My friend Jen and I decided it would be fun to go off and race with our sailing friends at the Bullseye National competition last month – after all, it was in Key Largo, at the Ocean Reef Club. Life doesn’t get any better than that, especially at the tail-end of a New England winter, now does it? We decided not to be bothered by the fact that we (Team Tiger Tale) had never raced a Bullseye before – this would be totally new territory for us – but in the end, we decided we were up for the challenge. Since neither of us had access to a Bullseye to race, we arranged to borrow a boat from the wonderful folks at Card Sound Sailing Club. Enter Dead Eye.
Truth be told, embracing the boat’s name was a little difficult at first. I mean, Kurt Vonnegut’s unlucky “Deadeye Dick” oozes tragedy and sadness, and the deadeye definition, taken from Merriam-Webster (“a rounded wood block encircled by a rope or an iron band and having holes to receive the lanyard that is used especially to set up shrouds and stays.”) doesn’t give one much to work with, either. Dead Eye, we decided, had to be thought of more as a “state of mind,” a totally non-girly thing, sort of like the “Eye of Sauron” — a great big eye that will stare your competitors down, unflinchingly, at the start, or at the marks, as if to say “Don’t even think about going in there.” And so, as we removed the green cover to see what lay underneath, we set about figuring out the business of transforming ourselves into “Team Dead Eye.”
But before we could try out our newly evolving identity on the water, we had to figure out how to navigate out of the teeny little harbor, into Card Sound, which could only be accessed through a long, narrow mangrove tunnel, and then further out through an equally narrow channel, which advertised rocks and sandbars on either side — until the sails could fill with wind, and you could be on your way. Unless, that is, the wind was on the nose, and a strong current was running, at which point, heroic (frantic?) paddling became one’s only hope. On the first day, it was pretty easy, but on the way out for the second day of racing, we watched several boats behind us run aground and flounder, pushed easily outside of the channel markers by the current. Poor them.
After having been Team Tiger Tale for so long, becoming Team Dead Eye necessitated a transformation of sorts. Obvious things, like how we communicated with the boat, for example. No more soothing urging, as worked with our Twelve — no! — Dead Eye demanded straight-shooting conversation — don’t bother to mince words or soften the blow. Pounding on the cuddy cabin was acceptable, stroking it was not. And sitting inside the cockpit on the benches was a thing of the past! We grew to love our bruised bottoms, hiking out over the coaming, which, by the way, would be considered a big faux-pas on a Twelve. To our great delight, gybing with aluminum spars was a glorious epiphany – for the first time in forever, we could throw in a quick gybe whenever we wanted, even in rounding a mark, no matter the wind, without fear of breaking the gaff jaws. Wow! We were drunk with power!
Less obviously, we had to embrace the mental attitude necessary for Team Dead Eye. Usually, on Tiger Tale, we felt elegant and lovely, sort of the way you feel when you’re riding in a classic convertible, and everyone’s admiring your wheels. A Twelve always seems to engender that kind of admiration from afar; more than once we’ve been spotted by another boat who has fallen madly in love with her lines, the classic beauty of her silhouette speaking for itself. A Bullseye, though it has the same hull as a Twelve, seems an altogether different boat, sporting an aluminum mast, boom, and spinnaker pole (as against the Twelve’s beautiful wooden spars), a marconi rig, topped off with a cuddy cabin to mar her curves. Not nearly the same effect. “Dead Eye state of mind” had to be more about the contest than the boat, sort of a “third person” divergence from what we were used to, feeling as one with Tiger Tale, as we usually do whenever we’re aboard. Tiger Tale hums with pleasure when her sails are set just right — it’s hard not to feel a deep connection with a boat when that happens. Dead Eye never hummed. Not once. At some point, later rather than sooner, we came to realize that Dead Eye was actually a “he,” which explained a lot. Enough said. Were we evolving to embrace our inner testosterone, or at least what little there was of it?
But never mind that — testosterone or no, there we were, sailing in April, while back in Massachusetts, it was snowing! Back home, our families were freezing, and we were in Key Largo, sailing around in beautiful blue-green water, in our shorts, looking for dolphins. I didn’t feel guilty for one second. Did you, Jen? At one happy point, Team Dead Eye broke into a rousing rendition of the Gilligan’s Island song, singing every verse, not missing a single word. Our three-hour tour was in no danger of getting rough, but the landing beach at Pumpkin Key looked suspiciously like the uncharted desert isle where the Minnow had run aground. Go figure. The song ear-wormed its way into our brains for the rest of the trip. I think it was my fault. Sorry, Jen. Probably just reading this will be enough to make it start all over again. . .
Did I mention that Team Dead Eye got a cool little buggy especially for Ocean Reef travel? We rode everywhere on that thing, and it once even became a refuge from a sneaky, meanly persistent nest of fire ants. Some people were known to have run into trees in a mad, reckless effort to escape said ants. Ouch. But, hey – there’s hardly anything that the magic white card they gave us couldn’t cure, right? What a great invention.
With just one swipe of that card, you could get any kind of yummy tropical drink you liked. Or pretty much anything else, for that matter. I even bought a stylish hat with it. Sigh. It was so easy to get used to. The only problem with this excellent arrangement? Getting your bill at the end. But we didn’t let that spoil our fun, and we won’t talk about it now, either, ok? Let’s just say it was worth it. Every penny.
The best part, though, was being part of Team Beverly, racing together and helping each other on the “away” field. Our friends were surprisingly helpful as we tried to figure out the boat – (hey – did you know that the spinnaker ring on the Bullseye mast is on a TRACK???) – I suppose they figured we were no real threat since there are so many little tricks of the trade that make you go fast, and clearly, we didn’t know any of them – at least not yet.
We had a lot of fun trying to learn what makes the boat go, but agreed that we probably could have used a couple more days of training, maybe especially trying out against another boat. Day one of racing (our second time ever having been on a Bullseye) we were in sixth place, feeling pretty fly, all jazzed up with our new persona as Team Dead Eye. But day two was a little more humbling. Let’s just say that that nasty little jib club can absolutely kill your pointing ability if it’s not set exactly right for the current conditions. It worked just fine the way we set it on day one, but then we messed with it because there was supposed to be more wind on day two. Ugh. Evidently, we got it wrong, because we found ourselves falling into the bad air of what were initially leeward boats, as we crossed the start line for the first race. We couldn’t point at all. More than once, between races, one or the other of us was up on the foredeck trying to fix the jib club setting. It got progressively better, albeit agonizingly slowly, with each adjustment. Nothing like experimenting on the race course. (When I wrote about using races as practice, this isn’t exactly what I had envisioned. . .) Oh, and let’s not forget the exciting time we ran over the bottom third of the spinnaker, and, by some miracle, were able to get it back up again, much to the amazement of the boats close aboard on our starboard and port sides. It must have been entertaining to watch. But we kept our cool, got back in the game, and gave it our best shot. We loved every minute of being out there, frustrating as it was sometimes.
In the end, Team Beverly did extremely well overall, with our boats winning first, third, and fifth places, and bringing the E.L. Goodwin trophy back to Massachusetts, where we think it belongs. Yet another successful Bullseye National Championship entered into the Bullseye Association history books. And what about next year, you ask? I hear that the good people of Southwest Harbor, Maine will be hosting the competition in 2017.
I just hope it’s not going to be in April. . .