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Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Best Brie

Duluth Yacht Club burgee
“Racers, racers, racers…We’ll be on the Lake tonight!  Course will be a W-3.  It’ll be an upwind start between the permanent marker and the Committee boat.  Approximately a 2 mile course — twice around the shorter mark for Jib & Main.  Twice around the longer  mark for Class A, B and C. Take the mark to port and it’ll be a downwind finish back at the starting line.  Possible rain this evening.  Keep your foul weather gear handy.  See you on the Lake.”

Aug 6, 2008
My 52nd birthday.  
I have never been one to place a lot of emphasis on celebrating my own birthday.  I mean, I appreciate it when people wish me ‘happy birthday’ and I certainly wouldn’t turn down ‘free cake and ice cream for the birthday girl’ at those fun family restaurants that do that sort of thing.  But as for planning some special, unusual birthday event, that has never seemed especially important to me. When my birthday fell on a race day, as it did that year,  there was certainly nothing, in my estimation, that would have been more special for my birthday than to race as usual.  As it turned out, this was to become, for me, the most outstanding birthday ever!  

Sans Bruit
My husband and I had begun racing our 30’ Pearson, Sans Bruit, with the Duluth Yacht Club (DYC) in the fall of 2002—our first race being the Frey in the Bay.  The “Frey” is a race from a mark outside the entrance to the Barker’s Island Marina in Superior, WI and up the bay to a mark in front of the Aerial Lift Bridge in Duluth, MN, about a 12 mile course.  By the date of the subject of this post, we had sold Sans Bruit which had been jointly owned with another couple, and we had independently purchased a 1985 35’ Wauquiez Pretorien which my husband had named SweetWater.  We had, through pure good fortune, acquired a wonderful core crew of ~7 or 8 sailors that were reliably present for each race —  barring the occasional obligatory overnight travel for a crew member’s daytime job.    

We routinely welcomed additional crew onboard too; folks that showed up at the Captain’s Meeting at the dock before the start of the Wednesday race.  Anyone who had a mind to, could ask to ride along, whether they had ever sailed or not.  No one was ever turned away.  Being a social worker, this practice was privately viewed by me as a wonderful example of nondiscrimination and equality.  The reasoning offered by the DYC members was more pragmatic— to grow the club.  Of course, not everyone that was introduced to sailing was going to become sailboat owners as we had, but the more people who fell in love with sailing by whatever means, the more likelihood that the club would grow and the number of sailboats participating in Wed night races and mid-distance weekend races would  grow too.  After all, Duluth and Superior are two small cities on a very large lake.  Plenty of room for an untold number of sailboats to race.  

Sunset in the Apostle Islands
Grand Marais, MN Coast Guard station
Moose cow grazing on Isle Royale

To tell this story properly, a bit of history about the purchase of SweetWater is in order.  While I  readily acknowledge that we owe a great deal of our acquired knowledge about sailing to our years of racing with the DYC, we understood that racing was not in our blood, as it clearly was for many of the other members of the DYC.  We were cruiser wannabes.  All winter, we talked about our anticipated 2 week summer vacations sailing Isle Royale or the Apostle Islands, a group of 22 islands (misnamed since there were only 12 apostles) belonging to Wisconsin.  And we loved bringing family and friends out on short sailing trips or a long weekend to Knife River, Two Harbors, Port Wing or Cornucopia.  Our interest in finding a different sailboat was to make cruising more comfortable for us and for our guests. This time when we shopped for a sailboat, we used the help of a sailboat broker.  This process led us to fly to Annapolis, MD, aptly named the ‘Sailboat Capital of the USA.’  It was there in Annapolis that we found her, a boat design which had not been familiar to us previously, but once we saw her, we knew she was the boat for us.  Graceful lines, heavy keel, heavy duty winches, lots of sails including racing sails and 4 spinnakers, and beautiful cherry interior. Clearly, she had been loved.  She was clean and well-kept.  Unaccustomed to seeing boats that had been exposed to salt water, we had already learned earlier that day that salt water vessels tended to look more “used” than the fresh water vessels we were accustomed to seeing in Duluth —  except for this boat.  She was a beauty.  Even the bilge was clean!  The previous owner had left all of the usual manuals, of course, but also one special manual intended to educate boat guests about what constituted good boat etiquette…....such rules as no sitting on the upholstery with wet swimsuits, leave all sand OUTside the cabin, etc.  While we knew we would not subject our boat guests to the requirement of reading those rules, we appreciated the previous owners perspicacity in designing and enforcing them. 

