How is the experience of extended cruising impacted – for better and for worse – by the fact that the crew is comprised mostly of sailors with a racing background? In the ‘better’ column must surely be that crew’s ability to keep the boat moving as quickly as it can under sail. That capability has two implications: (i) destinations are reached more quickly and (ii) more time is spent under sail because the crew need cave in and motor less often. Sailing is more fun and more rewarding than powering.
On point (i) above I must admit to having been conflicted during our Nantucket Sound cruise. One part of me felt compelled to clamber over other crew members in the cockpit to constantly tweak and tune to ‘keep the bus moving’ while another part of my brain whispered quietly that if the bus could be made to go just a little bit slower the relative balance of time spent sailing versus in port could be improved in favor of the former. My racer’s compulsions consistently won out, even as I yearned for more time under sail than in destination ports during our cruise.
But back to the question at hand. Oddly, a racing background can be applied to improve the comfort of the cruising experience. This one might seem counter-intuitive, but consider our passage from Chatham to Nantucket. We had over 20 miles to cover and all of it straight upwind. The forecasts called for a breeze building into the upper teens.
As a child I remember upwind sailing in a fresh breeze being met with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Looking back on it I think much of the family was probably intimidated during the experience itself, but I remember hearing my parents bluster at cocktail parties about how strong the winds were (winds, like fish, always balloon with each retelling of a story) and how fast we were going by ‘burying the rail.’ Racers, of course, know better – they know how dog slow it is to over power a sail plan. They know to pull on the backstay, drop the traveler, and to wail on the vang and mainsheet. And when the big, short puffs hit they know to feather up just enough to keep the boat on its feet.
Happily, these are the skills that both get the boat upwind (much) more quickly and make the experience (much) more pleasant for everybody on board. On Tuesday we thoroughly enjoyed our 4-ish hour sail to Nantucket and for my own part it was the best sail of the trip. Wild horses couldn’t pry my fingers from the helm for more than a moment at a time – and then only to apply, in turn, each of the depowering steps enumerated above as the breeze built steadily during the day. We saw a peak of 19 knots apparent and we’d exhausted all of our depowering options short of a reef just as we reached our destination.
Gentlemen never sail to weather.
Though it’s been over 30 years since last I saw Nantucket, the island is still just as I left it. The kite shop is no longer a kite shop but the little structure remains and simply offers new wares. The cobblestone streets soldier on and the Nantucket clientele still consists of the well-to-do shopping for mildly frivolous but charming winter cocktail party conversation starters.
We spent two nights in Nantucket. Wednesday there was a long bike ride across the island to the beach for a French-style light lunch (exhausting for Rich, exhilarating for the three runners he was cruising with). Much beautiful scenery was taken in.
For cocktail hour we indulged in a $100 round of drinks at the stunning beach-front Galley restaurant (yes, you read that right…for four drinks…). Sitting within earshot of a group of the most well-to-do of the well-to-do, we overheard the phase “maybe we should just fire up the G4,” and, unable to break the trance of so many visual and auditory excesses, we blew another $100 on a second round*. It was the best waste of money I can recall.
Once we (reluctantly) departed The Galley here was more scenery as we concluded the bike ride and there was a fabulous dinner, but what I remember about Nantucket 2015 was the sail getting there. I wish I could rewind that mental tape and just play it back on repeat.
For a year.
* Editor’s note: The noun”G4″ refered to a Gulfstream IV private jet.