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A Windy Passage from Cocktail to Cocktail
Ellington White
October 09, 1967
A fishing enthusiast who thought sailboats were just a pretty excuse for giving parties finds that an ocean race is something more than merely the laziest distance between celebrations
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October 09, 1967

A Windy Passage From Cocktail To Cocktail

A fishing enthusiast who thought sailboats were just a pretty excuse for giving parties finds that an ocean race is something more than merely the laziest distance between celebrations

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Charles Bruning was the loner aboard the Nimbus, an alert man with taut nerves who chewed Gelusil during tense moments and covered his head with a handkerchief worn like a skullcap. Someday in the future when I read a newspaper account about how some sailor has undertaken to circle the globe in a 10-foot sailboat, I will not be surprised to learn that his name is Bruning. He did everything well.

John Williamson, one of the navigators, approached sailing with dispassionate thoroughness, as he might approach any skill he wanted to master. When he wasn't working at the chart table, he was learning the foredeck from Dave Jr.

For Enrique Huber, a Mexican business man and our other navigator, a boat was a place to relax, and he found it hard at times to understand what all the racing fuss was about. If there was no wind, there was no wind, in Enrique's opinion, and no amount of raising and dropping sails was going to produce it. It was Enrique who appeared from the cabin one sultry evening to take a sighting on the moon, a yellow orb then resting on a pile of clouds, and announced with a sigh, "But it is too beautiful to shoot!" His wit was a happy presence on such an earnest voyage.

The one person on the Nimbus whose composure never left her was Audrey Hatcher, the skipper's wife. As Swede put it, "She's the only woman I like to race with," and his opinion was reflected in that of every member of the crew. Audrey exercised a steadying influence when tempers flared—as they often did—and she guarded the galley and the crew's health with authority and good humor. When a halyard tore most of the skin off the skipper's left hand, it was reassuring to know Audrey was there to look after it.

On any boat, of course, it is the skipper who sets the tone. Ocean racing is a highly abstract sport in the sense that most of it is played without the benefit of a visible opponent. On an ocean race, if there is nobody aboard to remind you that you have an opponent, you may easily forget about him. On the Nimbus, David Hatcher was our racing conscience. "Come on, you guys, let's race this bucket." A tanned, stocky man, he never let up. Goofing off infuriated him, and while his language could be withering, one felt he called it out of a part of himself reserved for the sea. It was clear that for him the pleasures of racing all came from the boat, not from the provisions she carried. Although provisions were plentiful, they were not luxurious, as they are on some boats, and as close as anyone got to alcohol was two cans of beer a day.

"It's hard enough to race a boat sober," he said.

There was a lot of fantasizing about "chilled pitchers of martinis," etc., but as in any disciplined surroundings the snobbery that accompanies abstention more than made up for the actual deprivation: our crew could look down on boats where life was easier.

"I've raced on boats like that." Dave Jr. said. "You have a great time. The skipper never raises his voice and nobody works too hard. Of course, you never win any races. Winning's not the point. Cruising's the point. I like to win myself. I wouldn't be out here unless I thought I was going to win."

Winning seemed a long way off the second day of the race. We struck a calm and flapped about the Gulf for 48 horrible hours.

I had always thought a becalmed boat was an idle boat. Never believe it. The Ancient Mariner wasn't racing. Squeezing movement out of missing air currents is a fiendish occupation. Sails are shot up and down like window shades. Winches grind. Halyards hum. Arms and legs ache.

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