I just returned last night from one of the most fun and inspiring sailing experiences I have ever had. I want to write about it while it is fresh in my head (even though I still haven’t begun to chronicle the amazing experience of my 400 mile qualifier the week before).
Haunani and I were lucky enough to have the company of Whitall Stokes on our last adventure. Whitall offered to join me to doublehand the PSSA Catalina to Port race when he heard me mention one day that I had zero experience flying a spinnaker (least of all by myself). Since much of this race is downwind, it was the perfect opportunity to learn from someone who is a seasoned singlehanded offshore sailor, not to mention to spend the weekend with a great person. Whitall and I started to get to know each other a couple of months ago when I interviewed him for this blog. You can read the post here. Since then we have become fast friends and he has definitely become a trusted mentor. I really admire Whitall, not only because he is a very accomplished sailor, but because he is a very kind and genuine person.
We set out early Saturday morning for the long and rolly journey of motoring out to the PV 10 buoy off of Palos Verdes. Since Whitall is the PRO of our club, our boat was the rabbit boat, so we were there waiting for the other three vessels when they arrived. As everyone gathered, the wind started to come up, and we were all poised for a great start to what turned out to be a very fun race.
The wind filled in nicely, and we had a lively sail across the channel towards the west end of Catalina Island. We had a bit of a rough start due to a huge piece of kelp that got caught on our prop (the famous, crappy, soon to be replaced fixed prop that earns me endless amounts of sh*t from my compadres). It took both of us taking turns crawling down the swim ladder hanging of the stern wielding a totally MacGyver-knife-on-the-end-of-a-boat-hook-situation trying to cut the stuff off to even make a dent. It was a pretty pathetic sight that ended with both of us being more wet than dry...not to mention a stubborn piece of kelp remaining.
We carried on despite this little hold up, and made good time to the west end. I was a little queasy on this leg, but really enjoyed it nonetheless. The day was picturesque to say the least. We rounded the west end in a stiff breeze, and headed down the backside. Once we were about a third of the way down, we decided to set my spinnaker. Whitall patiently coached me and demonstrated the procedure with the ease of an expert. We had a great run down the island, culminating with a sudden increase in wind just before we came to the finish. We were all of a sudden gettting gusts of up to 25 knots, and Haunani was broaching like crazy. I tried to suck the spinnaker into its sock to start the dousing process but the wind was way to strong. I was also stupidly not wearing gloves and got a gnarly rope burn on my hand trying. As much as this was intense and challenging, Haunani handled it all with grace, and we were finally able to get around the end of the island without incident to calmer wind and made our way to the finish line. We finished as the sun was setting, and once we doused the spinnaker, we celebrated by floating slowly towards Avalon in the waning light, toasting our day with a nice glass (or 3) of red. I loved that not only did Whitall want to take in the peace of the sunset without rushing back, but that the first thing he said at that time was “so, what were our learning experiences in all of that?” We spent about half an hour rehashing all that happened and what we could have done better. I wish I had had a notebook for all that I learned on that sail. Just about at the time we were about to turn on the engine, one of our PSSA buddies motored by after his finish. It was fun to be able to chat with him on the radio and toast him from afar! We finished our day by picking up a mooring in Avalon and having a lovely dinner where we were both almost falling asleep in our food. I was happy to be hanging with someone who is also accustomed to a 9pm bed time! :-)
My favorite thing about what I learned this weekend was the way in which it was delivered. First of all, Whitall is calm and collected at all times, and despite his sheer badassness, ego never enters into any equation with him on the boat. His lessons are conveyed mostly in the form of questions and invitations to self reflect. There were no harsh edges to any of it (except maybe endless well deserved sh*t about how much stuff is on my boat :-) ) but that is not to say he didn’t hold me accountable or that there was not strength and confidence behind every word. I always say that there is a reason I sail alone….mainly because, as social as I am, spending that kind of time in a small space and in intense situations with most people is challenging…unless they are the right people and it just works. I had a hunch we would get along and that I would enjoy having him on my boat, and I was right. What a true gentleman and wonderful guest! I am so grateful for our friendship and for the fact that I got to soak in as much as I did this weekend. I feel like my mind is bursting with all that I learned..