Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Flash of Brilliance

Last Saturday I went to the Laser New England Masters Regatta for the first time. My previous limited experience in large laser regattas has taught me to have very humble expectations. The guys that go to these things are usually long time laser sailors with lots of experience in sailing open water with waves or chop. The guys from the Newport Laser Fleet did quite well in the recent Masters Worlds, and most of them are really good laser sailors. I, on the other hand, am primarily a flatwater, lake sailor. At best, I am a big fish in a small pond. On their undulating turf, I am strictly a back of the packer, scoring my finish by counting forward from last place, and hoping to avoid the distinction of DFL.

Lucky for me, the wind on Saturday was mostly 7 – 10, so there was no wave issue. In the first two races, I was starting to look more like a middle of the pack guy, and I was feeling pretty good about myself. But then the third race became the miracle race. I got a good start, held my lane nicely, went faster than people on both sides of me, and spent a lot of time in clear air. When I tacked to go right, I crossed everyone who had not yet tacked off. I looked a little in the distance and to leeward and there was Scott Ferguson, Masters Full Rig World Champion. I looked to windward and there was Peter Seidenberg, perpetual Great Grand Masters World Champion. Wow! I’ve never been this close to these guys! And next to Peter Seidenberg is my best sailing buddy and sparing partner, Eric. Ferguson approached on starboard and forced me to tack. Wow! Even with Scott Ferguson in the middle of the first beat! What am I doing here? I don’t deserve to be on the same racecourse with these guys! I more or less followed him and/or Peter Seidenberg to the windward mark. As we approached the mark, it looked like it was going to be Seidenberg easily in first, Eric in second, an unknown boat in third and me in fourth.

Where was Ferguson? Downwind I got to the left of the third boat which put me slightly ahead of him, but another boat came from behind and got to the left and ahead of me. I was looking for an opportunity to work up to the left to blanket him, but he moved to the left to blanket Eric. It wasn’t until a few boat lengths from the leeward mark that I realized that this interloper was Scott Ferguson, poised to take his rightful place in front of back of the packers like us. Eric did a great job of holding him off and rounding in second. I remained in fourth.

Up the beat, everyone seemed to be holding their positions while working more or less the same center right part of the course. On a couple of occasions, I thought I got within 2 – 3 boat lengths of Ferguson, but then he would gain several boat lengths on me. Within fifty yards of the finish, Eric crossed 3 boat lengths ahead of Ferguson, who was heading to the right. I stayed in fourth, hoping not to do something stupid to spoil this Cinderella race. Moments earlier, I had almost capsized while doing a tack that my head and tiller arm had decided to do without informing the rest of my body. At the last minute, Ferguson got a slight shift to the right and edged out Eric to finish second. I held onto fourth.

Eric and I looked at each other wondering what had just happened. How had we been sailing with world champions? We did not belong here! We both knew that we could sail a lot of regattas, practice diligently, get good coaching, and never get to the level where we would be sailing with these guys. Even at the best we will ever become, we might never again see a 3rd and 4th finish in a 49 boat fleet of this caliber. It was a fantastic moment and even more fantastic because I shared it with the good friend with whom I sail with week in and week out, summer and winter. Wow!

The fourth race saw a reversion back to our truer selves in the back of the pack, but there is no need to discuss that. How about that third race! Did I tell you we sailed next to world champions? …….. Cue “Glory Days” by Bruce Springsteen.

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations to both of you. All those Thursday and Saturday sessions at the lake have started to pay off!