An audio and video podcast of my trip hitchhiking around the world by sea.
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Racing for Rolex

Racing the Rolex

The first watch I ever had came out of a cereal box. I was somewhere in the vicinity of 4 years old and thought… nay knew it was the coolest thing I had seen. Upon first glance, those bypassing the prestigious toddler would indubitably notice his tender fashion sense and the charming plastic lion head attached to his wrist. Little did they know that when one lifted the lion head, a small digital screen would reveal exact time of the day, give or take 20 minutes. Perfect for Olympians, businessmen, and 4 year-old boys who wanted to make a statement.

And so it is, my intrigue for wristwatches was born. Meanwhile, as I am doing my thing-looking totally fly, impressing the 4 year-old ladies- some clock making Einstein was dreaming and designing what would stand as one of the greatest inventions of all time: the video game watch. I noticed one a couple years later, well after I learned lion watches were not waterproof or in my case spitproof. Unfortunately, while genius in design, the marketing team for the video game wristwatch was never able to convince the parents of my need to own. I still daydream of that watch.

I’d like to say the watch tan I developed over the years is a byproduct of a sweet calculator watch, or an elusive yet utilitarian remote control watch, however, with the exception of one proud year wearing a Swatch watch, I have always settled for the economical and sturdy Timex Ironman. It was no lion head, but it did have a timer and alarm, so it was always enough.

Then one day shortly after arriving St. Thomas under sail, two worlds collided: the worlds of wristwatches and sailboats. Introducing the Rolex Spring Regatta. Boats and crew from all over the world gather to race but only one would leave with a Rolex. And I intended to be on that boat. Dan and I arrived the first morning of the regatta early in hopes of crewing on a speedy vessel for this prestigious event. Unfortunately, we arrived too late and all the boats had already taken to sea. But the race was three days so we did not surrender hope. We tacked our number on the board and crossed our fingers.

That night we got a call. The sailing vessel was the 52 foot Reef Song. The captain-Thorston Cook- aka Thorny. “Have you ever raced a spinnaker?” Spinnaker is the large bulging front sail. “We’ve flown one on our boat, and we’ve sailed here from Florida…” After a sufficient pause the near 70 year old captain replied, “We’ll see you in the morning. Be here at 7:30.”

We arrived on the nose. A little over 30 minutes later Thorny and crew walked in. Introductions were made. Breakfast was had. Then we caught a ride to our boat. Most boats were stripped down and fitted with carbon fiber racing sails to make them as fast as possible. Reef Song still had its bimini sun shade up when we left. That was the first indication of how we would do.

Dan took charge and devised a plan for the spinnaker. He would be on the bow. I took a winch and staked my ground in cockpit. Reef Song was one of nearly 100 vessels that weaved in and out of each other, sometimes inches apart, as we vied for position, waiting for the air horn to blow.

When it did blow, the action began. Each boat developed its master plan for the course announced moments before. Each tacked at different times to get the best angle on the wind. Each pulled slowly away from ours. All day I cranked winches fine tuning the sails on the boat and muscles on my back. When we did fly the kite (that’s sailor talk for spinnaker), it was total chaos. Ropes whipping through the air. Crew trying to out muscle the wind to pull in the sails.

Eventually we got our routines down, but by that time most boats were probably showered and primped for the evening party. You know you didn’t win when on the last race, a boat would pull the water buoy after your boat passed it. Finally we reached a compromise when the race committee radioed Reef Song to propose a better time if we would just call it a day. We did and everyone was happy.

Unfortunately, Captain Thorny and crew did not go home with Rolexes on our wrists. Instead we wore bruises all over our bodies. We didn’t win… we didn’t even beat another boat (that is unless one didn’t show up). But we sure had a good time. And I do still have ol’ trusty Timex, at least until next year…

1 comment

1 Jonboy { 04.28.08 at 5:52 pm }

Ok Derek, the suspense is starting to get to me….! How are you lads?!!!!!! Jon

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