He was sizing me up — literally. “So, how much do you weigh?” Marshall inquired. It was a question that should have tipped me off, but as I stood at the coffee table (at church, no less), the dots didn’t connect. Little did I know a new hobby was on my horizon.
I’m now a member of a sailboat racing team! As shocking as this may seem to you, it’s even more surprising to me since I have never sailed before. Except, that is, on one of those fancy vacation catamarans complete with calypso background music and tacky tiki bar. I know nothing about sailing — nothing. Not even the boat parts. And there are lots of them. While I have heard of the mainsail, rudder, stern and bow, there are parts – actually words – that are completely foreign to me. There’s the halyard, vang, clew and luff, to name a few. “Boom” is my favorite new word, and it’s easy to remember since it’s the horizontal pole that holds the main sail out. It can hit your head with a loud “boom” if you don’t duck as it swings to and fro – starboard to port. Impressed yet?
There are also words I recognize that have completely different meanings — sheets are ropes, roaches are not bugs, and the main cringle has nothing to do with Santa Claus. Then there’s the shroud … These are just the parts of the boat. The terminology for sailing adds a deeper level of bewilderment. We’re tacking, jibing, getting out of irons and, hopefully, avoiding squalls (I know that last word). I feel like I’m back in Japan struggling to order dinner or in my backyard attempting to converse with the landscape crew. Agua? (While I’m not studying sailboat terminology I am working on my Spanish).
Most importantly there’s the team — Captain Chris who has been sailing since age 7 and Marshall, the bold church coffee guy who sized me up for the job. I soon learned that the weight on the boat is a critical factor. The reality is that if I just sit on the boat, I’m helping the team. If I can manage to execute what Captain Chris is directing, I could actually be very helpful.
Our first attempt to race was cancelled due to summer storms. Chris and Marshall were diligently preparing the boat in a torrential downpour just in case — of course, no other teams even showed up. We ended up having dinner instead. I ordered a salad, now ever-conscious of my weight and not wanting to tip us over the boat limit. During our conversation, the word “intense” kept resurfacing, but they added “not” in front of it. I later learned that their spouses would not sail competitively with them. Between bites, I offered to be the hospitality committee on the boat — I’m good at that. Nope. No food or drinking (adult beverages) allowed. I quickly picked up that this is racing, not socializing. It also takes careful maneuvering and alertness since quarters are tight. Marshall told me that one of his goals was to not crash into me, “I’m big and move fast. Our movement will take choreography worthy of Dancing with the Stars. But we can figure it out.”
Even if they aren’t “intense” my fellow sailing mates are definitely serious sailors. Chris has won numerous regattas on Lake Michigan and is well known in the Chicago and Milwaukee racing circles. He even mentioned competing in a Toronto regatta this fall, “if we get the boat running fast enough.” I quickly learned that fine-tuning the boat to go faster and win competitions is the ultimate goal as Captain Chris clarified, “You buy a boat to race it to win to buy a faster boat.” I have no idea which “fast boat” we are on, but the objective was crystal clear on night one. Of course, I have no inkling of how fast they are even talking about since I have no clue what knots are either, but I’m just going to keep showing up every Wednesday night.
Who knows where this adventure may lead, but I may one day end up sailing beyond the ports and ponds of Indianapolis. Why knot?