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Reflections on a life afloat: A most memorable lunch

by David Schmidt 5 May 16:00 BST May 5, 2020
John Gallagher's Gunboat 62 team racing Chim Chim (USA) will receive the Multihull Prize for the best corrected time under MOCRA - RORC Caribbean 600 © RORC /

While Washington State's lockdown and social-distancing measures remain in place, and in fact were recently (and wisely) extended to the end of the month by Governor Jay Inslee, my wife and I have been taking much solace in our evening walk on a nearby trail. As we were strolling the other evening, listening to the call-and-response hoots of a pair of owls, an interesting topic cropped up: my most memorable lunch while sailing. While I've been fortunate to have been handed countless sandwiches over the years by many great friends and sailors, my answer involved a high-performance Gunboat 66, Hawaii's (in)famous Molokai Channel, and plenty of breeze.

The year was 2010 and the late, great sailing photographer (and truly wonderful person and friend to many), Bobby Grieser, and I were assigned a dream gig for SAIL Magazine to go sailing with owners Nora and Bruce Slayden - along with their boat captain Travis McGarry and first mate Anna McGarry - aboard their former whip for a week of cruising the Hawaiian Islands.

While we experienced everything from breaching humpback whales to sea turtles and plenty of swimming and SUPing that week, it was the sail from Oahu towards the island of Molokai that remains the stuff of my dreams.

Earlier that morning, as we prepared to haul our anchor from the protected comforts of Kaneohe Bay and hoist sail, Bruce and Travis gave Bobby and me a quick chat about the day's adventure and the fact that we would be sailing through a body of water known for its ripping winds, white caps, and - being January - myriad humpback whales. I remember exchanging a giddy-with-excitement glance with Bobby: This was going to be fun.

Two hours later, we all took turns spotting humpbacks from Sugar Daddy's enclosed and elegantly appointed salon as the mighty carbon-fiber catamaran charged through the five-foot waves, powered by winds in the low-to-mid 20s. Pickles, the Slayden's Jack Russell terrier, rushed around, making her position known each time one of us spotted spouting water or a whale's tale punctuating the otherwise postcard-perfect, borderline 360-degree view of the Molokai Channel.

That's when Anna announced that lunch was about to be served. We all took our places at the beautifully veneered salon table as Anna laid out a spread that included individual mixed-greens salads topped with walnut-encrusted goat-cheese and each person's choice of protein, along with generous pours of California Chardonnay (but not for Travis, as he was our designated driver). Pickles, of course, remained resolute in her hunt for humpbacks, despite the choppy seas that were testing her tiny sea legs. While things were bouncy, the flight from San Francisco to Honolulu that Bobby and I shared a few days before was considerably rougher... and that's to say nothing of the rather basic steerage-class meal service that we were offered aboard our 777-200.

Just as I started to tuck into my salad, Travis—standing at the salon helm—started calling out SOG numbers. "20, 20.8!"

Then, a few minutes later: "21.7! Not bad for a lunch party."

While I had previously experienced speeds exceeding 20 knots (and have since seen considerably faster speeds, but that, of course, is a story for a different day), it was always accompanied by serious helpings of adrenaline, constant dousing with saline, and the cold comfort of a rail under my Gore-Tex bibs. On this day, however, not a single strand of hair was blown out of place thanks to Sugar Daddy's wonderfully enclosed salon.

Even more impressive was the fact that all sails had been sheeted and cleated at least 20 minutes ago and that the autopilot - and not human hands - was driving us through waters that are often described as some of the most memorable miles of an entire Transpac Race.

Our joy ride came to an end as the island of Molokai hoved into view, capping off one of the finest days that I've ever experienced on the Pacific Ocean. Anna prepared an even better meal for our dinner - following swims, more fun with the snorkels and water toys and Bruce's signature Mai Tai's - but it's simply not fair to compare a meal on a mooring with one that took place at speeds that most sailboats may never register, even in full racing trim.

And that's to say nothing of the skipper's choice of Chardonnays, of course.

May the four winds blow you safely home,

David Schmidt North American Editor

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