August 11, 2007
I’m back from today’s Shaw Island Classic sailboat race… uh, glide…. um, drift….. float… I mean…. well, what I mean, is that very few boats actually made it to the halfway mark, much less all the way around Shaw Island. There was a paucity of wind, and an abundance of strong current running in the opposite direction of where the boats actually needed to go (in this case, all the way around Shaw).
Conditions were challenging, in a slow-motion kind of way. The couple on whose boat Charles and I crewed agreed when I declared that the race committee should judge us in a manner similar to that of ice skating, where you get extra points for snazzy tricks like spins and pirouettes. Because that’s exactly what our talented 35′ boat did at least twice, when caught without steerage (no wind means the wheel has nothing to control) and in the grip of strong, swirling currents that had us dangerously close to the rocky shoreline for a few wide-eyed minutes. Other extra points should be awarded for elegance of maneuvers with new dance partners: two or three times, our feet would have made Fred Astaire proud, as our legs reached out to fend off other drifting boats in the race to avoid mutual damage to shiny paint jobs and egos.
We would have won our biggest points during a memorable minute when, just yards from the rocks on the southeast end of Crane Island and caught in the doldrums with a powerful whirlpool of a current, our boat drifted up against a mooring ball tethered to a cute little 17′ sailboat. As we squatted at the edge of our hull and tap danced our way across the ball and boat, along came another hapless and even larger sailboat in the, uh, “race,” who drifted up against the other side of the same small ball and boat, which was also the side that was about to push them right onto the rocks. To the sporting sounds of hoots, cheers, and amused comments from a few onlookers who did not own boats and stood comfortably on dry land with drinks in hand, our two crews provided the entertainment for the day as many nimble sets of concerned feet gingerly pushed outward in all directions as the two sailboats simultaneously met with each other, the mooring ball, and the little daysailer, creating a sandwich filling from the latter. Amazingly, no boats ever touched, although the round of boat-to-boat footsie was worthy of a Twister party game, and about as ridiculous looking as one. More points from the judges, please.
I am usually a stop-and-smell-the-kelp kind of sailor, and this was my very first race. In addition to having a great time out on the water despite having to throw in the towel and use our engine to finally make it around Shaw and return home, it was quite an object lesson in physics. To wit: the most important ingredients in sailing are not only wind and current, but long limbs and a sense of humor.
I would have loved to post a photo of the remarkable sight of 60 or so sailboats swarming inches away from each other at the starting line, or floating aimlessly and perilously close to each other in the narrows of Wasp Passage, but I was too busy trying to keep the boat moving or trying to avoid moving the boat on top of another one to pick up my camera. Instead, I offer a favorite moment from a calmer part of the afternoon, where glorious Mount Baker rose up over the islands and their intrepid, if sometimes silly, sailors, and reminded me that the slower you go, the more you see…
…and the less tired your legs are!