SweetWater comes to Lake Superior. 
So, SweetWater was shipped by marine transport truck to Duluth.  She was met with enthusiasm by other DYC members.  The “oooh, nice boat” and “she looks fast” comments were received with just a bit of smugness on my part.  Over the years, I learned that every new boat that comes into the marina is met with such enthusiasm and each new boat is truly appreciated.   SweetWater, purchased for her cruising comfort was easily the heaviest boat in the racing fleet, and would not become known for speed.  In fact, in light wind, she had been known to root herself in place in the water.  Winning races was a lofty goal that we aspired to with good humor and plenty of banter, separated by intensely focused moments to talk through a rounding, putting up or taking down the whisker pole (an event known on SweetWater as “the pole dance”) and at times, rather democratic strategizing about when to tack.  Within the DYC,  SweetWater, a French built boatwas known as the boat with the best brie, a notoriety that the crew encouraged.  We spurned light beers, carrying instead dark brews, wine, and Mike’s Hard Lemonade which was preferred by a certain element of the crew that was not keen on beer, myself included.  There had been a spring Frey in the Bay race when we baked brownies during the race.  The accepted philosophy on our boat was that ‘if we aren't going to be the fastest boat, we can at least win the ‘most fun boat award' which I believe, we did win, year after year.  There was tacit agreement by the crew that as long as we believed this to be true, it was in fact, true.
Frey in the Bay race, the smell of brownies baking

On that particular race day, in addition to our regular crew, we also had onboard the teenage son of some good friends, out for his first sailboat ride, as well as a man who had quite serendipitously landed on SweetWater one evening several weeks before by virtue of the aforementioned Captain's meeting.  Subsequently, he and his wife had both become good friends of the SweetWater crew. These new friends of SweetWater were true sailors having already lived on their sailboat, Mintaka, in the Pacific for long periods of time, even raising their son onboard.  We had no idea at first what gems we were acquiring with the addition of this couple.  The man's wife was an MD, an anesthesiologist, who periodically came to Duluth as a locum MD to cover for other vacationing anesthesiologists.  We lovingly called the husband, That Lucky Bastard (TLB) for obvious reasons…..he was living on a sailboat and his wife was providing their income.  The male element of the SweetWater crew was enamored with that whole concept.  "Where do you sign up for that" they said.  On this particular day, while his wife was anesthetizing patients for some invasive procedure, here was TLB out on the lake, with us…. racing and enjoying the beautiful day.  Although his wife was able to join us at times, as well, TLB was always available to sail when the two of them were in town.  And he was always welcomed warmly to SweetWater.

My  husband and I genuinely loved to have new people sail with us, especially ones that had never been on a sailboat before.  I  helped the newcomers get fitted with life jackets from SweetWater's ample supply and then oriented them to the sailboat; 

