A Thistler's Mid-Winter Experience

by Evert Slijper

Most years in late January, several Eugene Thistlers make the long trek to balmy San Diego to race in the Mid Winters West Championships. It's an annual event put on by the San Diego Thistle fleet and the Mission Bay Yacht Club. This year, though, there weren't many from EYC heading south.

Since I was recuperating from bronchitis, snow and ice storms, I cheated a bit and chartered a local boat. My crew Marty Parisien and I flew down with my sails stowed in ski bags. The charter boat owners, Kevin and Natasha Olenick, met us at the Mission Bay YC and told us that their boat was fast. No excuses. I asked Natasha to be forward, but no luck. Marty and I were going to two-man it on the ocean.

The first day we spent rigging the boat. The second day it was off through the piers to the ocean. Light air, but big waves. Thirty-three Thistles on the line. After three general recalls we were off and did not do too badly. On the second start, again we had three or four general recalls. The race committee was probably fed up, sitting on a heaving RC boat, but off we finally went. Marty and I were doing well (around 10th), when at the last mark, with us on the outside, a normally friendly but intense Portland Thistler, gave us a slight bump. A tap, maybe a kiss. "Protest!" our friend said. I asked if he actually said "protest," hoping he had said "Oh, tsk" or something like that. No, he yelled "Protest!" again. After a 720 penalty, we had lost seven boats and finished below the middle. That left us with the third race to try and qualify for the top division. After four general recalls, the committee pulled up anchor and motored towards the piers. They later said that we plainly were running out of daylight with all those over-earlies. No chance to redeem ourselves and so, sadly, we did not make it into the Championship Division, but were relegated to the Presidents Division. Years ago we used to derisively call that the DumDum Division. Now that we reside there, we only call it by its proper name.

The second day saw very little air. We all had to paddle out from the club through the channel against an incoming tide. No tows from the committee or rescue boats. The surf however was spectacular. Once we were out to the race course, the committee hoisted the dreaded "U" flag, which means disqualification for any over-early starters. As if that would deter us Thistlers from crowding the line! We did get three races off, but all had several general recalls. We did well and had positioned ourselves into second place in the Presidents division after Day 2.

So we celebrated by offsetting the calories lost at racing by drinking a few beers. Per the diet formula, you burn 447 calories for each hour of racing. One Heineken is only 148 calories. We had been racing for many hours! It may be that the caloric intake played a role, but on Day 3, I managed to somehow wrestle the enormously long tiller extension underneath the boat. Indeed it was very long and promptly broke off—and sank. This was just before a general recall of the first start. Marty fashioned something from rope reinforced by duct tape. Imagine something that looked like a limp rope attached to the tiller. You can only pull at that and it's nearly impossible to race with it in a crowd—not to mention across waves. We could have gone home, but persisted and finished all three races. We never finished last. Overall we ended up 5th in the Presidents Division. We have committed to return next year, but with one extra early day to tune up the boat. And maybe a few less Heinekens.

PS: It should be noted Marty only drinks water, so he cannot be blamed for any hangover-like behavior.