Welcome chaos

Sunscreen, a bagged lunch, a sweatshirt and a camera.

All the supplies necessary to hitch a ride on a sailboat and take a nice little cruise around Penn Cove, right?

For my first time on a sailboat I thought that would do.

I learned quickly, however, that’s not the proper mentality to have stepping onto a boat during Whidbey Island Race Week.

And it was made no clearer when I stepped on board Gary Pedigo’s J-36 boat, Charlemagne, and was asked right off the bat if I was ready for some “organized chaos.”

Warned to empty my pockets, secure all valuables below deck, put on a life jacket and that I should have kneepads, the idea of a nice little cruise quickly disappeared.

Crew members, Steve Duncan and Beate Marshall, hit me with a swarm of terminology and jobs I’d be asked to do in the center portion of the boat.

During the half hour trip from the Oak Harbor Marina to Penn Cove I learned more sailing terms, rules and safety tips than I’ve ever heard in all my 26 years.

As “jib,” “jibe,” “boom,” “spinnaker,” “tack” and what seemed like a million other terms rushed through my head, the view from the press boat or the Coupeville Wharf started to look significantly better.

But how many chances would I get to do this?

I certainly don’t anyone know has $100,000 or significantly more to drop on a boat.


After an hour of built up tension, the first P-1 race finally got underway a little after noon on Wednesday.

And it didn’t take long for the action to heat up on the Charlemagne.

During our first tack, or turn of the large sail into the wind, the orders I was given earlier quickly kicked in. I made my first of several face-first dives under the boom to the high side of the boat. A wrong move, or sitting up too high, and I was told I would know why it was called the “boom.”

This process during tacking, which was done to balance the boat’s weight, was probably repeated 50 times or more in our two races.

It’s probably also the reason kneepads are a good idea. Two days later and mine are still swollen and bruised.

After diving back and forth and dangling my legs off the high side of the boat, I was finally given a new chore by Steve when he threw another alien term at me: topping lift.

Every time the spinnaker was raised to sail downwind, my new job was to man the topping lift rope that controls the height of the spinnaker pole. A far more difficult task with serious repercussions if I was to let the line go too fast, and I must admit, a lot more fun than I thought it would be.

As the first race went on I started to see what the organized chaos was all about. Everything had to be done in perfect sequence in a very short amount of time. At the same time I also saw why these six other people on the boat spoke so highly of sailing. From the shore all you see is the brightly colored sails, but the camaraderie and technical aspects that go into sailing aren’t so obvious.

As skipper Gary put it, “It’s a team approach all the way through, you’re no better than your team.”

Even with an eighth place finish out of nine boats in its two P-1 class races on Wednesday, everyone still remained in good spirits after seven hours on the water together.

A little tired and bruised I was glad it wasn’t just a cruise when we rolled back into the docks. In the past, I might not have given sailing much thought as a sport, but thanks to the crew of the Charlemagne I think that’s changed. Given another chance to sail, I think I would gladly accept.

Next time I’ll be sure to wear the knee pads.

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