It is my pleasure to share a previously unpublished essay written by Marina in 2005. "The Laser Regatta" is Marina's personal account of the sailing race described by Anne Fadiman in the forward of The Opposite of Loneliness. May we all find the courage within to keep righting the boat of our communal will as we are blown by the high winds of this season.
- Tracy Shoolman, Marina's mother
THE LASER REGATTA
"CRACK!" With a sharp gust of wind a main halyard whipped into the air, slapping against the hard surface of the sailboat's bow, waves crashing over the tiny boat, rocking it violently in the rough water. Only 300 feet inland, I opened my eyes with a snap.
I sat up in bed, blinking a few times as the fuzzy world around me started to take shape. I breathed in slowly and unclenched my fists as I pushed aside the blinds and squinted out the window. Rain beat down in sheets, pounding like a drum on the white-capped cove. A fierce wind tore through the seven or eight sailboats moored nearby. I could hear the faint sound of their masts clinking together over the rush of rain and crashing waves. I lay back down in bed, letting my head sink into the warmth and comfort of my pillow. I liked stormy days on the Cape: they always gave me a sense of coziness and safety from the raging weather outside. I sank even deeper into my bed and a small smile crept across my lips. But a thought suddenly burst into my brain like a thousand fireworks all going off at once. I was sent shooting up in bed for the second time that morning.
Today was race day.
Just a week ago I had registered to race a laser in the junior division of a sailing regatta taking place in Wellfleet, Cape Cod, where my family and I spend our summers. And as I gazed out my window at the blur of rain and ocean, the thought of the storm was no longer calming, but quite the opposite. Although I had been eagerly awaiting the day of the race, the thought of solo racing a laser in this weather was not exactly my idea of fun. I reluctantly pushed aside my comforter and placed my feet on the cold wood floor. Taking a deep breath, I pulled back my mess of auburn hair and got ready for what was sure to be a long day.
The rest of the morning was a blur. I rustled around trying to distract myself, but somehow my eyes always wandered out the window or to my watch. When 11:00 am finally rolled around, I had already had my life jacket, rain cover, and sailing gloves neatly piled up for more than an hour. An ever-growing lump somewhere in my throat reminded me of the race each time I swallowed.
I felt a strong desire not to leave the safety of my mom's old Suburban as she pulled to a stop in front of the boathouse. The distant sound of tires scraping gravel echoed in my ears along with the pounding of rain against the windshield.
"All right," my mom said, fighting to be heard over the storm. "I'll be here to pick you up at seven. I really wish I could watch, but I have to drive your father home from the airport." Even at age thirteen, there is something soothing about knowing your mother is there watching, and this time I knew she wouldn't be. I sat there without moving a muscle. "You know you don't have to do this, don't you?"
"I know," I said, more to myself than to her, "I know." I didn't know, though. Whether or not I was going to go out racing was still a question in my mind. I shook my head a few times, smiled at my mom to reassure her, and pushed the heavy door of the van open. Within seconds I was pelted with hundreds of tiny droplets. I ran towards the boathouse for shelter, thick mud splashing against my calves as I went.
Once inside, I pushed the hood of my raincoat off my head and looked around, panting. Everyone seemed to be in a frenzy, running around the crammed room that smelled strongly of attic and salt. I could see two older men arguing about having a windward versus leeward triangle course, a curly-haired women handing out registration cards, and a group of teenagers huddled nervously in a comer of the sandy wood floor. Before I had a chance to say a word, a broad-shouldered man began to take charge.
"Listen up, everyone." His voice was deep and smooth like the sound of a cello. "It is blowing thirty-two knots out there, and small craft warnings have just been posted." There
was a hush of whispering among the sailors. "However," he raised his voice over the murmur, "there are no signs of thunder or lightning, and since many of you have come great distances to race this morning, I feel that--" a small, almost devilish grin spread across his face "--we will indeed race." My heart sank. "Anyone who thinks they are up to it please step forward and place your card in the appropriate pile.
Time seemed to freeze. Images of sailboats crashing down into the water and fighting for air beneath a raging sea flooded through my mind. I was aware of adults walking around me and placing their cards into the piles. My hands were clenched fists, and, despite the chill in the room, they were becoming moist.
"What?" the man exclaimed. "None of you kids are going to race?" I looked around at the faces of the other junior racers ,doubt creeping up them like the rising tide, and one by one they shook their heads, afraid to go out in the weather, giving up before the race had even started. However, I had made my decision: I was going out there to race, and as the only minor left, I would have to race with the adults.
I bit my lip; a new sense of determination rose inside me. "I'll go," I said, looking directly in his eyes. "I'll race."
"Eeeeh!" The sound of the three-minute horn made my heart skip a beat. I shoved my salt- laden hair out of my face and tacked around to the starting line. Was I kidding myself? Why would race number four be any different from the last three, in which I had come in dead last? I couldn't do it. I was just physically unable to keep the laser from capsizing. Each time I pulled in the main sheet my boat would heel precariously. Frustrated, I would be forced to loosen my lines immediately, thereby slowing my speed.
"Eeeeh, Eeeeh!" The one-minute horn sounded. I jerked the tiller towards me, narrowly avoiding a collision with another jibing boat. If I had been anyone but the ‘little girl,' a collection of curses would surely have been aimed my way. With a flick of my wrist and a gust of wind, we were off for the fourth time that afternoon.
"Augh!" I felt like shouting with frustration. Once again, my boat was the last to cross the starting line. "What's the point, really?" I thought to myself. "I should just head in now." But then I thought of the smirking faces of my would-be competitors welcoming me back to the group o f spectators gathered onshore. It was that, more than anything, that made me bite my lip, grip my lines, and hang in there.
The wind and rain beat hard upon my body, driving me down into my boat, the waves continuously crashing over the bow. After capsizing nine times, I lost count. I simply didn't weigh enough to keep my boat upright in this wind. For six hours and eight long races I stayed out there, refusing to give in to the waves. Each time I got smacked down into the sea my determination increased and I'd climb back into my boat, grip the mainsheet, and get ready for more. I was fighting something I had to beat. My drive to keep going overcame my bruised legs and blistered hands. I refused to give up.
By the eighth race I actually finished before two other boats! That day I received a first place trophy for the junior division, and sure, maybe I was the only one in my category, but at least I had enough courage to race.
An hour after the races were over and the boats were packed away, I sat on the porch of the boathouse waiting to get picked up. The sky was beginning to break, and the rain had stopped. I sighed, my saturated body exhausted. The sound of my mom's van grew louder as it pulled down the drive and stopped.
"How did you do?" My mom asked eagerly. The eyes of my father and brothers also awaited my reply.
"I won!" I called back excitedly, holding up my trophy. And as I stared back at their impressed faces, I couldn't help laughing.