Please select your home edition
Hyde Sails 2017 Dinghy Show

Reflections on a life afloat: Conjuring the breeze

by David Schmidt 28 Apr 08:00 PDT April 28, 2020
Schooners line up at the Regate Royales in 2018. © Francesco e Roberta Rastrelli / Blue Passion 2018

As the world grapples with the still-unfurling novel coronavirus pandemic, I find myself - like many other people - wishing for a more innocent time, before social distancing, face masks, and stay-at-home orders usurped usual springtime activities such as recommissioning projects, opening-day ceremonies and, of course, regattas.

This morning, as I was exercising outside (socially distanced, of course), I noticed that Mother Nature was stirring a small breeze that, along with some newfound sunshine, was drying the pavement and the woods alike after a hearty rainfall the previous night. And this, of course, made me think of another, far more innocent time when a different kind of sorcerer conjured a breeze some 3,000 miles from my Pacific Northwest home. Better still, this memory involved racing some of the prettiest classic wooden yachts that I've ever seen gathered in one place in the United States.

The year was 2009, and my wife and I were invited to join Jim and Norie Bregman, and their then-ten-year-old daughter Nikki, aboard Metani, the Bregman's former 62-foot Alden-inspired schooner, for the Eggemoggin Reach Regatta, which took place on the historic waters off of Brooklin, Maine.

Looking around the harbor before our start revealed a visual feast of gorgeous sheer lines drawn by some of the sailing world's most celebrated designers and naval architects, with surnames including Alden, Sparkman and Stephens, Herreshoff, Fife, and Luders. Ashore, the hills were populated by Maine's famous conifers, and the nearby waters were punctuated by rocky islands, downeast fishing and lobster boats, and plenty of excited sailors.

Only one thing was absent: Wind.

Unlike other regattas that use traditional signal flags, the 25th anniversary Eggemoggin Reach Regatta employed RC officials wearing different color shirts to denote the amount of time until a given class' start. For example, white shirts indicated ten minutes to go, blue shirts represented the five-minute warning, and the presence of red shirts coincided with the starting gun.

I remember splitting my time between trying to trim Metani's mainsail in the reluctant airs and keeping track of the RC crew's latest taste in shirt colors. Blue. Normally this would be time to get serious, but given the limp-looking posture of Metani's sailplan and the borderline non-existent catpaws on the water, this was a hard ask.

Fortunately, positive water - to the tune of some two knots - helped us over the starting line, exactly as the red shirts appeared on deck and as the starting gun shattered the morning's stillness.

While Jim, Norie and Nikki had logged some serious miles aboard Metani following an extensive refit, including a cruise through the Caribbean (where I'd been fortunate enough to have met and sailed with the family the previous spring) and a return north to the USA and Maine's famous DownEast waters, it was the crew's youngest sailor who read the situation correctly. Rather than worrying about on-deck affairs in the non-existent airs, Nikki, who - at the time - was hugely into traditional boats, wizards, magic, and computers, vanished belowdecks.

A few minutes later, she returned on deck, her face aglow with a grand idea. "I'll cast a wind spell," she said. "That should bring up the wind."

The adults all smiled sweetly at her, wishing that an innocent spell could create real-world changes, but Nikki remained undeterred. She climbed back down the companionway steps and returned minutes later, a blue sticky note in hand, which she carefully pasted onto the main boom, before resuming residence next to Jim at the helm.

And just like that, the breeze arrived, filling Metani's mainsail, main staysail, staysail, and genoa.

The adults exchanged are-you-kidding-me looks, while Nikki just smiled.

Norie, not surprisingly, was the first to start thinking about how we could best leverage our newly arrived great fortune and advised that our angle was ideal for hoisting Metani's gollywobbler. The big sail emerged through a glass-and-teak hatch, and we quickly got it hoisted and drawing air.

Looking around, it was clear that we were holding our own amongst our gaff-and-schooner class as Metani started posting great speed-over-ground numbers in the still-building breeze. Soon, one of her teak rails started experiencing sustained saline exposure. Nikki quietly removed her blue sticky note from Metani's mainboom as the taller crewmembers worked to douse the powerful gollywobbler.

