Retiring writer heeding call of the sea

ON BOATING

Boating

January 18, 2001|By GILBERT LEWTHWAITE

"On Boating" is going sailing.

With the suddenness of a summer squall, retirement is upon me.

It is the end of a career with The Sun that has spanned three decades, most recently involving this column about my favorite pastime - boating.

Casting off is not easy. But moving on always has set the rhythm of my Sun years, which have spanned local, national, and international reporting.

While based in South Africa, I made my maiden voyage as a sailing correspondent, covering the Cape Town stop-over of the 1997-98 Whitbread Round the World Race. The focus of my attention, of course, was Chessie Racing, the boat which captured the imagination of thousands of Marylanders, sailors and non-sailors alike, and particularly school children through the involvement of the Living Classrooms Foundation.

Then it was on to New Zealand for last year's America's Cup. No American boat was in the final, but the Kiwis' 5-0 whitewash of the Italian Prada syndicate was the stuff of sailing magic.

All this was prelude to my coming home from South Africa to write this column. Since then, I've been spending my work days doing what I most enjoy doing in my free time - messing about in boats, mine and those of others.

Far from an expert sailor, I bear impressive testimony to the true meaning of the word amateur.

Indeed, in my first two weeks of freedom I am already signed up for instruction in diesel-engine maintenance. My wife, long-suffering afloat as well as ashore, draws the line at becoming a grease monkey but will join me on a piloting and navigation course given by the U.S. Power Squadron at a local high school. All preparation, perhaps, for that long-promised Caribbean cruise.

Certainly, the past year as a columnist has been one of my happiest on The Sun, both a learning and a fun experience.

It started last spring when I unwrapped my 31-foot Westerly sloop, which had been under plastic and on stilts for the three years I was assigned to South Africa.

Since then, I have enjoyed reacquainting myself with the Chesapeake Bay and getting to know others who also make the most of its waters. And, let it be said, they aren't all rich.

It was a particular delight to see inner-city kids learning to sail at Baltimore's Downtown Sailing Center, which is committed to introducing the pleasure of sailing to anyone willing to take the time to learn. My one regret is that I have not yet been able to take up the offer of an evening sail on a J-22 out of the center, which operates from behind the Baltimore Museum of Industry. You can get more information on the center from its Web site, www.downtownsailing.org, or by phone at 410-727-0722.

When the Special Olympics took to the waters off St. Mary's College of Maryland, it became quickly clear that good times afloat are as enjoyable to those with mental or physical challenges as they are to more fortunate sailors. My hat is tipped to Dan Flanigan and his wife, Lynn, who put the annual event together, and to all the non-handicapped sailors who regularly partner those special athletes on the water.

And it's good to be reminded occasionally that the old, classic boats can sometimes still leave those sleek new, carbon-rigged speedsters in their wakes.

With that indispensable combination of skill, intuition and luck, Eric Crawford of Easton steered his 35-year-old Pearson Rhodes, a 41-footer he bought from his father-in-law, to victory over the modern super-sleds in this year's Newport-Bermuda race. The bay, steeped in maritime history, still produces excellent sailors.

Renewed testimony to Annapolis' place as a world yacht design center will be offered at the 15th biennial Chesapeake Sailing Yacht Symposium at the U.S. Naval Academy and St. John's College, Jan. 26 and 27. The symposium, open to the public, can introduce you to some fascinating sailing developments and give you a chance to meet many internationally known boat designers. Don't miss it. For information, call John Zseleczky at 410-293-5109.

A highlight of my year afloat was sailing on the Chilean tallship Esmeralda from Miami to Norfolk as part of the OpSail Baltimore 2000 tall ship race. The Chileans were great hosts and fine seafarers, and the seven days I spent before their mast passed most convivially. The wine they served with dinner more than made up for the fact that I was not on a "dry" U.S. ship.

I agree with Capt. Edmundo R. Gonzalez that the event would gain additional excitement if the tall ships truly raced, rather than paraded, into port.

Another thrill was to ride Club Med, currently leading six other mega-catamarans in The Race, a non-stop circumnavigation to set a new round-the-world non-stop speed record. With Grant Dalton at the wheel last fall, the 110-foot cat was flying its windward pontoon while doing almost 30 mph in 18 knots of wind off New York City. It is one wild way to sail.

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