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Reflections on a life afloat: Conjuring the breeze - USA Newsletter


Reflections on a life afloat: Conjuring the breeze

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Schooners line up at the Regate Royales in 2018. - photo © Francesco e Roberta Rastrelli / Blue Passion 2018

Dear Recipient Name

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.

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34th Annual Gloucester Schooner Festival - photo © George Bekris
34th Annual Gloucester Schooner Festival - photo © George Bekris

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.

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34th Annual Gloucester Schooner Festival - photo © George Bekris
34th Annual Gloucester Schooner Festival - photo © George Bekris

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. 250 - 2014   Vaikobi 2019AUG - MPU 3

The sail-training schooner Ocean Star - 2018 Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta - Day 4 - photo © Richard Sherman
The sail-training schooner Ocean Star - 2018 Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta - Day 4 - photo © Richard Sherman

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.

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65' Gannon & Benjamin schooner Juno - Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta - photo © Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta
65' Gannon & Benjamin schooner Juno - Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta - photo © Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta

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

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