By Karen Disch
I first learned who Peter Commette was in 1993, when I crewed in my first Snipe Nationals with Bill Buckles at Mentor Harbor Yacht Club. Close behind him on a reach leg, Bill said, “Watch how Peter sails these waves.”
Twenty years later, Peter is still handling waves better than me. Best of all, we’re both still sailing the Snipe.
After crewing for Jno Disch for many years and steering occasional regattas, I married my skipper and we now have two sons, Ryan and Mark. We picked up Jibetech 29968 when Ryan was a newborn, and my father-in-law became a regular traveler with our expanding family; we couldn’t do a regatta without checking his calendar first. I would nurse the baby while my father-in-law helped Jno rig the boat; then I’d step aboard, like a princess, and do my crewing duties. After sailing, I would rush off the boat to feed the baby again. So different from when Jno and I just hopped into the car and took off for a weekend regatta, thinking about little more than how to make the boat go fast!
I have many great memories from last year’s Nationals at the Buffalo Canoe Club, and most involve watching our Snipe friends interact with our sons. Ryan calls Augie Diaz “Augie Doggie”; Mark, the two year old, was picked up and swept into Augie’s boat. (I was carefully shooed away.)
And somehow during that regatta, I was also talked into steering the Women’s Nationals, even though I hadn’t skippered a Snipe since walking down the aisle. Carol Cronin’s plan to get our boat back to Jibetech for a jib lead retrofit required me to pick the boat up in Ft Lauderdale.
What, me steer? OH MY GOSH – Could I really do it? I found myself vacillating between really excited and slightly terrified as I contemplated holding the tiller once again. My husband was very supportive, but we both knew I was vastly underprepared. I found a great, enthusiastic fellow woman sailor, also vastly inexperienced, and we made our plans to go to Ft Lauderdale. (What was I thinking???)
The drive down was uneventful and my crew, Annie, and I had a great time catching up. She has inherited a Cleveland Snipe and looks forward to putting the boat together this summer. Without the kids, I found myself thinking outside the “mommy box” for the first time in a long while. I could really focus on just the sailing, putting myself in the skipper’s mindset, or at least trying to.
Peter Commette ran a great clinic the first day, and we absorbed as much information as we could. Then we went sailing, and promptly ran aground and cracked the centerboard trunk (new construction has to put the debris somewhere, so why not in the channel?).
Annie and I were a bit rattled. But we rallied and got the boat together for Saturday morning. Having never been to Ft Lauderdale before, just getting to the ocean was an adventure. It takes a full hour to sail out, through a busy commercial port and then out through a long breakwater/pass to the open ocean. We passed cruise ships with gunboats at the ready and beautiful yachts just waiting for their owners to step aboard.
At the ocean end of the breakwater, we realized it was really wavy, with breakers coming onshore.
We agreed to sail to the race course a few miles to the south and see how it felt. When we got there, Annie turned to me and said, “Let’s go back.” I agreed and we turned around and made our way back in. We got in safely, relieved to be off the water. Clearly, we needed a lot more experience together to safely handle those conditions.
After unrigging the boat, I went for a swim and we sat poolside for awhile, chatting and looking ahead to the regatta party Saturday night. I couldn’t even think about Sunday’s long sail back out to the race course.
Fortunately for us, Connie Commette and Sharon Johnson had put together a regatta that was about much more than just sailing. During Saturday’s dinner in a private dining room at Lauderdale Yacht Club, we met women from all over the country, young and older, some with lots of experience and some with little. Women in different seasons of their lives, with young babies (Stacy Szabo), teenagers (Lisa Pline), and kids already grown and out of the nest (Peter and Connie, Jennifer Rousmaniere). I loved learning about what everyone else was doing and how they were managing the challenges of their lives – jobs, families, college, sailing.
We could and probably should have sailed on Sunday, but the forecast was for building breeze so instead we went out with Kevin Reali on a regatta safety boat. Kevin is an awesome coach, and we learned a lot from his observations.
Over the years, regattas have taken on many different focuses. Sometimes it’s a boat speed or a tuning challenge. Sometimes it’s a “communication” thing. It’s even been about “where to put the tent to avoid the washout in the thunderstorm”. In 2003 at the Marion, MA Women’s Nationals, the last time I’d steered, it was about the waves and lots of wind.
Recently it’s been a “how to handle the kids” thing.
This time and for this regatta, it was about making the right decision NOT to sail. And I have no doubts that walking away when feeling overwhelmed was the right decision at the time. But I can’t wait for next summer and another chance to redeem myself. Now to find those babysitters so I can get out on the water….