Going into the 2023 Flying Scot North American Championships, my favorite skipper verbalized his philosophy this way, “I’m going to let the race come to me.”
Well, okay, your highness.
Being strictly honest, however, I knew exactly what he meant. After lo these many years of racing together, we've come to share this sense of regatta destiny.
Here’s what we know as fact: You can lose a regatta from not preparing.
But the only way to win a regatta is to have at least one helping of good luck. Preferably many helpings.
Corollary truth: While you can be ready for good luck, you cannot force it to show up. In a word: destiny.
It was the usual Flying Scot good fortune that met us when we pulled our camper and the mighty Scuppernong into the spacious grounds of Lake Norman Yacht Club.
Locals Tim Porter, Steve Shaw, and Dave Rink and our fellow road-show gypsies –– the Cliftons and dear Henry Picco –– had saved us a prime parking spot overlooking the swimming beach and the hoist.
Before long, more Florida teams joined in –– Donna and Jon Hamilton, Dave Helmick and Caroline Chapin, Jennifer and Michael Faugust, PJ Buhler and David Ames, Laura and Scott Marriott, and Jim and Pam Burke.
Measurement was as neatly organized and well-thought-out as any we remember. Preparation being key.
The weather looked promising: aside from haze from Canadian wildfires and the occasional pop-up thunderstorm, we looked forward to good sleeping temperatures and peaceable breeze in the range we like the best: 7-10 knots.
In actual fact, we sailed under beige, smoke-darkened skies, and the predicted winds –– not unexpectedly, given how regattas go –– did not quite appear as promised. Still, even after a drifter of a single qualifier race, the future looked pretty bright. After all, the race organizers fed us morning and night and provided any number of adult beverages (plus a bourbon tasting!).
Once the wind filled in on Tuesday, we headed out to the racecourse to start the actual competition. We checked the current (yes, it’s a lake, but one whose levels are carefully managed) by tossing our sponge into the water by the starting buoy and counting to one minute. During the qualifier, current set us away from the start at one boat length per minute –– try charging that line! On Tuesday, it was far less dramatic, giving us just a nudge away from the starting line.
The four-legged race showed us a little of Lake Norman’s tricksy, lakey quirks in decent 7-knot-ish conditions but we managed to win the first one.
On Wednesday, we packed our apple-and-peanut-butter stacks, our salami-and-cheese rollups, our Gatorade, and our beer for the day. I fondly remember once sailing to the starting line on a Lightning racecourse in Ecuador and having the guys in the boat next to us look –– and then with comedic exaggeration look at us again before exclaiming to one another: “THEY’ve got BEER!” Indeed we do. So there.
The story-telling highlight of the day involved a pontoon boat trailing an inflatable laden with children. We were sailing at a pretty decent clip along the right side of the windward leg, close to shore, with Tyler and Carrie Andrews. the boat builders and speedsters, just behind us and two other lines of boats to leeward when, like a tugboat with a barge under tow, along comes the pontoon boat. Crossing right in front of our bow –– I mean, a boat-length or so in front of the plow-like bow of the mighty Scuppernong.
It's a fact that nobody looks stupider to a racing sailor than Johnny Powerboat Driver taking a leisurely tour of the racecourse. And to be fair, it’s a free country. But as Carrie and I agreed, these pontoon people must have had it up to HERE with those kids.
Belatedly noticing the fleet of pointy boats, each driven by a fierce-eyed competitor, and possibly heeding the suggestions of said competitors, the powerboat driver punched the throttle and made an abrupt left turn. The float whip-lashed over the wake, and, as night follows day, it caught air and landed with a breath-taking wobble. But good luck (and possibly preparation) allowed the youngsters to hold tight. But jeesh.
Intense, focused sailing (is that a puff? can we connect? Yes, trim a touch.) gave us a 3rd and a 1st at the end of the day, leaving us a decent lead. No lead, however, is safe, especially on a lake and with competitors like anyone in this fleet.
Cue Thursday, when we set sail in conditions where everything seemed magnified. Puffs were bigger. Shifts were bigger. Holes were bigger. In the space of a few minutes, we’d go from fully hiked and vang-on to me on the low side, struggling to keep moving, while boats all around us were experiencing wildly differing conditions.