"Bow" - the pointy end on the front of the boat; 
"Stern" - the opposite end of the boat behind the guy (otherwise referred to as the Cap'n) at the
"Helm" - where someone stands to steer the boat; 
"Port" - the side of the boat that would be on one's left IF that person were standing at the helm and facing the bow of the boat; 
"Starboard" (pro. 'star'burd')- the side of the boat that would be to one's right IF standing at the helm and facing the bow of the boat. 
"Mast" - the tall stick.  Look up, you can't miss it.  (Sailors sometimes do refer to masts as "sticks." It's kind of a "cool" thing to do,  If you want to feel nautical, try it out.  Sounds authoritative.)
"Tack" -  the process of an upwind sailing boat to change her course which includes moving her mains'l and headsail to the opposite side of the boat. This causes the boat's high side (windward side) to become the new low side (leeward side, pronounced "lew'erd") and vice versa.  
"Jibe" - the process of a downwind sailing boat to alter it's downwind course by having the mains'l and headsail move to the opposite side of the boat.  Unlike the tack, which causes a dramatic change in the angle of the heel, the jibe does not because the boat is moving downwind.  If that sounds confusing, I am sorry, but that is just the way it is.  A boat sailing downwind rides fairly level on the surface of the water.
"Heel" - the sailboat leaning over with the force of the wind, see "tack" above.
"Boom" - the long horizontal pole that holds the foot of the mains'l and which should under no circumstances have an uncontrolled, unexpected change of its' position.  
"Accidental jibe" - an extremely undesirable event that could seriously damage the boat, not to mention alter the life of any crew member whose head or other unfortunate body part made unexpected contact with the boom sweeping across the boat.  I was usually the one to educate new crew on details such as to where to stand or sit so as to not get struck by it, nor to get
"Thwhapped" (<--technical term coined by our boat that I have been hoping catches on, so far no luck) by the sails; nor tangled in the 
"Sheets" - the lines that control the headsail; nor inadvertently sit or stand on lines that would be expected to move rapidly across the deck thereby producing the proverbial
"Butt Cleat" - one way of preventing a line from moving freely across the deck and thereby inhibiting its' performance as intended.
Mast of our sailboat going under the Aerial Lift Bridge
I instructed the new crew on basic boat rules such as:  1) wear the life jacket throughout the race; 2) nobody goes barefoot; and 3) "One hand for yourself--One for the boat" - in other words, always hang on to the boat when moving around; and finally, all crew contributed to the Primary Directive of sailboat racing:
"STAY ON THE BOAT" <-- self-explanatory.

My husband, the Cap'n of our vessel offered his standard contribution to the orientation of the new crew.  He would ask alarming questions like, "Do you think the mast will fit under the lift bridge?" as the boat was heading under the partially raised bridge.  And always, ALWAYS he told new crew that as the boat passes under the lift bridge and through the canal leading out to the lake that they are required to "Wave to the tourists from Iowa."  My dear husband holds an inexplicably strong belief that tourists in Duluth ALWAYS came from Iowa (not Wisconsin, or southern MN, or Chicago, but Iowa) and the new crew was told "You are now starring in the photos and home videos of the tourists from Iowa." The regular crew never seemed to tire of this routine by our Captain; or at least never let on that they did.  Our crew was nothing if not astute when it came to appreciation of who owned the boat they were riding on.   Loyalty ran high on SweetWater and was always greatly appreciated by both my husband and me.  The final bit of orientation by the Captain was that the new crew's job was to be rail meat.
"Rail meat" - term used to describe the crew members who position themselves on the high side (windward) of the boat, even hanging their legs over that side in order to most effectively counter the effect of a strong wind on the sails, which sometimes produces a dramatic heel to leeward.  "Rail meat" is a real job.  However, on SweetWater, this job was sometimes referred to as "Rail Brie" given our aforementioned determination to be the boat that would never be known to have light beer onboard.  Truthfully the term never really "took" but the urge to make it work was slow to die.  Were we snobs of a sort?  Probably.

