enough to drink beer, but your lemonade will do. Let me show you.”

She began to dismantle the crab, breaking off the legs and setting them aside. Then she artfully pulled apart the main body of the crab.

By this time, John had slid over to watch.

“I’ve eaten some crabs down here before, but I always just smashed them apart.”, said John.

Susan laughed.

“And probably left the best parts still in the crab.”

They both watched as she pulled the crab meat from the body of the crab, feeding bits to Eric and then John.

Eric smacked his lips.

“Oh, that’s good,” he murmured. “And spicy.”

“More Old Bay, my boy.”

She laughed.

Then she started working on the crab’s legs, cracking them open and pulling out the meaty interior, feeding the boys again.

“OK. Boys, you’re on your own now.” She smiled at them both and started to leave.

“Susan, just a quick question. What do they do to the corn to make it so sweet?”

She laughed and ruffled his hair.

“More stuff from the land of pleasant living, Eric. They don’t do anything to it. It grows that way, over on the Eastern Shore. It’s called Silver Queen. I’ll get some of that for you to take home too.”

She left them as they each grabbed a crab. They struggled to do what Susan had done and were making a mess of things. They laughed out loud.

Finally, they extracted some of the meat, ate what they had, and gave up. They washed their hands in the water basins provided at each table, wiped their mouths, and drank a huge glass of lemonade. They looked at each other and laughed.

“John, I’m going to make a call. I’ll be along soon.”

He dialed Lauren. She answered.

“I was waiting for you to call. It’s been a couple of days. I thought maybe you found someone else,” she said half-jokingly.

“You’re kidding me, right? You’re serious?”

“No, I guess not, but I was wondering why you didn’t call.”

“Wait, you didn’t get the message I left with Liam? I called you last evening. He said you were out with your mom.”

“Liam.” She almost shouted his name. “That lame brain! I’ll kill him. No, he never said a word.”

“It’s OK, Lauren. We’re talking now. I’ve missed you.”

“How’s it going, Eric? Are you OK? How’s the house where you’re staying?”

“It’s going OK. Had a lousy morning, but it picked up this afternoon. John’s in first place but just a point ahead of me. Rest of the fleet is pretty well behind. The people we’re with are great. Couldn’t be nicer, and they’re giving us great advice.”

Just then, the operator got on and said he had to deposit more coins to remain on the call.

“Look, Lauren here’s the number at the Borman’s house. I don’t think they’ll mind if you call me there. I should be back there in half an hour.”

“OK, Eric. Tu me manques.” She laughed, and then there was the sound of a click as the operator ended the call.

Sure enough, before he had a chance to shower, Lauren called.

Susan answered.

“Eric, there’s a young lady on the phone for you.”

“Thanks, Susan. Is it OK?”

Susan nodded, “Of course.”

He talked to Lauren for about 10 minutes. When he got off the phone, Susan spoke to him.

“You look content.”

He smiled.

“I think I’ll go shower.”

As he was about to go up the stairs, Josh caught up with him.

“Can you and John spare a couple of minutes after you shower?”

“Sure. I’ll tell John.”

Eric waited for John to get out of the shower and then took his own. The boys dressed and went down to speak with Josh.

“Not much I can tell you boys after that dominating performance this afternoon, but there are maybe a couple of things that I noticed.”

They talked for a few minutes. Josh reminded them about the tide and went over the tide tables for the next day. He thought that John could move his weight slightly forward on the beats and that Eric was getting a little too active with body movement on the downwind legs.

Eric was delighted with the information. It was the first time he felt like he had a coach.

Chapter 56
The following day was the John and Eric show. They just sailed away from the rest of the fleet. In the morning, Eric had a 1, 2, 1, leaving him tied with John for first place. In the afternoon, the boys split the wins, each having a 1 and a 2. The tie remained.

After dinner at the club and after showering at the Borman’s, John and Eric again came down for a debrief with Josh.

They sat in front of him expectantly. He looked at them and laughed.

“What can I say? It’s hard to argue with your results. I got nothin’.”

He laughed again.

“Just go out there and have fun tomorrow. Don’t let up, but I don’t think that will happen with the intense competition I see between you two guys.”

The phone rang. Susan answered.

“Same sweet young thing again, Eric.”

He blushed and took the receiver,

“Hi, Lauren.”

“Hi, Eric. I won’t keep you. I know tomorrow is a big day. Just wanted to know how it went today … and to tell you again how much I miss you.”

“I miss you too,” he whispered, looking around to see who might be listening.

“John and I had a pretty good day. We’re tied for first right now. It’ll be a fight between the two of us, almost like on the lake. Should be intense but fun.”

“Good luck, Eric. Can’t wait until you get back here. As always, ‘Tu me manques.’”

“Me too. I’ll try to call you after the racing tomorrow.”

When he hung up, he asked Susan.

“Would it be OK if I called my folks for a minute? I won’t be long, and I will leave you some money to cover the call.”

“Eric, stop it. It’s not like you’re calling Europe. Of course, you can call your folks. … And don’t you dare leave any money by the phone.”

He made a quick call and talked to his dad for a few minutes. Yes, he was doing fine. His hosts were terrific people, and the racing was good. He and John were tied for first. Yes, he was eating and eating well. He thought they might try to come home tomorrow evening after racing.

