A Jibe, a Tack and a Beautiful Chute

We couldn’t wait to ‘fly the spinnaker’; the larger-than-life wind trapping sheet that propels a yacht like none other.  In the world of sailing there’s simply nothing more beautiful than a robust sail full of prevailing wind.  We are novice sailors learning a competitive sport that the honor of nations has hung on.  There’s a rich tradition than governs each ambitious schooner tacking upwind to the next marker.

We were on a mentoring trip for my youngest son, Austin, designed to use the principles of sailing to illustrate how real life is played out in the existence of every man.  Here’s my reasoning:  As a man you are part of a system – both as a contributor and as a consumer.  Since there are no successful ‘lone rangers’ in this life we must rely on those around us to advance successfully through it.  On a sailboat, there’s a determined sequence of tasks that must happen systematically and with precision to best position the sails to harness the wind.  And here’s the catch; if one component of this sequence fails, the whole process fails.  The results can be catastrophic but generally your boat just decelerates.  And, when you’re in a sailing race, precision and speed matter.

It’s race season on Flathead Lake.  The 2009 Montana Cup Regatta is in a couple of weeks and teams are readying themselves and their vessels for some of the finest sailing that Montana has to offer.  One of the privileges of capturing the Montana Cup is hosting next years race from wherever the winning team hails.  The North Flathead Yacht Club isn’t too eager to let their long winning streak go and less eager to race at Canyon Ferry Reservoir.  There have been races for weeks here – all in preparation to retain the ‘Cup’.

As our ship cuts through the waves, the sound of water laps against the hull.  We were tracking a stiff wind and loving every minute of it.  Since most of the crew had never sailed before the deck is a proverbial classroom.  Our skipper has been sailing since his youth and with the patience of a tee ball coach, he shares his knowledge.  First the basics:  mainsail, mast, headsail, and halyards.  Cleats, port side, starboard side, and rigging.  When there was no wind we tied knots and measured them when the breeze blew against our faces.

While underway, the standing question among the crew was, “How many knots?”  We cheered every time our speed gauge told us we eked out another couple of tenths thereby setting a new speed record.  Thirty-six hours into our training we had accomplished several flawless maneuvers and recorded a maximum speed of 7.42 knots.  Our teamwork and confidence was as abundant as the wind driving our sails.  We felt battle ready and wanted to join the fray; we were ready to race.

Coming next…The Duel.

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