2020: The Season in Review

Categories Supplemental Thoughts

There are many parts of 2020 that I don’t particularly care to relive, but I have traditionally (well, at least half the time) finished up the sailing season with some sort of retrospective, so here’s this year’s Season in Review.

I’m not sure how to do this. This boat log is primarily from the Ronco Showtime Rotisserie school of literature: set it and forget it. I don’t usually do a lot of editing or re-writes, but I don’t recall a time when I’ve written and deleted so much text. I neither want to go on a deep dive into real issues here nor be flippant about them. I also don’t want to seem like I’m gloating, because honestly, it hasn’t been that bad for me. I mean, clearly, it’s been a disaster: it’s sad that so many people got sick and so many people died; it’s sad that it’s getting worse again and more people are getting sick and dying; it’s sad that so many people have lost jobs and businesses have closed; it’s sad that so many people have been so stupid about it, given objective reality the finger, and made it worse than it needed to be; it’s sad that we still need to fight for basic racial equality; it’s sad that so many are struggling. But as far as real, concrete impacts on me? It was a contributing factor in unrelated personal catastrophes and I miss restaurants, but I’ve had it better than a lot of people.

Among those of us who are potentially in a position to chuckle at a 2020 Christmas ornament shaped like a dumpster fire or the “2020: ★☆☆☆☆; would not recommend” t-shirts and coffee mugs, the quarantine seems to have been the biggest deal, and I’ve been mostly fine with that too. I think I’m built for it. There are a couple things I miss, but honestly, there’s a lot that I prefer about quarantine life.

Photo of the book _A_Voyage_for_Madmen

The back cover of Peter Nichols’ A Voyage for Madmen says:

In 1968, nine sailors set off on the most daring race ever held: to single-handedly circumnavigate the globe nonstop. It was a feat that had never been accomplished and one that would forever change the face of sailing. Ten months later, only one of the nine men would cross the finish line and earn fame, wealth, and glory. For the others, the reward was madness, failure, and death.

Whenever I read a book like this or see a show on one of the “barely science” channels about people doing things that would make most others go insane, I immediately think “I could do that. No problem.” It’s entirely possible that I’m already crazy, or have a grossly overestimated sense of my own mental toughness, but I can tell you for sure that I’m fine in a quarantine. Also, I disagree with the last sentence of that summary—[spoiler alert] Moitessier didn’t go mad, fail, or die. He chose not to complete the race. He used a slingshot to shoot a message to a passing freighter:

Je continue sans escale vers les îles du Pacifique, parce que je suis heureux en mer, et peut-être aussi pour sauver mon âme.

“I continue nonstop to the Pacific Islands, because I am happy at sea, and maybe also to save my soul.” He didn’t fail, he just won at something different. Moitessier would have been fine in quarantine…as long as he could sail.

Which is what I did.

Distant Rain Cloud

I didn’t circumnavigate the globe. I barely went anywhere at all, because most things were closed. But I found it generally easy to stay 6ft away from strangers while bobbing around the bay.

I think I sailed Fortuitous nineteen times, which would have been a lot of weekends for me in a normal year, but is especially high considering that the first sail wasn’t until May 31. I would ordinarily start prepping the boat in April, but that was when everyone was still in the naïve “Maybe this will all be over soon?” phase. It took me another month to get to the “I guess I should be wearing a mask when sanding the biocide off the bottom of this boat anyway?” phase.

Pre-dawn at Myers Hole 2020

Most of those sails were with Jenn, who has come a long way as a sailor. She gained a lot of confidence at the helm and dealing with sheets, pitched in on a bunch of maintenance stuff, and even went to sailing school to try to fast-track some learning in a more organized way. We practiced anchoring enough that we could stay overnight on the hook, which we did a few times, building up to a sail in the ocean. We even saw dolphins out there, which was likely the highlight of the sailing season for her.

The Ocean

There was plenty of other wildlife in addition to the dolphins. Over the course of the season, we saw cormorants and pelicans (which I didn’t even know lived here) and I spoke with several osprey. In the fall we saw chevrons of different migrating birds, some at close range.

Other odd encounters included an ongoing relationship with a couple survey vessels that seemed to be out there for months. I was pretty jazzed that I knew a sea captain who could confirm my poorly-researched hypothesis that they were doing work related to an offshore wind farm, determining where the cables might go to hook up with the rest of the electrical grid.

Since it’s 2020, it was also one of the most active hurricane seasons in recorded history, to the point where they ran out of names and just had to start using Greek letters. I rode out Tropical Storm Isaias on the boat, which was mostly fine. The one unnerving part was when my VHF radio started screaming at me and switched channels by itself to warn me of the nearby tornado. I flashed back to the time in high school when I got sent to the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater for a week to attend…something. My first taste of dorm life included a spiel on tornado preparedness, and while I don’t really remember why I was in Wisconsin, I do remember them saying that tornadoes sound like freight trains. I have no idea if this is true, if I’m remembering it correctly, or exactly what freight trains sound like, but my first instinct when my VHF went berserk was to listen for “woo-woos” and “chugga-chuggas.” My second instinct, only moments later, was “Meh, I’m making coffee.”

Fortuitous at Night

One downside of the state of things was that racing was limited. My club cancelled everything (racing, cruising, dock parties…all of it). I did get to race with Sailor Steve a few times on his boat, although those races were a little ad hoc and I couldn’t always be reliable crew. Still, it was good to get out for a few Tuesday night beer can races. We even got to take out someone else’s Capri 22 for one race, and sailed it like a rented mule. Or at least docked it like one.

From a sailing perspective, 2020 was kind of great. Nothing too epic, but no colossal failures either—just a lot of high-quality time on the water, at least by my standards (and certainly in comparison with recent years). Sailing and writing about sailing were a welcome respite from everything else, and for my own personal sanity I need to remind myself of the things that didn’t go sideways. Regardless of any future shenanigans, I hope to keep up the pace in 2021.

"Prepare to fend off the bridge abutment."

2 thoughts on “2020: The Season in Review

  1. I’ll remember that “docking” remark, lol.
    Thanks for your restraint all the other times I’ve been less than skillful on the water, including nearly jibing you overboard. And thanks for crewing so often. I never would have gotten into the racing and had so much fun without your help.

    1. We all have docking stories. 🙂
      It’s fine. It keeps it exciting.

      My club has an award for creative docking:

      Dillon Dock Meter Award
      The Dillon Dock Meter is a wooden box, containing a bell on a short chain. The legend is that it is awarded to the club member who hits the dock with enough force to cause the bell to ring. Luke Dillon was both the inventor of the concept and the award’s first recipient:

      An older couple next to Luke had moved up from a Sunfish to an Endeavor without any large boat experience. Their standard docking procedure was to simply run the boat into the dock, have the raked bow ride up onto the planks, and then tie some dock lines on after it had slid back down. Luke connected a bell to the dock that would ring whenever their boat hit it.

      Later, Luke’s good friend Bruce Hurd made up a portable version of the bell in a box and awarded it to Luke after he rammed his own Endeavor, Sweet Talker, into the dock.

      Thanks for reading my boat log, Steve, and thanks for taking me sailing so much. Hope you and your family have a good ’21.

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