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The Voice

C-Scows racing


by William Thomas


We all come equipped with our own personal radar, ceaselessly scanning ahead for peril. Calling it our "higher self," our "guardian angel," intuition, precognition or a disturbed morphic field simply means we have no clue where these whispered warnings originate. Yet, this quiet internal insistence is never wrong…



Buddy Melges' creation was a strip-planked skimming dish, 20-feet long, shallow and beamy as a varnished wooden tray. A single vast mainsail, hoisted high on a skybreaking mast up in the bows, promised her crew sore arms and a rooster tail, even when sailing upwind.


At 16, I became a C-Scow sailing instructor at the local yacht club. On this flawless summer afternoon, my four students were perched on the weather rail like birds on a wire. We were moving well to an ideal sailing breeze. So when I told the girl sitting furthest forward to move aft, my order was met by incredulity and resistance. "Why?" she whined.


I did not know why. The boat was perfectly balanced. There was absolutely no discernable reason for her to shift. I assumed my command voice: "Move. Now."


Scowling at the crazy martinet, she scooched back, forcing her grumbling shipmates to accordion together to make room. Their chorus of indignant protest was cut short by the mast striking the water.


One moment we were sailing full-and-by. The next, the scow was stopped dead and yards of Dacron and tangled rigging decorated the lake.


"Look!" a boy shouted, pointing. A knob-like fitting securing the main shroud to the masthead had failed. This was evident from the groove the whiplashing steel ball had gouged deep into the deck... precisely where that girl had been sitting. Four pairs of eyes turned to me in astonishment and alarm.


So that was weird.


A few weeks later found us sailing fast in a fresh breeze, heeled so far over, my only view to leeward was a sliver of white water sluicing loudly over the sidedeck. But we were safe. We hadn't seen another boat all afternoon.


Without warning, I slammed the helm hard over. As the boat spun on her heels, my belated call, "Tacking!" was met by panicked outrage as everyone threw themselves under the scything boom in a welter of flailing limbs, flogging fabric and shouted imprecations.


The bitching stopped like a thrown switch when a monster fiberglass sloop, sailing fast and just as blind on the opposite tack, thundered past close enough to touch. I'd had no conscious cues of the intruder's approach. Some other sense had told me, TACK NOW! and I'd reacted instantly.


Don't ask me why.

When everyone had sorted themselves out, my students turned to regard me with the wide-eyed wonder Castaneda knew. If we had not pirouetted when we did, that heavy sloop would have cut us in half. Serious injuries and perhaps loss of life would have followed. It had happened before.


So always listen to your inner voice. When it murmurs a quiet command – tack.




 发件人     William Thomas 2019