Learning to sail on Town Cove
We lived on “first” Gibson Rd. on a bluff overlooking Town Cove. We could see the sailboat races from our living room, and we knew all the numbers and names of the boats (They were named for shore and sea birds: Teal, Black Duck, Sand Piper, etc.), as well as the owners.
They were mostly local people: “Doc” Raddin, ArIton and Carlton Smith, a Mr. Winslow, a Mr. Jones, George Ellis, and Jarrett Blodgett, to name a few. It was a bare bones yacht club in that there was not yet a building, only members, boats (Town Class) and Harry Snow’s power boat that they used to carry the judges.
The judges’ boat kind of moseyed around in the middle of the Cove, mostly to help out in case anyone swamped, but that was about all.
Every Sunday and holiday there was a regatta, but no one called it that, fearing, I suspect, to appear too citified, so we called it a “sailboat race”.
As these men began to get along in years, they noticed that there were no young people to take their places, so they decided to invite some kids to join them. The Town Class boat was really built for two people, but three could fit: one on the tiller, one on the main sheet, and a kid on the jib. Every boat managed to take on a jib kid. I was the luckiest, because I lived next to George Ellis, a wily old veteran at it, and he invited me to join his crew.
Step by step, George taught me not only how to sail, but, even more importantly, how to race. He let me sail the boat from the mooring to the head of the Cove, where the races began. He eventually let me plan the maneuvers before the final starting gun so that we were on the starboard tack (right-of-way privileges over boats on the opposite tack) and crossing the starting line first and with a billowing sail. He would ask me what route I’d take as we reached for the first buoy, then he’d “offer” his opinion as to where we ought to go, an opinion I soon learned to respect, as we were always in a good bid for the win.
However, as time went on I noticed that we would lose out unnecessarily on the last leg of the race. Each time, as we began to lag behind, Hamish Gravem, a jib kid on another boat with Rita Winship and her brother, would give me that “Gotcha again” look as they overtook us. I asked “Doc” Raddin about all that, and he told me that George Ellis had won plenty of trophies over the years, and that his only goal presently was to make sure that Jarrett Blodgett didn’t win.
I guess George didn’t like Blodgett; considered him a show-off and a “bigmouth”, as he related to me one day. As we were about halfway around the course, George would have his eye out for Blodgett and try to pull up beside him in order to steal his wind and make him fall off. Of course that made us fall out of the pack,-too, but that didn’t matter to George, as he considered it a win if he made Blodgett come in last, the worst of all fates.
One Sunday, George pulled a major coup. It was a fairly brisk wind, and on the last leg we had to tack back and forth, beating our way against the wind toward the finish at the head of the Cove. Suddenly, and for no apparent reason, we tacked and headed away from Blodgett, going toward the opposite side of the Cove. I noticed that all during that tack, George kept looking back to see where Blodgett was heading. Just as Blodgett tacked on the East side of the Cove, we tacked way over on the West side.
We were on a collision course with “Mr. Bigmouth”, though still quite distant from each other, and George was almost drooling in anticipation, as we were, as he had planned it, on the right-of-way tack (starboard), and Blodgett was not. The plan was to keep our heading until we got close, and then we’d demand our right of way. Blodgett would have to fall off and go behind us or tack down below us. I didn’t know at the time, but George wanted Blodgett to tack, because, in that way we would be able to “lay on top of him” and run him up on the shore if we had to. But I was wrong.
In any strong breeze, all three of us would be way up on the upper side of the boat, using our weight to counterbalance the boat against the strong wind. But, suddenly, as the moment of truth came nearer and nearer, George told me to climb down to “leeward”, the down side of the boat. Blodgett wasn’t going to give way except in a last desperate moment, so George just kept bearing down on him. “When I tell you, Sammy, I want you to bang the side of the boat as hard as you can with your fist.”
Closer and closer we came, so that there were only a few feet between us; just what George wanted. “Right of way!!!!!” George screamed, and Blodgett decided to give it up and tack just a couple of feet from us. At that moment, George whispered, “Now, Sammy, bang it!”
We were far from the judges’ boat,so the officials couldn’t see me due to the angle of our boat, so no one but Blodgett saw me whack the side of the boat. I gave it a good one. “Foul!” yelled George as he rose to his feet. “Foul!” he insisted, waving his arms at the judges’ boat. Reluctantly, the judges came over and, much to the great grin of George Ellis and Jarrett Blodgett’s dismay, Mr. Blodgett was disqualified.