PROJECT SAIL/TEAM HYDRA: The Attitude of Seat 37A

12 July 2015

Lighting the fire in my belly this morning required a bit more kindling than usual. Bone weary from four days of constant activity, I drank more than my fair share of the communal coffee as I mentally prepared for the day ahead of me. ‘Just two races,’ I thought. ‘I can hike hard for two more races.’ We of Project Sail were joined at breakfast by Sirloin (his nickname, of course) of the DV teams. He reminded us of why we were so lucky to be there, gave us helpful and constructive advice, and confessed that he would have “cut [his] arm off” for a chance at a Team Hydra when he was twenty-two. I understood what he meant.

We took his words to heart and made a point to depart the condo early for racing prep. Our track record on timeliness was a mixed bag, so we knew we had to prove how serious we felt about racing the Melges 32 on our last day. Once the race committee determined with certainty that they would run races in today’s heavy breeze, we rushed to leave the dock. Despite that, I could sense a lag in the energy around me—the team was tired. Morgan erased our sleepiness with one wave, though, a huge one that she dunked us under before we had even reached the race course. The spray definitely cleared any remaining fogginess from our brains!

Our races occasionally suffered today due to our overall lack of energy, but we sent it anyway. Alex Brown, Macatawa Bay YC, lamented that “the halyard kept ending up around the spreaders and one time the tape didn’t break so the hoist didn’t go up at first.” Matt Kaplan, Larchmont YC, echoed that his worst hoist was “when the halyard got stuff in the tape.” We persevered, though, even when the hatch wouldn’t shut properly and the boat took on some water from the spray that occasionally roared around the boat.

Despite our shortcomings, I’m still proud of our teamwork. Alex Post, MBYC, put it well: “I was surprised at how well we all got along on the boat having never known some of the people on board.” I asked the boys how they stayed motivated to hike on our last day. Alex Brown’s honest answer made me chuckle: “I was motivated by my fear of being called out by one of the pros for not hiking.” Alex Post said, “Just knowing that if we weren’t hiking there was no way we could keep up with the pros.” Matt’s motivation “came from when I saw everyone else hiking hard.” Similarly, I reached for my toes for those to my left and right.

During one of today’s downwind runs I took a moment to look around and appreciate what I was witnessing. Jets of spray flew as Hydra’s hull parted the ocean. The vivid blue of the Gulf Stream rushed past my feet as I gripped my shoes tightly against the onslaught of whitewater that tried to rip them off my feet. Mitchell was leaning in to me and my ribs protested against the pushpit, but I didn’t notice. I was in awe of how lucky I was to be there on such an epic sleigh ride down toward the finish of the last race of Melges 32 Nationals.

For the first time in Melges 32 history the class awarded a Corinthian champion. Defined as a boat raced with only one pro and a Corinthian crew, two of the Nationals entries qualified as such: our boat, Project Sail Team Hydra, and the Canadian vessel owned by Grant Hood. We competed closely against each other, always within a couple points on the leaderboard, but our upwind speed and good tactics paid off, and we received the title. It felt incredible to stand in front of so many sailors I looked up to while sailing in high school and college as they clapped to congratulate us. The DJ aptly played Kygo’s summer hit “Stole The Show” while we posed for our team photo.

Nothing is more humbling than returning to reality in seat 37A on a connection to the busiest airport in the world after being asked to “Please, ma’am, check your large carry on? This is an oversold flight.” (Ma’am? I’m twenty-two! Did the hiking age me that much?) Bagless and sleepy, I shuffled past those luxuriating in first class to the back of the plane. My hamstrings still occasionally twitched, my back ached, and my right thigh had a mysterious numb spot. I received a dark look from the woman behind me in response to my apologetic grimace as I reclined my seat—if she had held down a Melges 32 next to her teammates for the past five days, I suspected she would have been giving me an unequivocal thumbs up to recline, Lexi, go ahead and recline. Legroom be damned.

I thought like that for about five minutes. And then, I realized that my perspective required a shift.

I’m not old; I’m not wise; and I’ve survived too few seasons to give life advice. However, I’ve lived long enough to recognize when I need to pause and smell the roses. Let me tell you: these roses are some of the best I’ve ever smelled. As I write, I’m flying home in an airplane miraculously, like a bird, after five days of competing against some of the best sailors in the world in beautiful Fort Lauderdale, Florida on one of the best boats I’ve ever sailed. I have resoundingly concluded that I’m one of the luckiest, bruised, haggard-looking twenty-two year old sailors there’s ever been.

I love seat 37A.

We are so grateful for the efforts of the Melges 32 class, especially Sam and Anderson, to make Nationals a success. We are especially thankful to our team sponsors: Dick and Doug DeVos and Jason Carroll. Thanks also go out to Tom, Kerry, Peanut, Farley, and the many others who supported Team Hydra on and off the water.