Greater Good

Greater Good

Every year across the country there are about 40 Leukemia Cup Regattas. With an average of about 150 participating boats and their crews in various classes, the LCRs involve a vast percentage of this country’s sailing community. Every year, a select group of LCR participants is rewarded for their performance with an invitation to the Leukemia Cup Regatta Fantasy Sail, a weekend sailing with Gary Jobson. This year’s Fantasy Sail was hosted by the San Francisco Yacht Club. This was my third year qualifying and I thought some of you out there might be interested to know what it’s all about.

Before I get started though, you should know that the “select group” is not based on sailing ability. This is not to say that there aren’t some great sailors in the group, there are a lot. I am not one of them but they are there. The select group is made up of those folks who have managed to raise $8500 or more for the Leukemia Cup Regatta. That’s it. In fact I heard that there was at least one person this year who raised money as a virtual sailor and our weekend of racing was their first time on a sailboat.

I left Washington, DC on a 6:00 am flight on Friday and arrived in San Francisco at 11:00 and took the BART to the Embarcadero where we were all staying at the Hyatt Regency. After dumping my gear in the hotel room, it was down to the lobby to meet up with John and his wife Andrea (also from the DC Regatta) to do a little sight seeing. We had decided on a little walk through China Town. John assured us that he knew where we were going but somehow we ended up walking through the red light district which I guess made sense for sailors.

After a quick beer in China Town at a really weird bar with one of the most frightening bathrooms I’ve seen (you know it’s a bad sign when the bartender tells you how to get to the bathroom and then says “Be careful.”), we headed back to the hotel to register, sign our waivers, get our complimentary bottle of Dry Creek Chenin Blanc (they put paintings of America’s Cup boats on their labels!) and meet our hosts. We all knew that we were to be racing J105s but beyond that we knew nothing. The PRO outlined the course (once around windward leewards), what the wind was expected to do (5-10 in the morning building to 15 in the afternoon), and the currents (holy crap!). We were to be divided into morning and afternoon groups. Last year I had chosen to sail in the morning and photograph in the afternoon. Since we started last year with 20-25 in the morning moderating in the afternoon, I had decided to photograph in the morning and sail in the afternoon. 

We also learned some numbers: 17 years ago there was one event that raised $30,000, this year there were 38 events this year and we raised a total of just under $4 million dollars. The total raised to date is over $31 million. There were 75 people attending the Fantasy sail this year though a bunch more had qualified and not been able to make it. 67% of the money raised came from individual donations brought in by sailors which does not include corporate donations, silent auction items, etc. The final announcement of the evening was the location and date for next year’s fantasy sail. Charleston, SC, get ready. On December 3-5 a group of about 100 sailors is going to descend on you and some of us will do our best to deplete your liquor stocks even though you’ve given up the little airline bottles. Then it was time for cocktails. 

One of the reasons best things about qualifying multiple years is that the people you meet at this event are incredible. The mood is festive and everyone is upbeat. Just about everyone has had a personal experience with blood cancer, either a friend, family member, or actually survived themselves and the feeling of having been able to do something to help people living with blood cancer and find cures is really amazing.

Included in the group of survivors is the perennial host of the Fantasy Sail, Gary Jobson. Gary started as the national spokesman for the LCR way back in the last century, long before he was actually diagnosed, and he continues to inspire and spur us on to do great things. This cocktail party is all about meeting up with the folks you went drinking with last year (Hello, Emory!) and meeting new folks you missed the year before. Last year was very dangerous since we were in Florida so all the west coast people were feeling like it was 8:00 at midnight and some of us east coasters were more than happy to keep up. This year it was an early night for me since I’d been up since 1:00am west coast time.

On Saturday it was no problem getting up in time for breakfast and in fact I was able to get down there at 7:00am and sit through the entire 2 hours the buffet was open. At 9:00 it was time to head to the busses. There were two other groups in the hotel at the same time as us, one a group of social security lawyers, the other was trauma doctors. Watching all these lawyers and doctors react to the crazy people in the foul weather gear walking through the lobby was pretty funny. I should also mention that this was the first time I got to wear my Puma foul weather gear I received as a result of the Rock the Cat contest and I can tell you that I’m very happy. Fleece lined pockets, waterproof zippers, the back of the jacket actually goes down to cover your ass when you’re sitting on the rail, … good stuff. One suggestion, the bib could use a pocket to put your hand in while you’re drinking beer after the race.

