I had the feeling, as soon as I looked out the window Sunday morning that this wasn’t going to be a typical late September day.
For starters, I could barely see the seawall and beyond that was a curtain of white. Somewhere out there was my boat, which we would be sailing in the traditional end of the season Bud Humphrey race that’s run by the Barrington Yacht Club.
For the more than 40 years I’ve sailed Narragansett Bay, this race has drawn more than 60 boats from all over the bay, even in the worst of weather when it is cold, raining and blowing stink. Fog couldn’t stop them. They would be out there.
Sunday morning was cool but not cold.
Carol assured me it was going to be a beautiful day. She’d checked the forecast and took confidence that it was going to be sunny and in the 70s.
“It’s already starting to burn though,” she said.
She had a point. By 8:30 it had brightened and within the hour, the fog was gone.
The bay was glassy, with only the slightest hint of wind that left patchy ripples. By 10, Beacon sports editor William Geoghegan and Jody King, my two recruits from this side of the bay, and I were on our way out to the boat. John Cavanaugh and two others from the east bay, who powered over in John’s boat from Riverside, soon joined us. John was in charge of sandwiches and one of the first things he handed over, after tying off to the mooring, was a Subway bag that looked as if it contained enough to feed a battalion.
“I don’t think we’ll go hungry,” John ventured with a laugh.
The sandwiches went below, with the sack of apples, a cooler filled with lemonade, ice tea and beer. We were set.
The race is not a conventional fire a cannon, sound a horn and send all boats in one class off at the same time. This is a pursuit race, where boats start at different times based on their rating. The slowest boats go at 11 a.m., followed by faster boats each minute thereafter. In theory, if all the boats are properly rated and sailed equally, they should all end up at the finish line at the same time. That never happens.
The race, which starts and ends at Ohio Ledge, off Barrington Beach, and goes counter-clockwise around Prudence Island, is filled with too many variables. Tides and winds are major factors, not to mention the skills of those on the course.
I remember years when the smaller and slower boats were first to catch a wind shift and stay out and ahead of the rest of the fleet all the way. I also remember those races when the bigger and faster boats powered by everyone and are only seconds apart by the time they reach the finish line after more than 14 miles. Sunday wasn’t one of those.
A wispy wind from the northeast had us hopeful when we started with six or seven other boats at 11:32. The wind toyed with us. It would die and, after agonizing moments with the sails flapping and watching other boats ghost along, would tease you.
“The wind line is right there,” Matt would say as a patch of water, darkened by wavelets, shimmered just ahead.
“I can feel it,” John said, convincingly.
Jody and the rest of us agreed. You could feel it. And sometimes the sails would fill ever so slightly and, mysteriously, we’d start passing other boats.
Everyone looked as if in it for the long haul. Some skippers sought to sail the straight line to the next mark, others veered off in hopes of catching wind and avoiding the incoming tide.
Then came the first of the retirees.
The radio crackled. The skipper announced the name of the boat and the fact they were retiring and ended by thanking the race committee for being out there. That announcement changed the game. There were more transmissions, and even commentary from other skippers, including, “What happened, did you run out of beer?”
As frustrating as bobbing about and wondering whether to stick it out can be, the conditions seemed appropriate. I’m in no rush for winter and there seemed to be no rush to ending such a sparkling day.
We ate a lot of sandwiches, drank some lemonade and talked.
We set a goal of passing a couple of boats, which we did. We even chatted with the crews of those boats as we slipped by. Racing can be cordial.
And then we turned on the engine and headed in.
It wasn’t defeat. It was savoring a summery day on the bay and, rather than closing the door on the season, nourishing the faith that we’ll be back out there again, long before it really is time to call it quits.