speed as metaphor–Dec 3, 2014

As I look out at the rain/snow/ice mix on my back steps….and scan the weather ahead… woefully devoid of extended hard freezes…i am still enchanted by our inaugural days on Plymouth Pond…i remember journalling the next morning:

> couldn’t sleep last night….ice formation has its myriad variations….that ever-seductive crap shoot….and our first iceboating day on Plymouth has given us an unforgettable day of strong impressions….i had gotten up in darkness, attended to some last-minute iceboat tweakings, and sped the trailer—without a license plate!– to an 8AM arrival at Plymouth. >
> Doug Raymond, Bert Chapin, Jim Gagnon and others were already there, in the powerfully bright sun and fast-warming temperatures. As I stepped out into the glare of perfect ice, into the powerful squinty yellowness of the still, warm morning….i was instantly in love again…reunited with a long-absent passion…I immediately shed clothing and, seized by a calm, methodical mindfulness which is quite foreign to me, began setting up the new Whizz rig on Icywood: a rig I had been working on through the fall.

> Bill had nagged….guilt-tripped…seduced…even reasoned me into stepping above my deep-seated sleaze. I don’t like working on iceboats. I pride myself in sailing a fairly-fast assemblage of jory-rigs…bits of chain extending shrouds is a favorite!….but this morning….perhaps the result of listening to zen-buddhist tapes on the hour-long drive north….I slowly put all the new pieces together for the very first time…i stared and stared, feeling a calm deep satisfaction: there she sat, with John Eastman’s long pennant waving at the masthead…..a perfect, perfect creation! >
> I enjoyed a few careful runs, amazed at how demanding the high-aspect sail was. This baby could move you like stink, but would luff or stall with even a tiny miss-trim. Doug stopped his DN nearby and warned me that the ice was now zippering between the two areas of open water we had marked the day before. Then he jumped on the ice, to prove his point–cracks shooting out beneath his boots– and the ice oscillated up and down. I had never experienced ice of this amazing elasticity.

That day, we left the ice early, spooked by its creaking as you moved along. The open holes became progressively more difficult to see as the ice puddled in the rising temps….

the next day, I received this from my dear sparring partner, Bill Bunting:

> Congratulations on your upgraded Icy Whizz. I surrender. I give up. >
> Considering that I had enough trouble passing you with your old hand-me-down rig, obviously it would be ludicrous to think that I could ever do so again. Well done. >
> May Whizzy Ice now make history dispelling old chestnuts regarding the supposed necessity of having wide-track planks, and sophomoric phallic springboards, in order to make a proper skeeter. More power to you, and to Whizzy Ice! >
> However, and I almost regret having to tell you this, I will not be gnashing any teeth nor losing any sleep over eating your chips. Indeed, I welcome their taste. As I approach my LXX annum, come this January, I realize that now is the time to slow down and smell the ice fishermen’s wiener roasts, as it were. In the grand scheme of things, what is the point of going faster anyway? Are we not all hurtling through space and time quite fast enough? Is it not time to leave behind our childish competitive games? >
> But please, do not let my epiphany lessen your pleasure from your tricked-out Phizzy Ice. After all, to each his own. However, having read of your intention to reach your demise on the very day that your bank account reaches zero, I am concerned that in your quest to best my old $200 Red Herring you will have unnecessarily hastened that day of reckoning. >
> Bill Bunting

….one of the joys of our community is having another sailor who is exactly matched with oneself: Whose runners are sharper, or better aligned this year?….who has finally bought a new sail?….who is yanking in that last few inches of sheet?….who is faster in the tacks or jibes?…. having a ‘stalking horse’ to train against….not a Buchholz off on the horizon, but a Bunting runner to runner….this opens the adrenalin valve…..

and I admit that these thrills may, among other things, reach back into our reptilian brain, when speed and competence once meant food and mates and survival. But I don’t think speed and skill are only ‘childish competitive games’. I had come to a crossroads with the lovely DN rig….I had sat in a Whizz and pulled the sheet to the limit….I looked up into an angular, modern, sort of “industrial” rig, where mast and sail seemed to blend….and where the limits of flatness—so necessary at higher speeds– go far beyond the DN….

speed may be the icing on the cake, perhaps less necessary in the oldster’s diet…. but it is also a metaphor: the quest for speed masks a subtler need to change, to grow….and i’m not sure that has an age limit.

Buchholz’ comment was, typically, blunt: “Gents: it ain’t over ’till it’s over! Let the Childish Competetive Games begin!”

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