As a starving college kid getting into the 505, one of my first tasks was finding an appropriate partner to campaign the boat with. After much deliberation I made a somewhat unorthodox decision to pitch my old man, a lifelong leadmine sailor, on the idea of giving the 5o5 a whirl together. Lucky for me, he jumped on the opportunity, most likely because it would give him the opportunity to break the elusive “double digit barrier” that often eluded him in keelboats. Three months later, we were road-tripping out to Cincinnati to pick up our ride: USA 8011, a PVC foam-core Waterat with the most horrific beige and banana-yellow two-tone 80’s color scheme known to man. We christened it the Ugly Duckling, and our unlikely 5o5 campaign was born.
With our boat prepped for our first regatta, the 2006 ECC’s, we went out on the water with (we thought) reasonable expectations: get the boat around the racecourse, and have fun. Those hopes and dreams were quickly dashed in our first race, as we proceeded to run over our spin retrieval line 3 times, snapped the jib halyard, and capsized twice. Holy crap, I thought. Not only am I terrible at this, but I have a 50-year old man crewing for me who might be just as bad as I am! This was going to be a rough season…
Fathers and sons don’t often have discussions about addressing their shortcomings with one another, so one of our largest problems starting off in the boat was recovering and learning from our innumerable mistakes. With the help of some of our fellow Fleet 9ers, we went back to the basics of learning to communicate effectively out on the water and ashore after the ECC's. Though the swimming sessions and breakages continued, the exhilaration of sailing the boat kept us in the game. Hair-on-fire downwind rides, catching boats in the odd well-executed maneuver, and laughing about our spectacular capsizes made the tense moments much more bearable.
Over the course of our early practice sessions, I came to see that the 5-0 also presented some great opportunities for our team. My dad had zero time on the wire, but was an engineer by training and was great at making our old stallion work like new again. I had been sailing dinghies for the past 12 years, but struggled with tuning and optimizing such a complex boat. In retrospect, the 5o5 was the ideal platform for us to apply our unique individual skills. I don’t think there is a more forgiving boat out there to learn on while still being so much fun to sail.
After four years of slogging it up the learning curve, Team Ugly Duckling (now with a new, more photogenic ride) decided to campaign at the Denmark Worlds last year. The highlight of that regatta for our team was undoubtedly the extremely breezy first day (even Mike Holt admitted he could feel a gust or two out there). Over half the fleet retired for one or both of the races, but we were one of the lucky few that made it through. I’ll never forget weaving through the graveyard of boats downhill, both my Dad and I holding on for dear life, and whooping and hollering the whole way. Moments like those made the hard work, time, and frustration all worth it, and made me glad I had decided to keep our program in the family.
I’d encourage every 5o5er out there to take a family member – a husband, wife, son, daughter, cousin – out for a ride or two in the boat. You might just end up sailing with a future national or world champion; see Carol and Carl Buchan’s track record for a taste of the possibilities. Even if that doesn’t turn out to be the case, I can list a few reasons why this is a great idea:
• Time: Everyone out there wishes they had more time to spend with their family. We’re all pressed for free time in this day and age, with jobs, travel, kids, and a myriad of other responsibilities already making it hard enough to carve out time to get out on the water. Why not kill two birds with one stone?
• Become a better sailor: Teaching my dad how to crew in a trapeze dinghy challenged me to take on much broader responsibility for our team’s development. At the same time, sailing with him did a lot for my own interpersonal communication, team building, and project management skills that translated into a better ability to sail with other crews.
• Deeper relationships: While many join the 5o5 class purely based on the fact that it is an awesome boat to sail, they stay with it because of the great people in our class. Sailing with family members brings dynamism to our class both on and off the water, and also provides a great way to get to know your family members in a new light.
• Fun: Sharing the great moments we have out on the water with family members just makes sailing the 5o5 a hell of a lot more fun, and helps you keep perspective when the going gets tough.
Whether you decide to sail together in a boat, or ultimately end up going head to head, keeping it in the family is a great way to bring new members into the class, and enjoy your time out on the water in a new way.