February 16, 2014

It's not racing, dammit

The Disease Called Cruising

13. Racing? Rubbish!

HERE WE ARE, cruising along at a steady four knots on a beautiful afternoon, and suddenly we’re in a hole. Windspeed: zero. Boatspeed: zip.

Out of the blue comes another Deadbeat 31. Haven’t seen another one for years. We’re a dying class. Full-keel, heavy-displacement cruiser. No pretense at weatherliness. No fancy maneuvering. Just solid, dependable seaworthiness.

The other Deadbeat is still carrying the breeze. And heading straight for us, the dummy. Can’t he see we’re in a hole? There, the idiot has got himself becalmed with us, just 25 yards off to starboard.

He’s shouting greetings and comparing notes. Not many of us left, he says. Hardly surprising, I think, if he’s an example of the breed. Only lemmings follow each other over cliffs or into windless holes.

I see a little ruffle on the water ahead, a dark patch moving this way. I ease the mainsheet and move forward in the cockpit until I can just touch the tiller with my fingertips. Must keep weight out of the ends. Prevents hobbyhorsing.

My wife comes up the companionway and sees me stretched out. She notices the other Deadbeat 31. She purses her lips.

“You’re racing!” she says accusingly.

“No I’m not.”

I gave up racing years ago. Got my guts in a knot once too often. Too competitive. Found myself shouting at crew, luffing friends, calling for water when it wasn’t my right  . . . almost cheating, even.

“You promised me faithfully you wouldn’t, ever again.”

“But I’m not.”

“Then why are you sitting in that ridiculous position pumping the mainsheet?”

“Can’t I sit how I like in my own boat?”

The puff is nearly here. Pressure, we used to call it.  The other fool has his main pinned in tight and his jib is going to be aback before he knows it.

“I’m not going through this again. We nearly got divorced through racing.”

“Just ease the jib a fraction, would you?”

“No, I won’t. I’m not going to help you race,”

“My sweet, it’s not racing. It’s just being more efficient. We’re simply extracting the most efficiency out of the wind.”

“Oh, sure.”

We’re starting to move. We’re leaving him.

“Just ease the jib, please darling.”

“Don’t you darling me. You’re racing.”

“No, honestly, I’m just comparing our efficiency with his efficiency.”

Maybe if she sat to leeward to reduce windage . . .

“I wish there was a Racers Anonymous,” she says. “It’s a disease. You’re sick. You need help.”

“There’s nothing wrong with me.”

“There you are, you see. You keep denying it.”

“I don’t need help, I’m not racing. Would you mind sitting down to leeward?”

We’re two boatlengths ahead already, footing nicely and well placed to cover him if he tacks. Racing, indeed! This is just comparative efficiency testing. Tomorrow I’m going to get that tiller extension I’ve been thinking about. Oh, and a couple of light-weather jib sheets.

Today’s Thought

I don’t meet competition, I crush it.

— Charles Revson, found of Revlon, Inc., Time 16 Jun 58


The man who thinks no woman is good enough for him may be right. But he’s also likely to be left.

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

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