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Better Than Any Ride at Six Flags By Mike Hansell


t was one day in August on Lake Alatoona in Georgia that our sailing club held one of its drifter series regattas. It was a three-race affair with 11 boats competing. I arrived early to “ready” my boat for the day’s event. You know—ready with snacks on board, drinks and ice in cooler (all within easy reach of the skipper) and a splash of coffee over the side to appease the lake gods. When I finished, I made my way to the skippers meeting being held in the usual location. The skippers meetings are very serious gatherings with very serious people discussing very serious matters … “I replaced all my cushions with a fifty-pound bag of rocks.” And “The Commodore? Didja see those bubbles coming up from under the San Juan? That was him.” We all paid our entry fee (a real bargain), talked about course layout and the number of laps, then made our way to the boats. The first two races went well. Through careful sail selection, keen boat-handling skills and my personalized tactics (I’ll just do what the other guy does), I was able to maintain my last-place position unopposed. Things were going as planned. Now comes the third race. As I round the windward mark, I glance over my shoulder to see the boats of both A and B fleets in pursuit (okay, okay, I’m about to be lapped again). About this time, the rain that was predicted for that day made its

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appearance. “What’s a little rain?” I thought as I donned my yellow oilies, looking much like a Gloucester fisherman without pants. To gain some speed, I maneuvered my boat from a run to a broad reach with the wind coming over my starboard quarter. As I narrowly missed a pontoon boat—which had earlier deposited one of the owner’s offspring into the path of several competing boats—the heavens opened up with torrents of water and a great blast of wind. You would have thought Poseidon himself was leading an attack on our flotilla. My boat began to round up into the wind—which was what I wanted— but thanks to my skillful touch at the helm, it became a complete broach and knockdown with me hanging from my now horizontal winch, standing in ankle-deep water on the side of the port cockpit seat wondering if I was going to hit the boat dock or the nearby pile of rocks. Now I had read about this very situation not too long ago, but not until the boat righted itself and then blew back over—submerging the entire port side of my boat so deeply that the water began to slosh into the small cabin—did it dawn on me what the remedy was: I released the main sheet! Now that the boat was almost upright, I scrambled to drop the sails. The effect was magical. When I say magical, I mean it was a real trick to get both my keel and rudder stuck in the mud at the same time.

By now, the wind had returned to its pre-storm velocity, and all that was left to do was free myself and return to the race. I jumped out into waist-deep water, raised the kick-up rudder out of the way and managed to push the boat out of the mud. When I pulled myself back on board, my weight put the keel back down into the bottom again. With the tip of the keel stuck and the rudder now clear, the boat began to pivot and bang into the previously mentioned boat dock. This had to stop. I turned on my electric motor (I have been called a “purist”), set the tiller and jumped up and down on the bow until the boat was free. There seemed to be no damage to boat, dock, crew or rocks. So I raised the sails, reported my disqualification (I had started my motor) and made my way back to the marina. I was exhausted. I trailed the pack in all three races. I got smacked hard by the wind and took a knockdown, got blown ashore and stuck in the mud. My prescription glasses washed overboard, pager filled with water and is now useless, and my cell phone did not work properly for two days. I was also disqualified in the last race and completely embarrassed by my inexperience. I loved every minute of it! Last place in my own boat is as good as first place in someone else’s. I learned from the whole experience, and that knockdown was better than any ride at Six Flags.