By Fred Rosenfeld
Third Place, 2020 New York Yacht Club Writing Contest
“I came to sailing relatively late. At age 30 Steve and Doris Colgate introduced my wife and I to the magic of sailing. I quickly moved to a 23 foot one design keel boat and started racing about the same time I was learning to sail. In the beginning, I was so bad that one Sunday the race committee was reading the real estate pages of the New York Times waiting for me to finish. I didn’t even know anyone actually got to the real estate section. I gradually moved up in the fleet to become competitive. Consistently top half, if I caught a rare lucky wind shift I might surprisingly win. More often my misreading that shift would place me DFL. I moved to a two-person dinghy and it was about the same. Top half, competitive, but not really a threat.
However, I knew the problem. It wasn’t me. Because I was not a top guy I could not get the top crew. I just knew that with a hot shot crew I could win. In our small, close knit sailing community I knew and was friends with all of the good guys. It was just that none of them wanted me. I was on a mission to get a good crew and prove that I was better than my finishes. My imagination focused on just one big race with a top crew to prove that I was really pretty good. In fact I was very familiar with just such a rock star. She was young, just 18, but already had a great track record and reputation. She also had a reputation of having little patience and being more than a little abrupt. Some even thought rude and obnoxious. Unabashedly I simply bribed her. I do not remember what was the price, certainly not financial, but I do remember that it was significant.
So, that Saturday morning arrived. The night before she told me to show up an hour earlier than my normal. “I have noticed you are never early and thus never really prepared.” We sailed out to where the start should be and actually beat the committee boat who soon arrived and dropped anchor. She said, “let’s sail upwind for half a leg and test the wind and the tuning.” I was set to impress her and was beautifully working the boat upwind. I was just thinking this was going to be a good day when she turned to me and said which is now forever seared into my brain; “if you can’t do better than this let’s go home.” I was more determined than ever to show her I knew what I was doing. The start sequence began. She was like my third grade teacher, who I immensely disliked. “Head up, go down, ease, trim, don’t let him in there, too early, trim now,” the instruction or commands or dictates never seemed to end. BANG..all clear. A front row start, maybe even better. “HIKE” she yelled, and I did until my abs burned only to have her clearly state, “that is not hiking.” I was feeling more than a little intimidated but realized we were simply flying and catching every shift. To leeward I could see the boats who were always ahead of me. But not today. Amazingly, when we got to the top mark there was no one in front of us. She looked back and told me if I hiked even harder she would get us around the mark without much use of the tiller.
I let out a big shout as we rounded the mark, eased and blew downwind. “What was that” she asked. I said well we are first and she smugly said, “I am almost always first.” We did miss a shift downwind and lost a boat but with a great inside rounding, of course orchestrated by her, we were back in the lead. Working the boat upwind all was going good and I tacked. She was upset and asked why I tacked and I told her she told me to tack. “No, I told you to get ready to tack, now we are a half boat behind Mike.” Getting defensive, I told her that Mike was way on the other side of the course and she said nothing. Sure enough, fifteen minutes later I had to duck him that half a boat length when we crossed. We did pick him up downwind and were beating to the finish. We were on starboard and a port tacker was clearly not going to get by us. I was all ramped up to shout my favorite words, “starboard!!!” Anticipating my excitement before I could say anything, she quietly said “tell him to go, then duck him…we are going the right way and we don’t want him tacking on us.” Here it is, I can see the finish. I am beaming and she said, “if you look back we will end up back, just focus.”
BANG!!!!! We took the gun. For the first time all day the hot shot crew actually smiled and said… “Good race, Dad.”
*Editor’s Note: Fred’s daughter, Amy, was an All-American sailor at Brown University, and won US Sailing’s Sportsmanship Award. Bravo father & daughter team! Thank you Fred for giving Steve Colgate permission for us to share your story!