Competitive Cruising

Only days before the world shut down last March, Paul purchased another Archambault 31. Even as I teased him about his French girlfriend, I was already looking forward to cruising together again—something we’d really enjoyed on the previous boat.

A month later, when all my regattas had been cancelled, I realized that cruising would be the best sailing escape this year.

Thanks to patience and perserverence, Paul’s new (to him) boat was finally delivered from La Rochelle, France to Portland, Maine, in late June. After adding a few key pieces of equipment for singlehanding, he sailed (and motored) back to Rhode Island. Four days onboard was all he needed to remember how nicely he’d rigged the last boat for shorthanded sailing, and he came home with a long list of projects to bring this newer boat up to par. But with summer already well underway, he quickly prioritized that list and rushed to get the essential jobs checked off before heading back Down East again, to meet up with another shorthanded sailor for a week of trekking.

Ten days later, I drove to Blue Hill and joined the fun.

Side by side play

Our friends Liz Baylis and Todd Hedin had already made it to Mount Desert Island on their Sabre 425, and after several texts and emails we anchored side by side on my very first night aboard. That set the pattern for almost two weeks of “buddy cruising,” or what on the windier days Liz laughingly called “competitive cruising” (we are all racers at heart, after all). 

The key to happily cruising in tandem turns out to be the same as holding together any long-term team: well-aligned daily priorities. The four of us are all early risers, and we all like to get some exercise every day—including this year’s Pushup Challenge. So we’d finalize our plans for the day over breakfast and coffee—long after the lobstermen had gotten underway, but well before most other cruisers had even poked heads out of the companionway. The icing on the cake each day was an afternoon sail (or motor) to another well-protected harbor. 

The two boats might not seem like a very good match; the Archambault 31 is a racer-cruiser with a minimalist approach to creature comforts, and it’s faster on most points of sail. But the Sabre 425 motors faster… so Liz and Todd often finished first.

Quantity time

While underway, Paul and I talked through ideas that would help make his new boat even better for cruising. (You’ll be able to watch him complete several of these projects over the winter, if you subscribe to his In and Out of the Boat Shop show.) We also replayed previous cruises, with my parents or on our own, while savoring the many pleasures of gunkholing Down East even more than usual—including the safety of socializing within our “bubble” each evening. So many friends and family could only wish for an equally lovely escape this year… 

Once the anchor was set, we’d catch up on email and maybe have a bracing swim before paddling over to join Liz and Todd for dinner around their varnished cockpit table—a much more luxurious setting and meal than we would’ve had on our own. We’d talk about where to go the next day (or whether we should just stay put). And while I don’t remember solving any of the world’s problems, discussing the evergreen challenges of wind and currents and pointing ability did seem to put everything else into its proper perspective. After dinner, we’d paddle back to Paul’s boat, navigating the short distance by the stars. 

With almost no other travel planned for the rest of the year, and clients gone silent for the summer, there was no need to rush home to an empty desk—so ten days grew to amost two weeks before I managed to tear myself away. I even suggested we do a similar buddy cruise again next year—though I’m hoping that by 2021, competitive cruising will have to be crammed in between regattas once again. 

Sailing variety 

One of the great pleasures of our sport is the range of options it offers. While one-design racing might not seem to have much in common with coastal cruising, this year’s competitive cruising provided a way to check most of my summer fun boxes. Cooperation was the first priority, but we still kept track of who’d arrived first at each destination. And even on the afternoons we followed Liz and Todd into harbor, I still felt like a winner when we clinked cocktail glasses that evening.

I miss my “normal” summer life of regattas, and I miss my Snipe family. But I feel so lucky to have stored so much visual and mental stimulation into my memory banks, without spreading anything but good cheer. I think it will be enough to get me through the winter, while Paul’s off working on his French girlfriend… getting her ready for next year’s adventures, whatever those might turn out to be.

Did you manage a summer escape? Share it in the comments below, or send me an email. Thanks for reading!

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