From the sublime to the ridiculous... or perhaps I mean the other way round.
Last week I was waxing lyrical about the charms of Third Beach, Newport and the pleasures of sailing from an out-of-season tourist beach with a bleak parking lot and a simple boat ramp. No "swanky yacht club" fripperies for me.
This Sunday I went to the other extreme and did sail a regatta out of what must surely qualify as one of the swankiest of America's finest swanky yacht clubs, Eastern Yacht Club in Marblehead, Massachusetts. It sure was different from the bleak parking lot. But, you know, it was still a hell of a lot of fun.
Eastern is one of the grand old dames of American yachting. Founded by a group of Boston gentlemen in 1870... three successful defenses of the America's Cup in the 1880's... Burgess, Herreshoff were members... have a trophy from Nelson's flagship... etc. etc. It doesn't come any swankier than this.
The regatta was the first week of the Ponce de Leon Dinghy Series. Apparently an event founded by some other masters sailors and named in honor of Ponce de Leon who, like us, was also searching for the fountain of youth. What a cool event. Mixture of oldies and kids. Casual laid-back relaxed atmosphere. Lots of short-course races. Friendly race committee.
The wind was lightish. The tide was running fast. Most of the fleet were pushing hard on the start line with a few general recalls. Plenty of shifts and puffs to keep you thinking. The leading group usually arrived at the windward mark in a bunch.
I was going well. I'd discovered a mode of sailing in these conditions that worked well upwind in a couple of beats last weekend. And a tip on downwind settings from one of my ex-Olympic campaigner friends the previous weekend gave me good downwind speed.
It was all about getting off the line in clear air and hitting the shifts right. Some times I got it right. Other times I didn't. I was usually in the first three or four boats at the first mark but once I was last. When the day was over I had three second place finishes and a bullet in seven or so races. Turned out to be good enough for second place overall with a former All-American and College Sailor of the Year in my wake.
After racing we all gathered for beer and chowder (sorry chowdah -- this is New England) on the deck at Eastern. A peek inside the clubhouse at the elegant lounges confirmed my ranking of Eastern as one of the swankiest of the swanky.
But it felt like a cool place. There was an Optimist regatta going on at the same time. There was measurement going on for the Sonar Worlds this week. Clearly this is a place where one-design racing really matters. (Is there any other kind that really matters?)
My son sailed too. The ladies of our party went off and explored Marblehead and, by all accounts, had a good day too. I think I'll be back next year to sail in Mahvellous Marblehead.