He finished the conversation. Talked with John, Susan, and Josh for a few minutes then excused himself and went to bed.

Chapter 57
He woke to clouds scudding across the sky and a light drizzle. The breeze was much stronger and colder.

This could be miserable, he thought.

Susan was waiting with breakfast again. John joined him, looked outside, and frowned.

Josh came down the stairs in his pajamas.

“Don’t think I’ll be out on the water to watch today. Not very pleasant out there.”

But he pulled out the tide tables and reviewed them with the boys.

“Lots of chop out there today. Be careful trying to plane. On the downwind, easy to capsize today. Play it safe if you can. I’m guessing they’ll move the course more into the river, away from the bay a little, closer to the club, trying to get into flatter water. But it’ll still be choppy. Could be some nasty gusts. Like I said, play it safe.”

The boys dressed for the racing, with foul weather tops but still no coverings for their legs, and headed for the club.

They got out onto the water as soon as possible, both wanting to get in some practice before the first race.

Josh had been right. The course was in closer to the club. Eric followed his usual routine, beating up the first leg, but not all the way, then turning onto a reach.

Boom! It was like being shot from a gun. He was on the fastest plane he had ever ridden. Water sprayed out along both sides of the hull. When he came off the plane, the bow wanted to dig into the wave in front. He fought for control.

The first jibe was an adventure. The sail snapped across the boat faster than ever before. He ducked just in time, and then, before he knew it, the boat was on its side, and he was in the water. He came up, spitting the brackish water out of his mouth. It took him longer than usual to right the boat, climb aboard and get sailing again.

Off on another lightning-fast plane. He was being super cautious now. When he turned to start the next beat, he had to fight to keep the boat upright. This was going to be an exhausting day!

He looked around. There were multiple boats capsized. He turned to go downwind. He decided that dead downwind, though plenty fast, was just too risky. The last thing he needed was an accidental jibe. He came up a bit and planed quickly. He jibed a couple of times, trying to control it better each time, picking his spots carefully.

The first race started. He was in good shape. His legs and stomach muscles were being put through their toughest test ever. Silently he thanked his track coach for persuading him to stick with the training.

He managed to get around the course without capsizing. John was close by, managing the conditions pretty well. But at the finish, Eric was ahead by several boat lengths. Now he was a point ahead of John.

There was no banter between the boys between races this time as they just tried to regain their strength.

The second race was almost a carbon copy of the first, except that John planed right by Eric at the finish. Tied once more.

The third race saw slightly lighter winds, but still windier than the previous two days and choppier.

John and Eric fought a bitter tacking duel up the first beat. On the reach, Eric was quicker to plane than John and just faster. The jibe was easier in the less gusty and lighter wind. By the time he reached the leeward mark, he was ahead of John by 2 lengths.

The next beat was another dueling battle, but Eric was just loosely covering John, trying not to lose ground to the rest of the fleet.

Downwind was uneventful but fast. Both boys worked the waves, planing as much as possible. At the finish, Eric was ahead by the same 2 lengths.

Up a point.

They ate their lunches separately this time.

The weather front had moved through. The sun was peeking out from the clouds. The wind had shifted slightly to the left, and the wind abated somewhat.

Again, it was a 2-man race. The boys battled with each other as if there were no other boats in the race. At the finish, John nosed him out by ½ length.

Tied again. He needed a 1 to win, or even a 2 or 3, so long as he beat John.

John sailed next to him.

“Don’t let up, Eric.”

Eric looked at him.

John smiled.

Eric smiled back.

“I won’t. You neither, OK?

John nodded and then sailed away.

The weather continued to improve. The sun was shining brightly now. Eric wished he had time to drop his foul weather top at the ‘lunch launch,’ but it was too far away.

The race started, and the boys were next to each other, with John just to windward, trying to edge forward and take Eric’s wind. But Eric kept luffing him and then bearing away. John was not making forward progress on him; in fact, he lost a few feet.

John gave up and tacked away.

When they were about to cross tacks, Eric was on port and John on starboard. Eric was only slightly ahead and could not cross in front. Instead of ducking, Eric tacked just underneath John and half a boat length ahead. By the time he got up to speed again, he was a quarter boat length ahead and to leeward of John but very close.

John understood that he would not gain and would probably lose ground there. He immediately tacked away. The boys rounded the windward mark with Eric ahead.

On the reach, Eric gained. But John kept it close on the second reach and on the last beat, hoping Eric would make a mistake.

They rounded the windward mark only a boat length apart.

John attacked, trying to blanket Eric’s wind. They ended up in a jibing duel, neither boy giving quarter. When they were just a few lengths from the finish, John got a gust of wind merely seconds before Eric. He surged on the puff of air. Eric anticipated the puff, jibed, and rode it toward the finish. They both crossed the line, sailing away from each other.

Eric looked over at John and shrugged his shoulders with his arms outspread and palms up, indicating he didn’t know who had won. John pointed at him and then gave him a big smile and a thumbs-up.

Eric wasn’t so sure. Either way, they were both going to the Nationals. He let out a deep sigh and couldn’t help grinning.

ERIC is available at

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