DYC racing boats heading out onto Lake Superior
The Aerial Lift Bridge was raised and SweetWater went under along with the other ~25 sailboats that planned to race on the lake.  As usual, we put some energy into waving to the tourists that lined the canal.  We would motor en masse out through the canal and onto the lake where anyone on land, who cared to look, could watch the race from the Duluth hillside which extends for some miles along that westernmost end of Lake Superior.  People call the area beyond Duluth the "North Shore" although to be quite accurate, the actual north shore of Lake Superior is a few hundred miles away.  Duluth is in fact, on the western end of Lake Superior, but apparently there is a long held tradition to refer to this area as the North Shore and who am I to mess with tradition?  As we went through the canal, I for one, was acutely aware of what a rare position I held…..I saw myself as I must have appeared to the tourists from Iowa…..this 52 year old woman waving, smiling and laughing with friends on our boat and calling out to the other boats alongside us.  What none of them could see, of course, was that I was a dairy farmer’s daughter from southeastern Minnesota and until 7 years ago, had never even considered sailing to be a topic worthy of discussion.   At times I am astonished by my life.

Beyond this photo, dark cloud bank
The boats spend the first half hour or so on the lake sailing to and fro, waiting for the race start but more importantly, shaking out the cobwebs from the week spent NOT sailing.   We would check to see how square to the wind the start would be and have a little discussion about which end of the start line would be the most advantageous for the wind.  We discussed which boat in our class would be the boat to beat.  We exchanged pretend menacing glares with crew on other boats as we passed them, up and down the start line.  From shore, I suspect that the boats appear to be aimlessly maneuvering around one another, perhaps playing "chicken?"  Unless someone were standing alongside to explain that the boats are preparing for the start of their individual class, the casual observer may think that this is some kind of mutual appreciation dance on the water, with crews waving to one another, shouting things like "lookin' good" and "Hey, SweetWater whaddya baking tonight?" and good-natured taunting like "I've got my eyes on you" accompanied by hand gestures of one sort or another.  In reality, during this time, the Committee boat is setting the windward mark.  The little power boat takes one or two huge orange buoys out onto the Lake to "set" them.  The job of the Committee boat is to attempt to establish a race course that is fairly perpendicular to the wind so that we have a good strong upwind leg and a fairly square downwind leg.  The weather was sunny and pleasantly warm when we reached the lake.  But as we jockeyed back and forth waiting for the race start, we could see a very dark thunderhead rapidly approaching the lake from over the hillside of Duluth.  We predicted, quite accurately, that this was going to be a fast race.

The wind built rapidly over the next few minutes.  The waves were being blown toward shore from the east, producing a fair bit of chop.  Even before the start of our Jib & Main class race, we could see the dark, angry looking cloud bank moving purposefully now over the lake and coming toward us from the northeast—an impressively compact rain-making storm system.  No doubt there would be significant wind and certainly rain as well.  “Might as well get the foulies on before the race starts”
Time to put on foul weather gear
our Captain said, raising his voice a bit now to be heard over the sound of the building wind.  Ten people donning their foul weather gear in the space afforded by a 35’ boat is somewhat interesting, if not amusing.  Physics has taught us that no two bodies can occupy the same space at the same time, however, that rule of physics is challenged when it comes to 20 legs stepping into foul weather bibs and 20 arms finding their way into jacket sleeves in short order.  “Let’s double reef and we’ll fly just a partial jib.”  The wind very abruptly clocked around from the northeast.  Our Captain announced "Wind gusting over 35 mph.  Lot of weather helm.  Ease off the main, Ardys." I did, but not before the boat abruptly heeled. We hunkered down.  I noticed the teenage son of our friends clinging to the backstay on either side of my husband.  Figuring he was in as safe a place as any, I allowed him to stay there.  Then on a spur of the moment whim, just before our scheduled race start, I thrust a camera into his hands and shouted, “You might have a free hand to take pictures of us during the race.  It should be good.”

