“Give him some slack!” Roy said, his voice rising.

Joe was struggling to clip spinnaker pole to mast as the boat heaved, and Roy wanted the spinnaker out about a minute ago. There were seven lines feeding through the clutches on the deckhouse, and I didn’t have a clue which one would give Joe the slack he needed.

“Pull the downhaul!”

Crap. I don’t know the downhaul from the outhaul, and barely from a haul-out. I sure as hell don’t know which of the lines coming through the clutches was which.

“Second from the outside!” Roy said.

I reached up and tightened the line second from the outside.

“The other side! Port side outside!”

We’d done well enough on the first leg of the race, though with boats races are called “regattas.” I’d never thought of myself as a “regatta” sorta guy, but racing is racing and I’ll try to beat you to the register in side-by-side checkout lines at Trader Joe’s.

That may be a character defect, but it’s my character, defective or not here I come. I’ve learned to live with it.

We weren’t first or second, but we’d gained on those that were, maybe a little. But when we turned downwind, our inexperience showed.

“Okay, that’s my mistake,” said Roy. “I didn’t say it was the port side.”

After the stiffening wind ripped the spinnaker out of Joe’s hands for the third time, Roy told Irish to take the helm and went up on the bow of his small race-boat/cruiser to helpt Joe stuff  that big parachute of sail in its bag. We weren’t going to catch them with or without it and Roy could tell we were losing concentration instead of gathering it up.

Irish was great. I knew how petrified she was when Rachel heeled over and dipped the sheer line of her hull into the water. Irish didn’t let out a peep, though I could tell from the way her blue eyes looked about she was sure the boat would go right on over and we all would be tossed into the bay to drown in icy gray water.

“You can go below and hook up the lee cloth on the bunk,” Roy told her.

“I’d rather stay up here,” Irish said.

What she meant was, “I’m going to die up here, swimming, and not trapped down there in the dark!”

I was busy at that moment, trying to grab a winch with which to climb up a deck slanting at 45 degrees, just so I could dangle over the rail as “meat ballast.”

The gusts died as quickly as they’d come up, and we headed back in. I took the helm and guided Rachel into her berth as Roy and Joe pulled down the sails and readied the lines.

What a difference from two days before, when Roy and I delivered a boat from here to a small marina down past Port Townsend, where we’d stopped for lunch. Then it was calm, glassy at times in Rosario Straight for almost the entire length of Whidbey Island.

He and I talked for almost 12 hours, motoring down off the islands, through the canals. Waiting for the bus to take us back north to catch the ferry to where Roy parked his car to drive me back to Irish just at dark. It was a long day, but great conversation.

Allowed to choose anybody to teach Irish and me about sailing, and navigation, I’d choose Roy. Sometimes it seems he and I lived parallel lives, offset by a few years and different opportunities, but similar in how we wring what we can out of what life offers.

After he drove off, Irish and I started to head out for a bluecheeseburger at the Brown Lantern.

“Crap!” I said, as we got to parking lot after a chilly walk up the dock from where Foxy gently pulled at her mooring lines.


“The car’s back at the service center where I parked it this morning.”

“Let’s get a salad and a cup of chowder,” she said, nodding at the restaurant we’d just passed.

Two days later, after the regatta, we sat on the deck of Foxy with Roy in the waning sun of early April. They had a glass of wine, I had my lemonade. The bruises Irish had suffered as she clambered about hadn’t yet shown up. The tendons I’d stretched past easy elasticity hadn’t either. It would be a four ibuprofen night.

“You guys did great today,” said Roy.

“The start was good, the end was good, the middle was all f*#^ed up,” said Irish.

“No, you did fine,” said Roy. “You’re getting it, and faster than most people.”

Getting it, but just enough to know how little we know. And getting to know just how addictive this life could be.