• Richard Murff

Wet, Bruised and Different

The North American Lightning Class Championships

It would be a stretch to call the Lightning Class North Americans the sporting event of the decade, for one thing, I was involved. Fear of the unvaccinated kept the Canadian North Americans on their side of Lake Erie, and out of the qualifiers for the World Championships in May 2022. The Worlds are being held in North Carolina which was, quite frankly, why we were there with such gusto. Sometimes they are held in places like Finland or Ecuador. I’ve been to Ecuador, but I didn’t sail it, and shipping a boat sounds expensive.

For the Lightning Class, the NA’s, or even the World’s, are never as grand as American’s Cup dripping with media or even ocean racing, dripping with sponsors. There are sponsors, but few hints of luxury. These are sailing dinghies without cabins, designed by the legendary boat designer Olin Stephens in 1938 and serve no other purpose that to race around collecting bruises, stories and bragging rights.

Over the course of the regatta last week in Cleveland, we broke the halyard for both the jib and spinnaker, causing us the take the mast down and back up twice. We got mauled by a squall that blew in so fast that we were forced to tie up abandon the Clair de Lune to weather. Captain Bill and I sat discussing new names as he scrolled through his phone looking for his insurance agent’s number. The Clair de Lune, while dirty, was fine.

The next day’s races were canceled before another promised squall - like a storm, but more nautical – that never materialized. The delays forced the race committee to up the number of races from two to three for the remainder of the competition which vacillated from what in Cleveland they call medium chop, but looks pretty heavy to me, and wind that wasn’t quite heavy enough. I trust you see the issue, here. During the gusts, however, I hiked myself over the side of the boat until my stomach muscles ached. we got cold and wet and hot and sunburned. Nothing, in short, a sane person would consider fun. But it was different – blessedly different.

The strange combination of cloying panic and violence of 2020 did not really wrap up in Q1 21 as hoped. The indoor mask mandates are back into effect in the face of the Delta variant. The last 18 months have been unprecedented, true, but the simple fact is that they have also been so damned boring. For the fashionably enraged, I suppose, the protests got them out of lock-down and into a few bad-tempered street parties. I’ve personally never met an activist who wasn’t at least privately thrilled at the trouble they cause people trying to get to work. For the rest of us, it was just tedious.

Don’t get me wrong, even covering the protests had its moments: Like the young woman who’d donned woodworking googles protect herself from the tear gas the Memphis police weren’t using. I pointed out the ventilation holes in her protections rendered them useless for tear gas. Her indignant fury at this free and helpful physics lesson was pretty funny.

So sailing in a world class regatta – after a year of lock-down and seemingly only three topics of conversation being beaten to death – was different. A challenge that is fun despite itself; physically, not mentally, exhausting; and that no one has decided to make into a reality television series. Sailing is blissfully off the topics for a “national dialogue.”

Football is about to start, and a lobby that rich isn’t likely to let the government shut them out again. Sure the parties are fun, but the truth is that I’ve never been terribly attracted to spectator sports. I prefer to be dropped – soaking, bruised and cramped – into the action. Or the water. Even if, as happened last week in Cleveland, we got creamed