We didn’t find a pattern to predict the shifts: oftentimes, the wind will oscillate at a regular interval, or a cloud will indicate a puff, or wind will touch down in such a way that the initial header modulates into a lift. These conditions were like what bull riders call a "honker." No telling which way the beastie was going to buck and twist.
After deciding not to hit the middle of the course, we found ourselves in the middle of the course on the first leg. When we might have tacked and ducked a bunch of our competitors, we hung left and got hung. We passed boats and we got passed back again. It was one of the most frustrating hot-and-cold days of racing I can remember.
We clawed our way into 5th for the fourth race of the series, watching our comfortable cushion vaporize. Heading into last race of the series –– a 3-legger to finish us closer to the club –– we did not talk about the stakes. We never do.
The conditions continued to span the spectrum, with puffs as high as the mid-teens with drifters in between. We went left and, as the phrase goes “got smushed.” We sniffed out a puff or two and made some gains downwind, noting that the wind was tending –– inconsistently –– to go left.
Halfway up the last leg, we had a clear lane to go left. Leaving a lake-smart team like John Eckart and Ryan Malmgren, who were bee-lining for the right-hand shore, took some nerve. Not my nerve. But as we got closer to the left side of the course, we could see the flags on the finish boat showing a 30 or so degree shift. A favorable shift, at that.
When the puff came to us, we eased first for speed, and then took the lift (Ding! Ding!) all the way to the finish line, sliding into fourth place behind local skipper David Rink. With that, by a single lucky point, we won that shiny belt-buckle of a trophy.
We’ve notched that belt a few times, but it’s always a thrill.
Thanks to the excellent organizers headed up by Tim Porter (and Jennifer), the steely-nerved race management under Matt Bounds, and the amazing Florida Flying Scot District, whose competition (six of us in the top 15 of the Championship, with two top 10s in the Challenger Division) that make us all faster and better sailors.
I visited Saratoga Springs as a 15-year-old on a 4-H trip of some stripe. I suppose it had to do with Horse Bowl or another equine-related activity. It was meant to be a treat, spending the day at this classic horse-racing center.
I don't remember how we got there, or why we were sitting in a dining room listening to some adult talk about something or another. For seemingly eternity.
But what I do remember, with vivid, visceral detail? The sensation of the tiny packet of catsup between my restless fingers. I flipped that packet between my fingers the way a magician moves a coin from knuckle to knuckle. It had a particular squeezy resistance to pressure when I flexed a fist.
And then it didn't.
A small packet of catsup, I have every recollection, can be propelled by hand to a distance of two banquet tables.
The teaspoon of tomato-based condiment can, demonstrably, touch base with at least five innocent bystanders. And for the remainder of that day in Saratoga Springs was divided into thirds: first third: horror and mortification. Second third: silent apology. Third third: suppressed hysteria.
I competed in a horse show at Skidmore College when I was in college. I don't remember anything about the horse I rode, or how I performed, but I can recall exactly the swoop and sway of the car on its way. The upperclassman driving us in his car talked to his audience of student sardines with liberal use of both hands, regardless the conditions of the road.
This time, the trip Saratoga Springs was just delightful.
A pleasant drive. The Saratoga Lake Yacht Club welcomed us with extraordinary warmness, our visit to the racetrack was unmarred by condiment incident, and we came home with the sailing equivalent of blue ribbons...
My mumsie used to call it "burbling," the sort of cheerful, not-terribly-important chatter that doesn't –– strictly speaking –– require an audience. As nice a term as any, and onomatopoeic to boot.
A propensity to burble was perhaps one of the reasons she sent me to kindergarten a little early. I've always had a lot to say.
I've tacked away from sailing as a topic to burble about (about which to burble?) for the past couple of months here on the blog, but it doesn't mean that I haven't been writing about sailing.
So for those sweet readers who tell me they enjoy this sort of thing, here are a couple of links to the Flying Scot webpage.
I've been doing an occasional column about boat names there for my Bar Harbor buddy Ned Johnston (Hi Ned!), who edits the class newsletter.
