Don’t dismiss those little annoyances without checking first

Posted 8/24/23


It was a tapping of metal on something hard and not what I expected. It was close, …

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Don’t dismiss those little annoyances without checking first



It was a tapping of metal on something hard and not what I expected. It was close, maybe in the cockpit of the Rhodes 19 Dan and I raced back from R10. But what could be hammering on the hull of this fiberglass boat as we beat to windward off Barrington Beach making ever so slow gains on the three boats ahead of us? Had a line, perhaps remnants of a fishing net, become entangled on the keel and begun rapping, like a fluttering flag, against the hull? But that didn’t explain the distinctive clear clank of metal or the fact that the boat was performing as I expected.

I’ve written about the race to R10, known to members of the Narragansett Terrace Yacht Club as “Rio” before. Those unfamiliar with the annual regatta assume this is an event that would take extensive preparation and months to complete. After all Rio Janeiro is some 4,708 miles from Rhode Island and surely no one in their right mind would attempt such a sail in an open 19-foot boat. R10 is a red channel marker off Colt State Park all of about five nautical miles from Allen’s Ledge in the Providence River. The race is simply to the marker and back to the finish line, which given Saturday’s winds was a single tack to R10 that was rounded to port and back. It was a drag race.

But finishing first doesn’t necessarily make you a winner even after applying handicaps for various size boats. Such factors as first time racers and women at the helm are also calculated to apply deductions to the finishing times. Trophies handed down from year to year are equally out of the ordinary regatta playbook. There are no engraved silver bowls, not that the club that operates on a meager budget would go to such extravagance. For the longest time, first place was a fender in the shape of a very bosom mermaid. Names of winners were written in indelible ink on various locations of her slinky anatomy. Second place is a ten-foot wooden oar similarly inscrolled.

A first time sailor with me, Dan Hewett inquired what my strategy was as we headed for the starting line. I didn’t get into the rules and the bonuses we might be eligible to receive as neither of us would qualify as being the youngest or probably the oldest to race. My answer was an uncreative, “be first across the finish line.” Dan thought that was good enough.

Prior races to Rio have dished up a variety of conditions and challenges. Most frequently at this time of year the wind is from the south east or west requiring multiple tacks to clear the rocks off Nyatt Point and upwind sailing to R10 before a with the wind ride home.  There have starts with barely a whisper of wind and an incoming tide that seemingly freezes the fleet until those afternoon southerlies build. Then, as happened several years ago, storms can roll in from the northwest delivering lightening, blinding downpours and high winds. Some racers dropped anchor and rode out the fury, others sought refuge in Barrington and some just kept on sailing. When it finally abated, the wind died and the fleet was scattered across upper Narragansett Bay. The race was called off and vessels with power towed in those without engines or unable to start them.

We were spared such conditions Saturday.

But then the mysterious rapping offered a challenge I’ve never encountered in years of sailing. To my horror, the noise was emanating from the starboard shroud flying freely from the top of the mast and banging against the boat. Put simply, the shrouds hold the mast in place and without them the rig would come down. We were on a port tack and as long as we stayed in that tack all the stress was on the port shrouds – we were good but we wouldn’t be able to change direction.

This was troubling although it appeared we could make the finish line as long as the wind didn’t change. How would we change course to avoid a tanker – thankfully there were none – or to avert a collision with another boat on a starboard tack that would have rights? How would we get back to the mooring, which would require tacking?

Dan snagged the flapping shroud. The screw-in pin to the shackle holding the turnbuckle and wire shroud to the chain plate on the deck was missing. If we had a pin – something as simple as a nail – we could at least hold the mast in place. From a collection of fasteners stowed below, Dan found a robust cotter key that looked like it could do the job. As soon at we crossed the finish line, I eased the main sail and Dan went to work. He linked the shackle to the chain plate, bending the key so it wouldn’t fall out.

We gingerly sailed back to the mooring. There was no need to race.

And Dan made an observation that is so true not only to sailing but to life. He thought of all the “little pieces” holding the vessel together. Any number of bolts, lines and cables or on a personal level skills, experiences and intellectual abilities make for a functioning whole.

It’s when we hear that clank, clank of a missing piece that we need to diagnose and assess the problem before dismissing it as simply annoying.

side up, editorial, regatta


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