26 September 2009

Thanks, Fleet 3

It was just over two years ago that I crewed for my longtime sailing buddy, Dean Fulton, in the Vanguard 15 Nationals on San Francisco Bay. The boat was just a few months old, and neither of us had done any competitive sailing since when we were teenagers banging around in a Lido 14 having outgrown our Naples Sabots. We didn’t do well that regatta, but the intensity of the competition and the pure thrill of punching through, planing over, and occasionally crashing into the tortured waters off Crissy Field had me hooked on dinghy racing again. Gotta get me a racing boat.

A Laser would have been the natural choice, but after seeing how much money people wanted for their old ‘70s beaters, I started to look elsewhere. Poking around the Internet, I stumbled upon the Megabyte. Now that looks like a good boat—maybe what the Laser would have evolved to had it not been a one design (turns out Ian Bruce was responsible for creating both of them.) I discovered a boat for sale in Seattle and luck would have it I’d be up there on business in a couple of weeks. A quick email to the captain of Fleet 3 was promptly returned by Dean Eppley with info about the local fleet and some tips on what to look for in an old boat (the plastic bailers were the only concern). Saw the boat, bought it, shipped it home, and two weeks later I was on the starting line for the Lake Washington Turkey Shoot. I met Fleet 3 that day--very welcoming and enthusiastic about their fledgling Megabyte fleet.

All told, I think I hooked up with Fleet 3 for about seven different regattas, and from the time Dean introduced me to the rest of the guys at that first Turkey shoot right up to the end when they all knew I was on the way out of the class with my boat up for sale, they made me feel most welcome. A chest bump from Mack, a warrior’s grip handshake from Charles—I always felt included. It’s not always like that in sailing. My family often came to watch the races—usually my Mom and her husband, Bill. In other classes/fleets I might have felt a bit silly with the full entourage—maybe more “appropriate” when I was a kid getting shoved off the Mission Bay beach by Mom and Dad for the Sabot Nationals. But, they were welcome, too—invited to pull up a chair at Whiskeytown or join the potluck at Huntington Lake. My sweet Mom reciprocated with her famous shortbread boat cookies customized with sail numbers for each competitor. Of course, other Fleet 3 family were integral to the onshore camaraderie. Sharon and Daria were always there providing encouragement and shore support for all of us.

It’s not all hugs and kisses with these guys, though. On the race course, every one of them will fight hard to get to the front. That’s a good thing. Have you ever sailed against people who don’t try hard? It turns out that it’s not much fun. Give-it-your-all competition is what makes this sailing such sport. I’m grateful for that challenge. It was almost always Charles out front for us all to chase, but everybody had a good look at the front at least a few times. The finishes have been more mixed than ever this year, proof that the skills of the whole fleet have improved, and if Dean had only started droop hiking a year earlier, we might all have been chasing his transom by now! I’ll miss racing with these guys but hopefully will cross paths in the future as I find my way back to the typical regattas as crew on that Vanguard 15 or who knows what.

I picked the Megabyte North Americans as my final regatta before switching my sailing focus to adventures aboard the family cruiser. Dean did a great job getting the event on the West Coast and very well organized. Mack and Charles were ready to go having arrived the previous day and gotten in a test sail on the venue. John who is always a delight to sail with could only stay for Saturday, but it was great to have him out there. Fleet 3 was ready! One might think that the North American Championship would be a huge event, but in reality there just aren’t that many of us Megabyters to go around. Nobody from the West went east for last year’s championship, and this year the opposite was true. We did, however, finally get to meet “Big Joe” from Arizona and also discover that Chuck Hawley had been hiding out in Santa Cruz with a Megabyte for some time. These two guys flew the retro rig and competed well in both the light and heavy air. Back at the dock, they were both full of great stories to share, the likes of which we don’t hear too much of in Fleet 3—like singlehanding a 24 foot boat to Hawaii or “cruising” to Catalina in a Megabyte! I hope Chuck will find the time to fit in another regatta here and there and I like Joe’s idea of a California/Arizona event swap starting with a big regatta in January.

Well with the Megabyte up for sale, it’s off to keelboating with the family. (Geez, this is sounding like a sappy retirement speech!) I’m looking forward to that. If I’m lucky, my kids will take to sailing as I did growing up on my dad’s boat.

I will miss Fleet 3. It’s been a great two years on the Megabyte circuit. I wish each of them best of luck as they continue to build the fleet, connect with other regions, and attempt to reel Charles in! Go for it!

21 September 2009


We got it all: 20 gusting 30 to end Saturday and 2 gusting 3 to start Sunday. I won both those races; so I guess I can't make excuses as just a heavy air guy or just a light air guy. I really only had one bad race and one significant mistake all weekend if you don't count the capsizes on Saturday (everybody went upside down and/or broke something that day.) After sailing my throwout in race 5--a lot of little screw-ups just made me slow--I still had a one point lead with just one race to go. Charles would hold the tiebreaker if he won the last race, and since he and I had collectively claimed the first 5, it all came down to who would take this last one.