The only other time I’ve been in San Francisco was for a trade show and we never left the convention center so this was a big adventure. Driving over the Golden Gate bridge to Tiburon was pretty cool. After seeing the bridge in so many photos, movies, TV shows, it was pretty impressive in person. We pulled into the SFYC and I was put on the Protector that was to ferry Gary from boat to boat in between races. This is one of the more fun parts of the Fantasy Sail: when possible, Gary gets on a different boat for each race, usually transferring onto the last place boat to give them a little boost. The morning started out slow but built through the three races until it was steadily 10 gusting to 15. With fog pouring over the city and burning off halfway across the bay, the opportunity for photos was breathtaking, the entire scene changed every 15 minutes. I don’t know how the folks sailing kept their concentration on the racing.

By the time we got back to the dock at lunch time to switch groups, the RC was talking about having the racing go to non spinnaker. I dropped off my cameras with Robin (the SF LCR coordinator) and grabbed my gloves to head out to Danae, my ride for the racing. Owner Steve and his crew Bill welcomed us aboard and we headed off to the race course. Also on the boat with me were Sanford and Alex from Annapolis, Steve from San Francisco, and my drinking buddy from last year, Emory from Arizona.

My first gaffe of the day was to almost fall off the cabin top during a tack in the first race when we did indeed sail without spinnakers because . I managed to catch the vang and get myself back on the rail without even a bruise. Luckily that was quickly eclipsed in importance when we were hit at the leeward mark by a boat driven by the only professional sailor in the regatta. There was some question of whether that was vengeance for Bill asking Gary if he wanted to do the bow when Gary sailed with them in the morning. The Annapolis contingent promised to ride him about it when they got home.

The next race we fired up the spinnaker and I got two actual jobs beyond getting my 180 lbs out on the rail: jumping up the spin, and “pitman” pulling the spin back into the hatch after the douse. We had a spectacular set, and were actually picking up ground. The fleet was packed pretty close together and it looked like we were in for a very interesting, which is to say crowded, rounding. We then jibed and a couple of things went wrong. First the lines were rigged wrong and second, the spin sheet caught my leg and nearly shot me off the boat. Bill was kind enough to grab me by the scruff of the neck and pull me back in but not before the lifeline had given me a fairly spectacular bruise that runs the length of my torso from a point just to the right of my family parts (missed becoming a soprano by about a half an inch) all the way up my chest to my collar bone. The result was that we just doused the sail since we were close to the mark anyway but in the confusion we lost a few places and ended up coming in 6th in the fleet of 8 instead of 4th.

Before the last race, Bill re- rigged the spinnaker and we were all set to kick some butt. Right up to the moment when I was about to start hoisting the sail and I looked over and realized that something looked wrong and pointed it out to Bill who then re-rigged the sheet mumbling about gremlins the whole time. We had another beautiful set but by that time we were destined to not be in the running for a top three finish in this race either. All in all it was a great sail and Steve and Bill were great hosts.

We returned to the dock, got the sails flaked, and headed to the clubhouse to find a cold keg with a handwritten sign on it that said “Fantasy Sail” and I could not have been happier with my decision to sail in the afternoon since the morning sailors had gone back to the hotel and their bus did’t return them until 6:30. It was 4:30, dinner was’t until 7:00, I was hanging around with great people, and there was a keg of free beer. Top that off with hot showers and it does’t get much better.

Dinner and the presentation of pickle dishes was topped off by a speech from Ian, a sailor from San Francisco who is just over a year into his recovery. This is what they call a mission moment to get us fired up for next year and Ian was a perfect example of why we raise money. Ian volunteered to be on the regatta committee at the SFYC last year and a few weeks later while training for a triathlon, he started to feel like he was coming down with something. He went to the doctor and the verdict went from “you might have the flu” to “you should see an oncologist” pretty quickly. After that it was the unpleasant experience of getting treated which left him unable to join us for the fantasy sail last year. The contrast was remarkable. Looking at this guy standing there smiling and walking around with a microphone you would never be able to guess that he had been sick a day in his life let alone had just recovered from a disease that would have had a 5% survival rate just 40 years ago. It was an inspiring end to a great weekend. 

Raising $8500 sounds like a big deal but I’ll let you in on a little secret: I have raised an average of $11,000 every year just by sending out 8 emails every year. Other folks have raised their money by doing everything from holding fancy dinners to selling lemonade (literally). The society provides you with tons of tools including raffles and incredibly helpful staff folks who seem to have no end to their reservoir of energy. So if you’re going to sail in your regatta, try to make enough to meet us in Charleston next year. You’ll have a great time and I think Clean said we could all stay at his house. – Peter Howson

More photos at http://www.peter-howson.com