"Sing a Song of Sixpence" Page 18 of https://www.fssa.com/files/scots_63_4.pdf
"From Another Shore" page 16 of https://www.fssa.com/files/scots_63_3_web.pdf
"THAT Name" page 12 of https://www.fssa.com/files/scots_63_2.pdf
"What's in a Name" tag 11 of https://www.fssa.com/files/scots_63_1.pdf
The Flying Scot is not the sexiest sailboat on the pond.
It's no Bugatti Chiron –– not even one made of Legos.
It doesn't foil. It doesn't require crash helmets. It doesn't use more than a skosh of carbon fiber.
Still, the boat is perfect for us right now.
The Scuppernong is a two-person affair, it's relatively cheap (some of our sailing friends in other types of boat pay more for one sail than we have for boat, trailer, and a tank of gas for the Winnebago!). And most importantly for people who like to compete: it has a strong, competitive fleet of sailors.
Between the Florida District series, the North American Championships, and the other events we try not to miss like the Midwinters and Wife-Husbands, we end up racing the Scot around 25 days each year. Weather permitting of course.
We got our first Flying Scot (The Mighty Majestic, #4925) in 2007, Eleven years later makes it 275 days of racing –– plus maybe an additional 50 days of practice sailing, where we gather together with some friends and we all try to go faster and polish our boat-handling skills.
That's over a calendar YEAR's worth of sailing in a bit over a decade.
That's a lot of jibes. That's a ton of tacks, a megaton of mid-line starts, zillions of billowing acres of spinnaker going up and down again, and enough cranks on that tiny winch to lift a cinderblock to the moon. Muscle memory.
Like the Butterbean, the new Flying Scot boat is named for an obscure edible. In this case it's a kind of muscadine grape that can be found in the Carolinas, the Scuppernong.
Scuppernongs taste like beefed-up Concord grapes. The skin is leathery and tannic, and it's riddled with seeds, but the meat is fragrant.
My favorite skipper claims that they are inedible, but I think he's wrong on this one.
A quick perusal of the interwebs shows a LOT of scuppernong-related music. I cannot recommend any of it.
On an earlier draft, I linked some YouTube Scuppernong highlights: experimental plonk-plonk music, an chaotic atonal jazz composition, an odd spoken-word performance, some only-for-serious-fans-of-high-and-lonesome bluegrass.
These were videos with maybe a couple of dozens of views and no comments after years of waiting in the ether. Linking to them was akin to finding something in the fridge and offering to your buddy, saying, "Here, sniff this, it's awful!"
Okay, okay, he doesn't have a beard or a red suit or a nose like a cherry, but the twinkle and the red sleigh full of toys for good girls and boys? He's got that!
Thank you Harry Carpenter of Flying Scot Inc. for delivering Flying Scot #6133, The Scuppernong.
*the Flying Scot is a 60-year-old sloop design by Gordon K "Sandy" Douglass.
I know, I know, she who would tell so execrable a pun is just as like to pick a pocket.
My favorite skipper has been telling me for –– oh –– decades about Cedar Point. Located on the western end of Lake Erie near the town of Sandusky, this amusement park is the Roller Coaster Capital of the World (and home of the Demon Drop). It's also a nice spot for a sailing championship.
He gleefully talks about going to Sandusky for a Hobie Nationals many moons ago (How many moons? Picture acid-washed bluejeans and possibly a Members Only jacket) and when it got really windy at that regatta, he and his crew just betook themselves off the beach and into the amusement park. Where they have the world-famous Demon Drop.
So when we got to the Sandusky Sailing Club, I was not surprised to see the amusement park on the horizon. Our Air BnB sold itself partly on its proximity to the park.
But frankly, I didn't credit Mr. Linton's suggestion that if it was too windy for our Flying Scot, we'd just park the boat and go ride the rollercoasters. Not to mention the Demon Drop!
Seriously, we'd been driving for three solid days of rain, listened to five books on CD, and by gum we were in town to sail.
