We arrived early at the dock for the next race, a couple weeks later. Again, we had our case of beer in hand. Brandywine wasn’t participating in this race, so we were free agents again. To my surprise, one of the “Suspicious Captains” casually approached. "Are you here to race again?"
"Yep," I say and Andrew nods.
"What do you know about sailing?" He asks.
“Sailboats use sails?” I say. Then, I explain Andrew sailed in Salt Lake for one season and I am for the most part a complete novice. He nodded and said “That works. I’m Shane." He introduces his crew, we gather up our beer, and follow Shane to his boat.
As we stepped over Heeling Art’s lifelines, she rocked with our footstep. Light. Fast. A J33, she shivers with anticipation of her race. Every single device on her has some method of adjusting, trimming, or tweaking. She sails downwind with a symmetrical spinnaker, which adds a whole extra level of complexity that I had not yet experienced. Nothing was labeled...except for me.
Shane directs the crew to their respective positions. "Leslie, you're rail meat."
When I ask him to define the responsibilities of "rail meat" everyone agrees this is why I am rail meat. Don't worry, I'll learn.
The Volvo diesel engine chugged to a start with three slow gulps. Bow-Guy-Bobby untied the dock lines. As we motored out to the race course, Bobby went about his business setting up more and more lines. He wove one through a little wheel on deck. He wove another one on the outside of all the lifelines and around the shrouds holding up the mast. None of the sails were out, yet, so he tied the dead ends of the lines to various places on the boat for safe keeping.
Andrew and I helped the captain unroll the big main sail. Bobby attached the halyard to the main sail and started pulling it up. My only job was to hold the rolled up sail in the middle so it wouldn’t crease and interrupt the unrolling process. Bobby pulled and pulled at the halyard on the mast, and soon, it was all unrolled. Bobby attached the foot of the sail to the boom, and Shane attached the clue (back end of the triangle). These people were working like clockwork.
As we reached the race course, it became apparent that today would be another light wind day. One of two types of days in which “rail meat” is an important contributor! I enthusiastically placed my weight on the low side of the boat and patiently waited as the water trickled by ever so slowly past Heeling Art’s Hull. It was the most tense .5 knots I have ever experienced. Bow to bow with our competitor, Bobby spits into the water and watches his snot creep from mid-ship to the stern.
"We're still moving!"
Bobby kept us laughing, and I noted his beer of choice was Tecate. Captain Shane preferred Monster with Sailor Jerry. We adjusted our mode of bribery accordingly.
Soon, came the first day we had wind over 5 knots. At Lake Mead, the wind is either 5 knots or less or it is 15 knots or more. Heeling Art, that racy girl, likes to heel over (tip onto her side) in pretty much anything over 5 knots. The second or third race we sailed on Heeling Art, the wind piped up to 20 knots, and suddenly, one side of the boat was flying high into the air and the other side was dragging its rail in the water. I might have started to get nervous, but the Captain and crew were all acting as if this was par for the course. All the other boats were doing it too, so, I figured it must be okay.
Now, The Rail Meat was stacked on the high side, “sphincters to the rail”, stretching our legs and arms outward to maximize the amount of sail we could carry and still keep the boat balanced at her fastest angle. Whenever we would tack (or turn through the wind to go the other direction), the boat would momentarily flatten out and then heel over on her opposite side. If The Rail Meat waited too long to move, she would be caught on the low side and have to crawl up the steep slope, using clutches and blocks as a footholds. But, I was learning; and soon, I had my timing down. Just as Shane would start the turn, I would slide beneath the boom, arriving on the other side just as Heeling Art would switch her weight to her other hip. I was becoming excellent rail meat.
As the wind waves were kicked up, Heeling Art plowed ahead. The waves would spray up over the bow and into my face. Fast or slow, I think sailing is really great.
With the wind up, the Captain and crew remained focused. On the upwind leg, Bobby would sit back with the Captain, discussing strategy, the best way to head a competitor off at the pass, catch the right gust, or plan the approach to the mark. Captain would inform us of our next move “Ready about!” and everyone moved in unison to prepare. Bobby went about his business on the bow with the precision of an expert. Andrew was working the mid-deck, and I was just finding ways to be useful. I would pull the tail end of a rope here, or help Bobby shove spinnaker down the hatch there.
I was not shy. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I played my role as "that extra set of hands" as often as I could. Every now and then, Bobby or Captain Shane would point and say something indecipherable like "Can you tighten the Cunningham, Leslie?" I'd look around start "pulling" on anything that seemed in the direction of their extended index finger. "No, the Cunningham, that little cleat right, that rope, the Cunningham! Leslie right there!"
If we were rounding a mark in higher wind, instructions would fly at me fast, with increasing levels of desperation. "Can you release the downhaul? The downhaul. The downhaul, right there! No, not the halyard, the downhaul!" I'd move my hands from rope to rope, cleat to cleat, until they stopped talking, sometimes I'd overshoot and move past the intended object for action. "No, no, Leslie! The DOWNHAUL!"
The way the group moved as a team looked like fun. I wanted to be a part of it as soon as possible, so I jumped in the middle of the fray and did whatever I could.
Over the years, Heeling Art welcomed me as a full fledged member of her crew. She was the sailing classroom in which I spent the most time. She taught me all the parts of a sailboat, their function, and most importantly, how they could tie a crew and a boat together to move as a team powered only by the wind. There were more than a few times that the wind really piped up and Heeling Art was over powered. She taught me that a well appointed sailboat will take care of her crew, grapple to stay upright, and stay strong in the face of serious wind forces. Heeling Art trained me to be patient, laugh at jokes and swim during a “bob and bake,” and she taught me to stay focused, remain calm and prepare a plan during heavy wind. Heeling Art taught me to love sailing and get out there even when the conditions are less than perfect. We would not be crossing oceans today if it were not for Heeling Art, her Captain and her Crew.
UPDATE: Heeling Art has moved to sea! There comes a time in every Boat and Crew's time together that they have to part ways and sail in separate wakes. Heeling Art found new owners and she's moving West! Fair winds and following seas, Heeling Art!