It was a dreary spring day in Buffalo as I pulled into RCR Marina. With my new gear in tow, it dawned on me that it had been almost three years since I last set foot on a boat. How could I have let that happen? Life happened. My last year living in Boston was so busy, I couldn’t even find time to go out with friends who had boats. When we moved to Buffalo, I thought I would have to kiss those days goodbye for good. I didn’t know anyone here with a boat, and assumed the sport was just as exclusive as it was in Boston.
I hooked up with the Buffalo Harbor Sailing Club after contacting the commodore this past winter. I had just finished my rebrand on my website, and was looking for fresh content for my portfolio, as well as sail photography experience in hopes that I can capture regattas in Newport and beyond in the future. What started as a business conversation quickly turned into a bond and an invitation to crew on a boat on Tuesday nights.
I have endless boat experience, but limited sailboat experience. I knew my way around the decks and engine rooms of yachts and power catamarans, but had never even sailed on a boat with a winch before. The sailing experience I had was nothing more than sunset pleasure sails on Boston Harbor to unwind after a grueling day of dealing with large crowds and relentless tourists. It wasn’t necessarily a learning experience, and because we didn’t sail often, any knowledge gained didn’t stick. Needless to say, I stepped onto the deck of S/V Republic very, very rusty.
To make a long story short, the first three races of the season were cancelled due to lack of wind. The first time, we only made it halfway out of the harbor before the call came through. The second time around, the committee boat continued to postpone the races in hopes that the wind would pick up. It never did, but it was the most gorgeous night of sailing on Lake Erie. We circled around the outer harbor on light winds and light stress. The water was like glass. For a minute I felt a bit of nostalgia from my days on the whale watch boat when the Atlantic used to shimmer in the same way. Bummed as we were to not race, I am thankful that I had a couple of days to get antiquated with the new boat and crew before taking on the demand of racing.
The following night I reclaimed my roll as photographer and joined the race officials on the committee boat to photograph the Wednesday night races. Again, there was no wind and even a bit of rain. As we moved positions along the course, the sight of 50-60 sailboats following us deeper into the harbor like ducklings was magnificent. Race officials took the time to give me the rundown on every operation from their end, since they knew I was crewing on a well-known boat as a newb. Ever since I retired from swimming seven years ago and started my own freelance business, I have struggled with the feeling of not being a ‘part of something.’ A job isn’t a sport, but even my full-time job at the Aquarium made me feel like a part of a team. Joining the club has been a lot like the first day at a new job. You are excited for the opportunity, but nervous because you don’t want to disappoint people of look like an idiot. Things are still a bit foreign to me, but I am already finding my way. I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by supportive and knowledgable crew. Abandoned races aside, I know this is where I am supposed to be.