Pin end of the line was favored as it had been all weekend, and the wind had built enough to make boat speeds a bit more normal. With the rest of the fleet bunched up at the boat end ready to run the line with about 30 seconds to go, I came in from the left looking for just the right spot to slot in. Ah, there it was. I tacked in to leeward of Charles. All looked good except for Big Joe to leeward of me and the pin coming up fast with the clock ticking down slow. As I tried to stall, Big Joe came up to leeward forcing me to sheet in and move out. Joe finding that he was now early and out of room gybed around leaving me right at the pin (where I wanted to be) . . . and praying that my watch was slow. Was it the perfect start in the do or die race? I was the left most boat on a left favored line, and I'd been successfully outpointing the other boats already this day. Two boat lengths after the gun came the dreaded, "OH FIVE OH OVER EARLY." Ugh. Circled back and took up my spot at the back of the fleet. I managed to climb back to third, but that was it.

Three bullets in all to close my final Megabyte regatta, but it wasn't enough as Charles collected the other three and his 2-2 (after one throw out) edged my 2-3. Yeah, it's disappointing to have been that close to winning the North American championship regatta, but I know it was the best regatta I've sailed and I finished just one point behind a truly great sailor.

I'll miss Fleet 3. More on that later . . .

19 September 2009

Wind Wind Wind Wind

My little chant this morning to change the conditions in my favor. It worked. Forecast said 8 to 10. We got this instead.

I'm fast in big air. Guess all that weight I've put on is good for something. 2-1-1 today before the race committee called off race four on account of too much carnage on the course impeding safe navigation. I only capsized twice :-)

Three more tomorrow. Wind Wind Wind Wind

17 September 2009

Last Practice

I know I'm going to miss racing the Megabyte. It's a great boat after all, and the competition is always good. But I also can't help feel a near euphoria as the Megabyte era draws to an end. With one last regatta just days away, I went out mid-week for one last practice session. Practice is good. Better than simply "day sailing" in many ways. Practice is purposeful. It makes perfect sense to tack sixty times in an hour if that's what you're working on. Capsize the boat on purpose? Sure, if that what it takes to eliminate the fear of doing it accidentally. And, where you go only matters relative to how it supports your particular training objectives that day. Well, this day I didn't tack sixty times, flip, or go to my usual venue. Instead, I just sailed hard on the wind on The Bay working the boat around, over, and sometime through the chop. A deep meditative breath, a face full of spray, and a minute or two to lock in the rhythm soon had me hollering out loud. "Whooop whooop whooop, %$*# yeah, this is sailing!"

I'll be back at this spot Saturday noon ready for whatever The Bay serves up. Two days of racing--the purpose for the last day of practice.

12 September 2009

Fleet 76

A stolen outboard engine, more crew than boats to go around, one boat upside down. Might have been a bummer night if not for the seven Vanguard 15s out with perfect racing weather. Nice to be back in the crew spot on Dean's boat. Racing from the front of the boat is different from the back. Same intensity, different responsibility. And compared to singlehanding in the Megabyte, same level of tactical chatter, but with two extra ears on the boat, my lips were moving. These 76ers are tightening up the ranks,too. Other than poor Jorge who was sailing injured, everybody had a good look at the front and was in the hunt at least half the races creating just enough inter-boat proximity to raise the on-course yelling to the serious-but-fun level. It's great sailing with these guys--in a matching boat. Maybe I won't miss the Megabyte so much after all.

08 September 2009

And the Loser Is . . .

. . . Feraligatr. After a most excellent sail on The Bay yesterday in the Megabyte, I've decided it's time for her to go. I appreciate all the votes I got on this topic, and it was looking like Lapras (the "lead mine") was about to get voted off the balance sheet, but despite my wonderful time in the little boat navigating the bay chop on a 75 degree day with the Golden Gate Bridge as a backdrop, I realized I was missing something--crew. Yeah, the MB can carry a passenger, but it's really a one man (or big woman) boat. I want to share the experience with my family, with my friends. That's the same reason I unloaded all the windsurfers and bought my first sailboat so many years ago--so that I could take my girlfriend with me. Time to dedicate my precious few sailing days to the big boat, and that girlfriend who eventually married this sailor is still game.

Of course, even single-handed sailing isn't an entirely lonely pursuit. I will miss all the great friendships among the other racers both on the course and in the bar or around the campfire afterward. Then again, maybe I can beg Dean for my Vanguard crew spot back and talk him into hitting a regatta or two on the inland lake circuit.

Feraligatr is on sale here.