Cap'n Shane Stephens

by Leslie Godfrey in ,


On our first day sailing Heeling Art, everyone circulated through the typical small talk.  "Where are your from?  What do you do [for a living}?" The requisite questions that must always be answered.  Andrew (Chemical Engineer) and Bobby (Technical Man of Mystery) hit it off immediately.  Shane?  Police officer.  "Yeeiiiiiiiiiigggggg," I think to myself.  I sidle away from the conversation and became very intent on studying something over here, up on the bow..."fascinating stainless steel structure on this forestay, no?"  

As I hoped, everyone got hung up talking about Bobby's latest project having to do with pingpong table electronics and rocket ships, then racing took over, and I escaped notice.  While this should be obvious to all you, because this is kind of like a law of physics: Police officers typically do not enjoy the company of attorneys.  There are exceptions of course, for various personal reasons, etc. but as a general rule - an admission of my guilt will in all likelihood result in keelhauling or flogging.

I knew it was only a matter of time, but I hoped I could prove myself as the fun loving gal that I am before anyone found out the truth.  

A few racing days later, we were becalmed and waiting for a race to start.  Someone on the boat asked me: “I can’t remember, what did you say you do?”  This day, there were even more police officers sailing with us - some of Shane's buddies from the force joining the crew for the day.

“I didn’t say.”  I replied, trying to sound mysterious. 

All three cops look at me.  "Drug dealer?"  

Now I'm really backed into a corner. I sigh, “Okay, okay.  Don’t hold it against me, but I’m a lawyer,”  moans and groans circulated amongst the group, “but not a criminal defense lawyer!”  the groans subsided somewhat.  I explain I handle business disputes, and everyone seemed to be placated enough until Shane realizes my value:

"That's fine, I'm putting you on retainer! Attorney Client Privilege for everyone on the boat!"  

I remained the butt of jokes, and once, Captain Shane even tried to sell me to the Coast Guard in exchange for freedom, but that’s a story for another day. 

Shane has been manning the helm since he was a tiny little guy, too short to see over the cabin top.  On Cour d’ Lane Lake in Idaho, his dad would hand him the tiller, and run up to the bow to set a spinnaker or adjust a sail.  He would call back to Shane: “Push (or pull) the tiller away/toward you a little!”  6-year-old Shane would do just that, and as story was told, Shane and his dad won many races that way.  Eventually, Shane moved to Las Vegas, brought Heeling Art with him, and gathered up his own crew.  Andrew and I switched our ample supply of beverages from beer to Monster and Sailor Jerry, and we were welcomed to Heeling Art as permanent crew.

Over the years, Shane taught quite a number of people to sail on Heeling Art.  He never wrote me off as "the girl who doesn't know how to sail."  He was patient while I was just learning.  Once I learned one spot on the boat, he was happy to help me learn another spot.  If things didn't go quite right, we would work on it the next race.  One day, as I watched Bobby systematically going through the spinnaker set, I decided I want to be a bow-woman.  It looked like one of the hardest spots on the boat. I figured that if I could be a bow-woman, then I will definitely be a more capable sailor. I mentioned this to Shane, and the next race he assigned me to work with Bobby on the bow.  

I can’t imagine I was much help, more than likely I was an obstacle for Bobby to work around.  But, by shadowing Bobby, I learned about the bow.  When disaster struck and Bobby injured his back racing offshore on another boat, he was out for a whole season. Shane could have hunted for a different bow guy, but instead, he put Bobby’s understudy (me) in place.  I know I messed it up a time or two, but eventually, I got the system down and things were running smoothly.  When Bobby returned, we worked even better as a team, because I didn’t have to be told what to do at every step.  

I have always appreciated Shane’s willingness to let me take on the bow.  Not every Captain would have the patience and willingness to let me get up there at the risk of losing races.  But, Shane is the Zenmaster of Sail Racing, and while he loves to win, he seems to love the process of building sailors and sailing itself even more.  For example, one day the wind was blowing a solid 15 knots, swirling around in circles as Lake Mead wind is apt to do.  We had just received the asymmetrical spinnaker back from the sail repair guy who had been taking care of a small rip.  We were finally back in the game!  We turned the mark to start heading downwind, and we had a successful spinnaker set.  As we emerged from a wind shadow (a spot of low wind behind an island), a huge gust of wind hit us.  We heeled over, Andrew released the clew of the sail (to let off force), but it was too late.  In an instant the asymmetrical spinnaker exploded into several pieces, flapping around on its three points (halyard, tack and clew) with nothing in between.  I bit my lip and turned toward Captain, expecting to see an angry least an F-bomb!  No, he just tilted his head back, closed his eyes and said: "Take it down."  We took it down, hustled to put the jib back up and finished the leg wing on wing. 

If you ask how we learned to sail, I guess I should make a long story short and just say: “From Shane!”  But it’s more than that.  Shane taught us to really enjoy sailing.  On Heeling Art, we keep it light with a continuous stream applicable movie quotes, and we work to be better this race than the last.  In words spoken by a one rum soaked Temple Bar philosopher and competitor:

“Sometimes you are fast, and sometimes you are slow.”  — Fight'n Dave

UPDATE:  Captain Shane now sails the speedy, the stealth, the highly fearsome El Cucuy.  We had drinks in her cockpit while she was parked on land in Shane's backyard right before we cast off, so that still makes us Crew.