A few huge raindrops plopped onto the boat and onto my eyeglasses.  I notice rain on my eyeglasses first because I handle the mains’l when we race.   That means that I am situated low in the cockpit,
Me crouched in cockpit
and the bulk of the time, I am looking upward at the top of the mains’l; monitoring the shape of the sail….reading the wind as it pushes against the sail.  I love handling the mains’l; I love the job of adjusting it to maximize momentum after a tack and how I can move the main to use every bit of wind throughout rounding a pin to keep the boat moving.  The mains’l is depended upon to keep the forward progress while the jib goes flaccid and before the whisker pole is in place to capture the wind going wing-on-wing. It would not be unfair to call me a “mains’l snob”.  I’m usually the one to yell first, “gimme some vang” or “we’re running too close to the wind” or “railmeat on the high side” or “we gotta kick the main out farther.”  Yes, the mains’l and I become one during the race.  My sole job.  Around me, I hear the other crew….watching for other boats, handling the winches, skirting the headsail, strategizing …..busy.  I am sailing that mains’l.  That is all.  That is enough.

Almost synonymously with the start of the Jib & Main race, the rainstorm dumped over onto the fleet.  SweetWater put her shoulder to the wind and we plowed forward.  No more gusts.  Straight hard wind.  I allowed the mains’l some give so as to minimize weather helm just enough, pulled my jacket hood up and as usual peered up and out frequently to watch and adjust the sail.  We were riding between 22 and 24 degrees of heel and I knew we were going fast, even without looking at the instruments.  SweetWater sails her fastest at18 degrees.  Given that we were already double reefed and that the wind was blowing too hard at that point to pull in more of the jib, we were obliged to go forward with the amount of sail we had.  SweetWater is a blue water cruiser; that should be mentioned.  Many 35’ Wauquiez Pretoriens have sailed around the world.  She is solid and and her rigging is massive.  She seemed to be smiling that day.  I imagined that she was feeling as if her hackles had been cut away and she was free to move as she wished.  Like a horse that is “given its’ head” so that it can pull with all the muscle in its’ frame, SweetWater pulled forward.  Waves and spray and rain and wind.  No matter.  SweetWater was smiling.  As we made the first rounding, I could hear lots of yelling from other boats.  “GO, SweetWater, GO.”  “Yea! SweetWater!”  “Ya, ya, GO!”  But I was one with the mains’l.  Let them yell all they like.  Made no difference to me.  

Two times around the course—SweetWater flying the entire way.  As abruptly as the storm had begun, it was over.  The rain stopped, the wind had passed on to the next place it would hit with a vengeance.  And the race was over.  SweetWater crossed over the finish and as usual, her crew let out an exhuberant "YEAA!"  I relaxed the mains’l.  We tacked and loosed the sails to look around.  “Where is everyone?” I said.  SweetWater was all alone.  The rest of the DYC
The rest of the DYC fleet, resuming their race
fleet seemed to be clumped up at the mark, perhaps a mile away. Astonishing!  “What?”  I struggled to make sense of what I saw.  We were truly all alone.  In the distance, several boats appeared to have doused their sails.  They were in short, discombobulated.  Astonishing!  We unzipped our foul weather gear.  In shock, we began to say, “we won!”  “Wow, line honors!”  “Everybody else stopped racing!”  Some of our crew had of course paid much more attention to what was going on with the other boats during the race than had I.   My husband said, “A lot of them were knocked down by that straight line wind.”  I was stunned.  We laughed.  We hooted.  We giggled like schoolchildren.  We WON--not just our Jib & Main class, but we beat everybody across the finish--even all those fast race boats.  SweetWater won it all!
My favorite, carrot cake
It was at that point that one of the crew emerged from the cabin with a birthday cake—for me, of course.  And birthday hats and noisemakers all around.
 My clever husband had tucked the cake away somewhere safely where amazingly enough, it rode out the storm quite nicely. The crew sang “Happy Birthday” and that, ladies and gentlemen, is how my most outstanding birthday was born.  Later I asked our new teenaged crew member for the camera.  I smiled.  He had not taken any pictures.  He had been busy hanging onto the boat, for dear life, no doubt.  But I saw thegrinning.  I suspect he's grinning still.
Best birthday EVER!