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Like riding a bicycle - re-engaging the sport we all love best

by David Schmidt 25 May 2021 08:00 PDT May 25, 2021
Mist and Light during Hamble River Wednesday Night Series - Early Bird Series race 5 © Bertrand Malas

Relief. That's the single best word to describe how it felt last week when we crossed the starting line and settled into the first (and, as it turned out, penultimate) beat of the race during a casual Thursday night of sailing on Bellingham Bay. Relief not because we got a great start (we did), but because I was actually on a sailboat again, in racing conditions, for the first time since the bloody pandemic threw all of our lives into the collective blender.

The reasons for my long hiatus are somewhat complicated and involved a move (great time to relocate!) from Seattle to Bellingham last year, the "fun" of a house sale, the search purchase of a new domicile, and of course the pandemic. My regular Seattle-based boat swung into doublehanded mode, and I found myself skiing a lot. Yes, Mount Baker Ski Area received a bumper crop of powder last winter, but even on days of skiing knee-deep pow (often with sailing friends), I couldn't stop thinking about sailing.

Fortunately, an interview for Sail-World linked me in with a great skipper, crew, and boat here in Bellingham, and last Thursday I found myself donning my bibs, sailing gloves and deck shoes for the first time in ages. This was the longest that I've been away from sailing in my entire life, and—as anyone else who might have had a similar pandemic experience can maybe relate to—there was plenty of accumulated rust on the gears.

I discovered this during our first and only gybe of the night. The boat carries a spinnaker pole and both asymmetric and symmetrical spinnakers. Having spent the last decade plus sailing only on boats with A-sails, it was a bit daunting to find myself tending the inboard end of pole. It was even more daunting when I accidentally got the lazy jib sheet stuck in the jaw, but the skipper and crew played things super cool and gave me the time I needed to sort out the kerfuffle.

Fortunately, the takedown went better than the gybe and we were soon on our way back upwind. A small misunderstanding took root as half the crew (myself included) thought that the course was a twice-around affair, but we received a single air-horn blast from the RC when we passed through the starting/finishing line on our way back towards the windward mark, signifying the end of the race.

Given that we were enjoying flat waters, maybe 8-12 knots of air, and a gloriously long evening (Bellingham is situated at 48.75 degrees north latitude), it's fair to say that our whole crew would have been more than happy keep sailing all night. But post-racing libations were soon being passed around, and damn didn't it feel fine to be on a well-equipped and properly prepared raceboat, surrounded by a highly capable (and fully Pfizered) crew on a beautiful body of water.

The wait was long, but the dividends were certainly handsome.

If you find yourself in a situation similar to mine involving a lengthy hiatus from the sport we all love, the best advise that I can lend is to ensure that you're fully vaccinated and get back on the horse and ride. Yes, there will be a few rusty gybes (and there are likely a few more of those in my future, although hopefully not as many as I fear), but there's zero question that you will be a richer person for getting back out on the water. And, if your experience is anything like mine, aside from negotiating some accumulated rust, you can look forward to that feeling of riding a bicycle...or getting back on a pair of skis after a summer of trading tacks with your mates.

Much like getting the vaccine itself, the long-term gains far outweigh any short-term hiccups.

Meanwhile, on sailing's bigger stage, this coming Memorial Day weekend promises some good sailing. True, some big events such as the Swiftsure International Yacht Race, which starts and ends in nearby Victoria, British Columbia, have been cancelled due to the pandemic. But others, such as the Storm Trysail Club's annual Block Island Race, are proceeding as planned. Be sure to check out Sail-World's interview with Ray Redniss, vice commodore of the Storm Trysail Club, about this year's race.

And, if you have ever sailed this classic, 186-nautical mile course, which commonly serves as a season opener for East Coast-based distance racers, be sure to raise a glass to Redniss, who is officiating his 25th—and final—Block Island Race this year.

On the West Coast, the California Offshore Race Week is set to begin on May 29, and involves three classic events, namely the Spinnaker Cup (May 29-30), the Coast Cup (May 31 to June 1), and the SoCal 300 (June 3-5).

Don’t miss Sail-World’s upcoming interview on this exciting series with Jens Jensen, commodore of the Encinal Yacht Club. (www.sail-world.com/news/236755)

Europe might feel far removed given the last year's worth of closed borders, but May 29 marks the start of The Ocean Race Europe. This stage-race event will see seven VO65s and five IMOCA 60s (all operating in fully crewed mode) race from Lorient, France to Cascais, Portugal. After a rest, the fleet will continue on to Alicante, Spain, and then on again to the finishing line in Genoa, Italy.

North American interests are being represented by skipper Charlie Enright and his 11th Hour Racing crew, who are competing in the IMOCA 60 class.

Sail-World wishes Enright and company, as well as all teams participating in this exciting event, the best of luck as they ply some truly gorgeous and historic waters.

Speaking of The Ocean Race Europe, the event will host a virtual ocean summit on June 16, with the intention of helping to raise the profile of ocean health.

"We have one ocean, but the way it is protected and governed is splintered," said Richard Brisius, The Ocean Race's chairman, in an official release. "When you add to this the impact of climate change, it is a recipe for disaster for our marine world. We urgently need to create a better system, with collaboration at the heart of it.

"Sailors in The Ocean Race have seen more of the ocean, and its decline, than most people on the planet," continued Brisius. "Our race is all about teamwork, overcoming challenges, and achieving the extraordinary. We can apply this through our [Ocean] Summits, to help drive change for the ocean. Sport has the power to make a real difference for the planet and we are going to do all we can to make the most of this opportunity."

Interested readers can watch a live stream of the Ocean Summit on The Ocean Race's YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCzBDphKqtC60G9zg8MNp-IQ).

Finally, for fans of Olympic class and One Design racing, don't miss Sail-World upcoming interview with Canadian Laser Radial phenom Sarah Douglas, who is preparing for her first Olympic Games this summer. (www.sail-world.com/news/237756)

May the four winds blow you safely home.

David Schmidt
Sail-World.com North American Editor

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