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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.
In this imaginary account of a clash of wills and generations aboard a racing sailboat, an author who is herself a fierce competitor on the water shows that there is more to yachtsmanship than the overt acts seen by the spectators from the shore.
The northeast wind would strike when they left the harbor. Inside, still protected by land, the day was nothing worse than bleak and lumpy, and a novice might have been fooled into leaving with full sails, but the three of them knew better. They came prepared for the wind that sweeps down from the northeast—the sailor's wind—down a clear fetch of a hundred miles from the Atlantic Ocean, still smelling of cold currents and mackerel when it blows past the yacht clubs of Long Island Sound. From the north and south come land winds, hot and feeble for days or weeks in summer and then suddenly gusty, as if they snatch their moods from the homes they pass. But the northeast wind is a water wind, blowing hard and steady and true to itself for three days at a time before it shifts to the south, pushing a hundred miles of water into waves so steep that the tides are overly full for days afterward.
They went out in the club launch. "Perfect," his father said as the launchman pulled neatly alongside the moored sailboat. Speak politely to workmen, Henry Dyson Samuelson always told his boys, but he himself did more, he was downright deferential to those, like the yacht club's launchmen, who were hired for a skill, a skill that could be measured against his own. He fended the launch away from the yacht with his foot while his older son, Henry Dyson Jr., called "Dyce," and his younger son, Nat, handed the sail bags and gear from one boat to the other.
"Luck," explained the launchman touching the brim of his cap. The launchman never saluted anyone at the club but Samuelson; no other adult member had ever sailed on, much less owned or raced, a Monitor.
By the time Samuelson jumped into the cockpit, Dyce had unpacked the largest sail bag, stenciled "Monitor #27—Flat Main," and was bending on the sail, while Nat took the jib bag.
"I want to make this a family crew," said Samuelson. "Just the three of us. I call that a challenge."
"I daresay," replied Dyce. It was a phrase that made Nat uneasy.
"I don't have your approval?"
Dyce stiffened. "Don't ask me. It's not up to me." He paused. "Only I think we could use two more people—in the family, that is."