SI Vault
Joan Gould
August 12, 1968
When the late Ring Lardner derisively equated sailboat racing with grass growing as a spectator sport, he may have spoken more truly than he knew. To the connoisseur of such matters, the condition of a lawn on a great estate by Long Island Sound can tell much about the man who lives behind it. Many a shrewd sociologist can surmise from shrubbery whether the money that maintains it is old money or new money, whether the land that supports it was acquired from an ancestor or from a forced sale. Just so in the yacht clubs that complement such an estate, a man's attitude toward racing will betray to his fellow sailors his past and his potential, his sources of strength and his possible fatal flaws, and they will hold him in contempt or admiration accordingly.
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August 12, 1968

Wind From The Northeast

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Two hundred yards from the mark, Dyce slid forward on his belly to attach the spinnaker halyard. Two boat lengths from the mark, he stood up and fastened the pole to the mast, ignoring the slope of the deck (wet and slippery because Samuelson refused to put sand in his paint), and then—the boat still changing direction as it swooped around the buoy, the deck leveling off under his feet—he was hoisting the spinnaker. Just clear of the mark, with water visible between their stern and the buoy, the spinnaker filled with air, as his father and brother hauled on the lines.

The nylon bubble billowed in front of them, striped blue-and-white. Again the mood changed with the new course, the wind almost at their backs now. There was exaltation, nothing less, as their spirits were blown high and forward like the spinnaker itself, and it was on that surge that they rode past Houghton, who was still struggling to raise his spinnaker. They were third.

A wave rolled under them. "Welcome to Waikiki," Dyce shouted as they surfed down its face, and the shout seemed funny to them, the three of them laughing together like a group of drunkards, secretly loving each other, too, like drunkards.

"We're riding a tiger," Samuelson said, and the boys knew what he meant; it was an old saying that it was safer to ride a tiger's back than to dismount. But what choice did they have? They were swooping down on the black can, and they would have to jibe around it.

"Damn fools on the committee boat to give us a jibe in this weather," said Samuelson. Neither of the others could remember him making such a remark.

Nat was afraid and watched the other boats for reassurance, watched Mackenzie reach the mark, jibe, stagger a moment and then right himself on the new course. Before Hunt reached the mark Dyce had already gone forward to release the spinnaker pole from the mast. Then Samuelson moved the tiller a few inches with his hip, holding the spinnaker sheet in his left hand while the mainsail crashed from one side of the boat to the other because no one had a free hand to trim it. It was all Samuelson could do to uncleat the main and then recleat it, hanging on to one spinnaker line while Nat took the other. It was more than he could do, in fact. He couldn't control the spinnaker, but he couldn't let go of the line either, and the spinnaker pole was going forward and up in the air. Dyce was still on deck, trying to hold the pole down, and Nat was rushing forward to help bring the pole down and back, because at any moment it might pull the headstay out of the boat and dismast them. The boat kept rounding up into the wind, the end of the boom in the water now, because no one was free to trim the mainsail, and Samuelson couldn't get his left arm free of that spinnaker line even if he wanted to. It was tearing his shoulder out of its socket. Then Dyce and Nat had the pole under control, and Dyce held it aft while Nat fastened the line. Dyce jumped into the cockpit and trimmed the mainsheet. The old man held on to the tiller with his free hand and forced the boat to head off, away from the wind, so that the boom would come out of the water and they wouldn't swamp after all. Strangely, they hadn't lost a boat. Houghton had closed the gap somewhat but they were still in third place.

At last the line leading from the spinnaker pole was safely cleated, with Samuelson still holding on. He didn't let go until Dyce came and took the tiller. Then he opened his fingers with great effort, but he was unable to lower his arm. His shoulder was sticking out at right angles to his chest.

"Pull it." The arm was held out toward Dyce at the tiller, but Dyce didn't say anything. He just kept working at the tiller.

"Damn it, pull it, damn it." This time the arm pointed at Nat. Nat shrank back.

"Pull it forward." Nat took hold of the hand, which was ice cold and covered with sweat. He tugged.

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