CONFESSIONS OF A FLEET WIFE: Life Lessons a la Regatta
Sarasota Winter Series 2014-2015
Lesson One: Happy Chaos
By Gabrielle Corinne Schillinger
So when you walk into the Ritz Carlton in Sarasota, I bet you’re not supposed to do it in saltwater washed Deckbeaters, knotted hair and dripping mascara. And despite my best efforts to hide the nest on the top of my head with a well-placed baseball cap, the concierge was far from fooled. I was a mess. And I loved every minute of it.
Generally speaking, I would classify myself as, at the very least, put-together and at the most, compulsively organized. And clean. Very, very clean. So when my husband announced that we would be participating in the winter racing series in Sarasota, I instantly went online, found a great deal for direct flights and a beautiful (clean) room at the Ritz Carlton. A room, which we nearly instantly trashed with the chaos of gear: dirty clothes, somewhat dirty clothes, *sniff* mostly clean clothes, dripping skiff suits and gloves that, no matter what I did, refused to dry on an overnight schedule. And don’t get me started on what happened to the cargo area of our rental car. *Record scratch* Uh-oh.
What in the world was happening? I wasn’t really sure. Was there a method to the madness? Probably not: I have plenty of opinions about that “miscellaneous” Rubbermaid bin, Tim Pitts! But was there something to the OCD-mocking juxtaposition of “happy chaos?” Yes, as it turns out, there was.
When we left home, the weather was cold and damp: snow was rumored, proverbially, to be on our heels and we had to check a bag. For an efficiency-driven New Yorker, that’s a double whammy: a potential delay in one of the world’s largest airports and the nebula of “checked baggage.” You may as well have cut off my leg. But we made it out! And less than three hours later, we were basking in the ease and comfort of the Sarasota airport. Our bag was on the claim carousel long before we descended from the arrivals hall, and the rental car attendant smiled at me. I don’t even know what to say about that. But suffice it to say, I was reveling in the serenity of this warm and deft place called Sarasota. Then, less than 30 minutes after that, we were at the Sarasota Sailing Squadron being welcomed like family. It was shaping up to be a wonderful weekend; hope was springing as eternally as ever as we soaked in the sunshine and hugs from everyone in the vicinity.
And then it happened: the chaos. Now, I’m naturally a schedule-oriented individual. And I had an outstanding schedule for the weekend in my mind. I even shared it with my husband who just nodded and placatingly told me “it” sounded “good.” Then it went boom. In that third hour and thirty-first minute, in the midst of our friends and new-found family, “it” all went boom.
It turns out that rigging a boat for the first time since its voyage to Sarasota takes more time than I allotted to it. But I was undaunted! I was still going to check-in to the hotel, unpack gear, shower, buy groceries and have everything queued up for an easy Friday morning dash to the races, perhaps even a leisurely dinner with friends on Thursday night. Then, sometime between bargaining to eat lunch and realizing that there wasn’t enough room in the rental vehicle for me AND the gear, I relinquished myself to the now-swarming, dismal reality, one of my greatest fears: the unpredictable unknown of a schedule-less day and the fact that maybe things actually work better that way—gasp!
So I let go—eek! And it was awesome—double gasp! And it hit me, elbow deep and halfway through four institutionally sized pans of chicken kebabs, that, despite that seeming chaos, we were home. Imagine that: adrift in what my high-strung neuroses could only comprehend as mayhem disguised as boat preparation, I discovered that common thread that holds us all together as one very special class. The VX One Class.
And so the sun rose on Friday and the Skippers’ Meeting was buzzing with anticipation and nervous energy. I, myself, was experiencing an excitement I didn’t fully understand. For example, I was willing to be the third crew on my husband’s boat, having absolutely no experience on a VX One. This is my “you really have no idea how out of character that is for me” face; or maybe you do at this point. But almost as soon as the boats were lowered into the water, the skies turned overcast and a fresh breeze swept over the water. From there on, Day One was about adjustments. Teams struggled at first to find their comfort zone on the downwind legs. The RIBs, which we were using for photography and social media purposes, even retrieved a few resilient sailors from the water and returned them to their boats. In the end, four races were attempted, but only three finished successfully. One race was abandoned due to a particularly wily weather mark while three boats were forced to retire, early. Nonetheless, spirits were high, and the camaraderie was impressive. As the boats attempted the docking dance in the blustery conditions, some rather drenched but enthusiastic sailors attended to the rigging and designed grand plans for the following day. The day concluded with lively participation in the annual meeting demonstrating, yet again, that this wasn’t just a weekend of play to the Class members but a whole hearted attempt to be a united Class—a Class for world-class contention.
Saturday delivered slightly more sunshine and an earlier start to the racing for Day Two. Conditions were milder with less chop than Friday, and some clear leaders emerged from the spirited competition. Teams seemed to have benefited from the demanding conditions on Friday as evidenced by cozier starts and tighter groupings to the marks. In fact, some mark roundings were so tight that they kept us quite busy on the social media side of things, snapping action shots for Facebook and finding diplomatic ways to say “that was almost a disaster” on Twitter. And while conditions slowly deteriorated toward the end of the day, almost every boat finished four races. Back on shore, some particularly memorable land-based roundings were accompanied by a fantastic live band, courtesy of the Sqaudron. Impromptu dance party? Now you’re speaking my language. Tweeting that was easy! #boogiewitchu.
But even boogie shoes need a break and, physics is real, so along came Sunday, bloody Sunday. (No pun intended, Bono; the citizens of NYC wish you well). And while the sunshine was profuse on Day Three, so was the chop. The start gun was moved up, and the course was adjusted to accommodate the conditions but only one race was finished. It was an athletic hike through the course for the teams but it showcased, in magnificent fashion, the true agility of the VX One and the unadulterated fun the challenges bring. And while we laughed on the RIB about the multiple rogue waves that appeared to have it out for me, and my live tweeting, the conditions claimed their fair share of approaches on the downwind leg. Nonetheless, teams scrambled in earnest competitive spirit to put on an impressive display of endurance and heart. The boats came in pretty hot to the docks that day through the gusts and swirling sustained winds but, as the crane lifted boat after boat out of the water, the general consensus was that, “That was awesome!” And I’d have to agree.
The awards ceremony on Sunday afternoon only solidified what I had come to realize throughout the weekend: that this wasn’t about the pursuit of individual passion, but rather a shared love for a sport and an appreciation for a boat and its family that makes it all possible. From New England to Michigan to Texas, Alabama and Florida itself, the members of the Class sat together, celebrating the victory of three young newcomers and cheering for the tenacity of a mother-father-son team that stuck it out despite challenges. In the end, through the recognition of some hard fought races, the laughter over some epic cooler saves and the jeers for a team that rounded the mark and tried to take it with them, it was clear that the weekend was a success for everyone involved.
So yeah, it may not have conformed to the perfectly detailed schedule in my head, and it may have taken an hour to figure out whose deckbeaters were in the back of my rental but a warm welcome, an impromptu dance party and a shared success? It turns out “happy chaos” is real.