Olympic Sailing: Where Fiction Meets Fact

Sometimes seemingly unrelated events coincidentally come together, reinforcing each other in a totally unexpected way. That’s exactly what happened last Sunday when I sat down with the Severn Sailing Association book club to discuss Game of Sails: an Olympic Love Story. (And thanks to Kim Couranz for organizing what turned out to be a really fun evening.)

I hadn’t prepared a formal presentation, so it was the best kind of book club discussion: free ranging, with a chance for anyone to bring up a topic, question, or comment about Olympic sailing, the characters, or the story.

That was seemingly unrelated event #2.

Seemingly unrelated event #1 happened a few weeks earlier, when we published a story I’d written on boats.com entitled Olympic Broach: The No Good Very Bad Windiest Day. In it I describe the day back in 2004 that I still remember all too well: the two races that cost us any chance of winning a medal in Athens.


Game of Sails book club discussion

Discussing Game of Sails with a bunch of sailors made for a really fun Sunday evening. Thanks to Paul Cronin Studios for the photo.

Some of the book club members had read the post, so it came up a few times throughout our discussion. But only one of them suggested a connection I’d never thought of myself. We were talking about one of the two main characters in Game of Sails, Casey Morgan, who uses her heightened sense of smell to sniff out shifts on the race course. And this reader said, “It’s just like you talked about in Athens, that you should’ve smelled the meltemi coming.”

That comment stopped me in my tracks. Because it meant that somewhere deep in my subconscious, well-buried for the last ten years, I’d been wishing for a better sense of smell—a trait that turned out to be very, very important to one of my favorite characters in her own Olympic sailing.

I don’t know if it’s possible for anyone other than a fellow author to understand how weird this is (or even believe it). But for me, Casey just “had” that sense of smell. I didn’t consciously “give” it to her; it’s part of her personality. I “learned” about it as I wrote her story, and it was only in the course of getting to know her that I eventually realized how important it would be to the book.

The book club discussion quickly moved on to other topics, like evil sailmakers and a few moments that probably would’ve turned out differently if they’d happened in real life. I couldn’t stop smiling as I listened to people I’d just met discussing Casey and Spencer and Gordo as if they were friends from the SSA boat park. Like these characters were real sailors we all knew. It was a great way to spend a Sunday evening.

And best of all, we avoided the dreaded question: “Where do you get your ideas?” Hopefully the smell-discussion made it clear that I don’t “get” ideas… the best ones “get” me.

Thanks to all my readers who’ve taught me over and over again that fiction can teach us something about the facts. May your holiday season be filled with many such surprising intersections.

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