Friday, October 21, 2005

Sex in Prison

The New England Laser Masters back in September was sailed off Third Beach in Newport, RI. In previous regattas in Newport I had sailed on the "civilized" side and well known side of the town where the relatively sheltered waters of Narragansett Bay are crowded with yachts of every description and the shoreline is packed with tourists and cars and restaurants and shops.

Third Beach is different. We approached down a winding country road with potholes and huge puddles. (The aftermath of Hurricane Ophelia had been soaking the area for 24 hours.) The regatta site was a parking lot, a beach, a launching ramp and some portajohns. That's all. Not exactly the New York Yacht Club.

The beach is near the mouth of the Sakonnet River. Actually "river" is really a misnomer; at this point it is better described as a bay of the Atlantic. Looking across the bay we saw the strangest site. There were huge white plumes of spray apparently on the other side of the bay, as if there were some rocks on which waves were breaking. But as we watched for a while it was apparent that the breakers were not always in the same place. And then at times we could actually see the foam and spray moving upwind. How could that be? For a while I wondered if I was looking at a distant group of speedboats or jetskis that were powering up the bay.

Then one of the locals explained. Ophelia had generated some huge swells that were rolling up the bay from the south. And the wind from the north at 20 knots plus was blowing the tops off the waves. For an inland sailor like me it was one of the weirdest things I had seen. Someone asked the race officer if he was going to set the course in the "breakers". He laughed.

Sailing in those conditions was weird too. Plenty of wind on the tops of the swells and not enough down in the troughs. Beating on starboard tack, the waves were running in roughly the same direction as we were sailing so on the upwind side of the wave you could actually catch a long ride down the front of the wave. Strange sensation. Can't ever remember surfing upwind before.

Port tack was a different story. I guess we were sailing in a direction across the swells because it was difficult (at least it was difficult for me) to pick up a pattern. Some times I was in a lull and sometimes in plenty of wind but I could never find a way to really use the waves on that tack.

After racing one of the other sailors summed it up perfectly, if somewhat profanely. "Starboard tack...oh man...that was so good....it was like sex. And port tack....." he searched his brain for the right analogy "....that was like sex in prison."

He started to explain what he meant but we all got it the first time.

OK - I know this post is going to generate some unintended hits from search engines for people who are not at all interested in sailing. To those folk I can only say, "get a life".

1 comment:

the skip said...

Had the same sort of weather and wave patterns hit Lake Ontario after Katrina. Was a very strange sail that day for me! . Colourful analogy but right on the money!

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