Part 9 — Racing.

Ros de Vries
Mar 1 · 3 min read

Yesterday’s SF Bay Singlehanded Sailing Society Corinthian race felt like every sailing event of my entire career rolled into one.

For starters, there were 179 boats. You can see Medusa’s spinnaker amidst the traffic jam pics here. Now, imagine that entire traffic jam converging on a stick in the water, Southhampton Shoal. There was a lot of shouty shouty and some of the boats didn’t make it around (well, it’s a shoal). Nathan and I survived, by virtue of tight teamwork, some stubbornness and Nathan’s cool head.

Day started off with no wind. Then there was some wind, then very little wind, then the total firehose in front of the Golden Gate Bridge. We had our big, very powerful orange sail up and were submarining into the steep, short-period waves ahead of us. I was calling out to Nathan, “It’s just swell! We’ve been through higher winds!”, which is all very reassuring, until the boat beside you loses control — and starts careening towards you like flaming debris in a sci-fi movie. A moment earlier, the man-and-wife team had looked so relaxed in their big, safe boat; the next, they had swung around 270 degrees, past our stern and out of our field of view. And well, isn’t life just like that. A moment of living is beautiful, in part, because it can emerge, but it can also disappear.

Well, we had our own power problems too — overshooting the leeward mark and doing some ugly tacks as we struggled with our way-too-big headsail. I got clobbered in the face by a runaway line and saw white for a split-second; Nathan and I started shouting about something that I cannot remember. Who cares; we stumbled over the finish line and a horn tootled. After 5 hours of relentless racing, it was all over.

Despite it being extremely hard work, I’ve never thought sailboat racing to be hell. Hell to me is going nowhere. The disciplined direction and occasional strong-arming of both man and machine is divine. It is a marriage in a true sense, in that the more you invest into your seamanship, sailboat and crew, the greater becomes the sum of its parts.

But the thing is, you have to give. And you have to give and give and give. And then you find yourself looking into the mirror the next morning, with a face of rawhide leather and a burst blood vessel under your chin, thinking, “heck, I did it!!”. Looking back at you is a winner, a survivor, someone who has earned a seat at the table. A pride in knowing that there is no one more worthy to have lived and loved, than you.

“It is this spiritual freedom — which cannot be taken away — that makes life meaningful and purposeful.” — Viktor Frankel