We spent several blissful hours winding our way past geographical features and fellow competitors, changing our sail wardrobe as the angles suited Metani. The fisherman made an appearance, and the gollywobbler enjoyed an encore performance, and - far sooner than anyone aboard Metani would have liked - we soon found ourselves ghosting towards the race's finishing line, riding a dwindling breeze.

While the day's sail was one of my most magical experiences aboard a wooden yacht, my best memory of that regatta involves a young wizard (now, I'm sure, a bright and successful young woman), a blue sticky note, and some of the best-timed breeze I've ever witnessed.

And while I've never tried to conjure the breeze with spells or sticky notes, something tells me that this bit of wizardry is best left to young practitioners, not ever-aging Muggles.

Either way, I'd sure give a lot to meet a young wizard who could dispatch the novel coronavirus with the same efficiency that Nikki summoned the wind that day, allowing us all to return to the lives, traditions and on-the-water competitions that bring us the kind of sailing joy that the Metani crew collectively enjoyed that fine early August afternoon, many years ago.

Soon, I hope.

May the four winds blow you safely home,

David Schmidt North American Editor

Related Articles

Yes I, am the Great Contender
David Henshall gets excited in an overgrown field One boat that is not so much of a barn find, but a 'back of the field' feature, is a Contender, which has lain undisturbed for enough years for the brambles to claim it as one of their own. Yet this is a class that surely is worthy of a second look. Posted on 28 May
Hans Evers on the 2020 Miami to Key Largo Race
A conversation with Hans Evers about the 2020 Miami to Key Largo Race I checked in with Hans Evers, race chair of the 2020 Miami to Key Largo Race, via email, to learn more about this exciting sailboat race. Posted on 27 May
Savouring being back out on the water
But missing the karate sailing It seems I struck a chord when we published 'The great grass-roots revival?' a fortnight ago. Since then lockdown restrictions have been gradually eased in both Australia and England: we're allowed to go sailing! Posted on 25 May
Andy Burdick on Melges' 75th anniversary
Andy Burdick on Melges Performance Sailboats' 75th anniversary I checked in with Andy Burdick, president of Melges Performance Sailboats, via email, to learn more the company's proud boatbuilding history. Posted on 21 May
In conversation with Grapefruit's Andy Yeomans
From large-scale events to social distance signage for your club or business The Covid-19 crisis has caused the cancellation of all large events, wiping out the core of Grapefruit's business, but Andy soon had the team at work producing the social distancing signage and equipment. Posted on 20 May
Paul Westlake on North Sails' TP52 R&D work
David Schmidt checks out the development work in the TP52 class David Schmidt checked in with Paul “Flipper” Westlake, North Sails' executive vice president, via email, to learn more about North Sails' sail development work for the TP52 class. Posted on 19 May
X2. Times three...
This is the third instalment of information about the exciting new X2 by Farr This is the third instalment of information about the exciting new X2 by Farr. Since its inception we have been excited about the project, if for no other reason than it stood up to be counted as a true racing boat. Posted on 17 May
Terry Hutchinson guests on the Happy Hour podcast
Executive Director and Skipper of America's Cup Challenger NYYC American Magic In this episode we hear from Terry Hutchinson, Executive Director and Skipper of America's Cup Challenger NYYC American Magic. We hear about hours of grinding, preparing for New Zealand amidst COVID-19, and Terry even tells the boys "to grow a pair"... Posted on 16 May
The Colossus
There are boat builders the world over, and then there is Groupe Beneteau There are boat builders the world over, and then there is Groupe Beneteau. The conglomerate is one giant powerhouse, building boats across Europe, and in the USA as well. Posted on 15 May
The Red Mist falls in THE splASHES
Brits and Aussies clash in virtual Portsmouth & Sydney Harbour There's nothing quite like the rivalry between the British and Australians in sport, exemplified in cricket, rugby and sailing; so with eSailing taking such a hold in the past couple of months during lockdown, it was time for the inaugural splASHES. Posted on 14 May
Gul 2020 FOOTERRS Sailing 2020 - Summer Offer - FOOTERSOUTHERN-SPARS-OFFICIAL-SUPPLIER-52-SS728-X-90 Bottom