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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"What for? Because you're able. Isn't that the only reason for doing anything?" Dyce didn't answer.

"It's criminal."

"You mean convenient, don't you?" Dyce asked. "For you, that is."

"For you. Members of a yacht club all these years..."

There was a tone in Samuelson's voice that could only belong to a man who had never seen a yacht club in his youth, never seen a sailboat at close range, in fact, until he was middle-aged; a man who had stepped on a boat for the first time when he was 40. But the boat he first stepped on was a Monitor, and it was his own. He had bought it over the telephone from a newspaper advertisement, knowing nothing more than just that—that it was a Monitor, and that Monitors were the finest, most expensive and competitive racing boats on the Sound.

It happened that there was no other way that he could have bought it. Ever since the class was founded its members had been limited to a small number of gentlemen of one type, which certainly was not intended to include anyone named Samuelson; and no Monitor had ever been advertised in a newspaper or anywhere else. Nor would one have been, but the year was 1944 and the class, left shorthanded and shamefaced by the war, had stopped racing for the duration.

Samuelson had bought the boat in the fall and sailed it throughout the following summer, with any youngster from his club as crew (but never with an adult), learning alone, the way he learned everything. No one in his club understood why he wanted a boat so big—33 feet overall, 21 feet on the waterline—so big, but as delicate to handle as a birchbark canoe. The next year when racing resumed and he went out every weekend and was beaten, no one understood why he wanted a boat in which it was so easy to be disgraced. But, then, his club had not been a yacht club in anything but name until that day when he answered the newspaper advertisement. Men who raced Monitors belonged to far fancier yacht clubs than Samuelson's, and none of its members understood anything about a man who would buy such a boat.

So every weekend Samuelson raced his boat, smiling deprecatingly at the skippers from the other clubs, as if asking them to overlook his presence on the water. They did, because it was easy to forgive a man who could be so badly beaten 40 times a summer. A few seasons later he was in the middle of the fleet standings. By then it was even easier to forgive him, because he had made it clear that he would never hoist a protest flag, no matter how flagrantly he had been fouled. "I come out here to learn," he told the skippers of his class, and they were so beguiled that they never stopped to wonder what it was he wanted to learn.

So the years passed, and the time for forgiveness was over. The other members of the fleet watched his improvement, first with wonder and finally with admiration—for themselves, not for him, that they could accept him so admiringly. Samuelson's presence grew less noticeable, just as the tread on his sneakers grew less obtrusive with each race, but now his smile was recognized as the modesty of a man who knows that he faces his inferiors. After eight years only three or four members of the class could equal his record, and only Trevor Hunt, who had been winning yacht races for 50 years, could leave the mooring with the reasonable certainty of beating him.

Samuelson took the tiller. Straight ahead, they could see the buoy in the center of the Sound and the committee boat that would start the race, but there was not yet another racing boat in sight. This was no day for novices. The few oldtimers who showed up would come as late as they dared, to shelter their crews and even their equipment as long as possible. As Samuelson put the boat on a broad reach, easing the sails to take the strain off them, Dyce lifted a floorboard and began pumping bilge water overboard, crouching near his father's feet to do so.

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