Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Last Word

It is only fitting that the skipper gets the last word.
Four years ago I bought Lightning Rod from a Yacht Club Member, Shep Shirley. I didn't just buy a boat, I made a friend. Shep was on board the first race Lightning Rod won. It was the Blue Gavel in 2007. This was the first win in a sailboat race for her skipper too. I learned that if I could get the right people and get them to work together, we could win sailboat races in spite of my own meager experience and ability.
When I was a boy I would read adventure books. Some I remember were actually my father's. "Dave Dawson with the Flying Tigers" was the type of book from WWII. Of course I had the "Hardy Boys Mysteries" and one in particular I remember the story, but not the name, a book about a teenager who bought a race car and entered it in a Grand National race. Of course, he won. This week was very much like that. To give you the idea, On Sunday I went to a tactics discussion with Robbie Haines, Bill Hardesty, Terry Hutchinson, Adrian Stead and Dave Ullman. My crew on I sailed the same waters as these legends all week.
I'm not a teenager and this isn't a storybook. I know the commitment required to be competitive in Key West. In yacht racing the commitment is not just from an owner, or a skipper or a tactician. It is from a crew. In the past six months we built, trained and honed a crew. Seven of the eight sailors aboard Lightning Rod every day were from the Fort Walton Yacht Club. Hunter Riddle might as well be as much as he contributes to our sailing program there. When Craig Wilusz signed on we finally had what we needed to complete the picture, a tactician with the detail mind to prepare this crew. This was Craig's seventh Key West. My management style is generally easy going and though detail oriented, I always need a detail person to execute. That was Craig. Sometimes we laughed at his lists; but in the end we needed every one of them. Running a crew is like herding kittens. On the water Craig was a great kittenherd, off the water we couldn't have asked for a better kittenherd than Grady. A good meal after a long day goes a long way toward getting people where you want them.
Last year I came to Key West as a mark set boat. Jerry had the connection and was kind enough to share with me. I watched the greatest sailors in the World compete and it was the beginning of a dream, very much like the dream of the teenager in the book. By the time July rolled around and Jennifer had Lightning Rod for a full month for the women's racing series, I had decided I want to try my luck in Key West. My goal, to be competitive enough we were not laughed off the course. In the end we achieved so much more. I am not one normally to set my goals too low. Though I did not expect to achieve the results we did, I never stopped dreaming them. My goal was to give my team the tools they needed. I certainly achieved that. Lightning Rod is a different boat with superior sails (Thanks Hunter, the other S2 did ask for your card), superior hardware and the best sailors I could sign on. Bill Rackley was the driving force in bringing the Rod's performance up. Before Bill, no quality sailors would sail on the "slow boat." Sheer timing added Glenn to our crew. He is one of the finest sailors and finest men I know. Glenn is kind and hardworking and usually quite humble, like his dad. We definitely had the best foredeck in our fleet doing poleless set after poleless set, flawlessly.
In the end, this man's dream is achieved as a result of the sacrifice and commitment of the rest of our crew. Thanks to all.


  1. Lightning Rod has a new site - we're still very much learning the boat - but we're getting better! Enjoyed reading about the event here.

  2. I guess I should put the link in!