Sailboat racing, for those who don't know, is a sport that seems to skate along a narrow bit of path, weatherwise: too little wind and the boats won't move. Too much and it's actively hazardous. And the various sailing craft have differing performance ranges. Race an Etchells in 20 knots, and it's a lively ride, while on the same day, a Flying Scot will be a squirrelly handful, at least in my experience.
We skipped the practice day, as the conditions were "fresh to frightening," our sails were fresh-from-the-box spanking new, and we were pretty practiced up thanks to our comrades in the Florida District. High winds actually closed rides at Cedar Point; we betook ourselves to the Merry-Go-Round Museum.
The museum was fun, but time will march. Or possibly time will drop like a demon.
In any case, the Flying Scot North American Championship qualifying series started on a Monday in some freshy-freshy breeze. The race committee reminded us that it was an hour or so sail out to the racecourse.
In the hard waves native to the really Great Lakes we have known.
Thanks to some Flying Scot hero friends (Hi Ben! Hi Deb! Congratulate Deb on her book Alexandra the Great. Better yet, buy a copy of it), we sailed the qualifying races with a borrowed older jib.
First time ever we chose to go downwind in a race WITHOUT putting up our spinnaker. Bill Draheim would have been proud! (Long story, college chums, first Scot regatta, Tampa Bay in super-agitate cycle, and Jeff remarking about eschewing a kite: "Are you smoking crack?")
Happily, most of the fleet stayed upright and the race committee took pity on –– I mean sent us to shore after two races.
The weather is often the star of the show at these sailing events: Lawsy day, but the wind was swirly! Oooh, the waves were square and capricious! My word, but those zephyrs were nigh-on invisible! Green water –– just pouring over the bow!
The 2017 Flying Scot NACs were no different: the aprés sail talk was about finding/reading/surviving the wind. And not a little bit of smack-talk between teams: the heavier teams rooting for more breeze, us lightweights hoping for a little less. In Sandusky, the wind progressively grew less strong on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The race committee gave us two races in the more open Sandusky Bay Tuesday, and then two in the more protected East Bay on Wednesday.
Team Linton had a most excellent regatta. We prevailed over a field of tough competitors who also happen to be lovely people. We got to visit with old friends. We spent time talking with new friends. We made plans of when we might get back together.
Not to sound, you know, disingenuous and all, but we had plenty of good luck, and we didn't make too many dreadful mistakes. Indeed, we did make mistakes, and discouraging words were heard from time to time, but Mr. Linton is a Never-Say-Die kind of guy.
Trophy presentation photos thanks to Jennifer Ikeda.
Within four or six blocks from our driveway, one of us strikes up the song. We don't make a long performance of it, just a quick, twangy couplet. Off pitch, most likely, but in tune:
"We're on the road again/dee-doodle-deedle doh-dee-dee-dee."
It's kind of nice cap on the list-making, packing-and-stowing, what-else-are-we-going-to-need phase of a road-trip. It marks the start of a long book-on-CD (this time, Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris), the continuing dispute with the GPS, and the best the snactitian can manage.
You know how in The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins has the occasional, intense longing to be home, with the kettle just beginning to boil? He goes on the adventure, but he suffers with homesickness.
I don't think I've felt that for years. I get home, unpack, and start climbing that Matterhorn of dirty laundry. I turn the hot-water heater back on, pay the bills, make sure the cars start and the refrigerator hasn't keeled over...but I'd be just as happy to bounce right back out the door and have the next adventure already.
So far, we've visited some buddies, actually stopped for barbecue lunch (!), and visited the delightful Craighead Caverns in Sweetwater, Tennessee for a Lost Sea Adventure.
Before winding our way home again this time, we hope to sail the Flying Scot NACs regatta, do a bit of roller coasting at Cedar Point (billed as the Roller Coaster Capital of the World), and wrangle some farm chores...
After brainstorming a playlist for the Flying Scot Wife-Husband Championship regatta party –– Bon Jovi! The Carpenters! Sir Mix-a-Lot! Weezer! Pure Prairie League! –– well, I am not done with it, but the internal jukebox is pleading for a break.
Thanks to the civilizing influence of National Public Radio, here's the music that I am listening to now:
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