I have always been interested in the American Civil War for as long as I can remember. I’ve read countless books describing lively skirmishes, fierce battles, courageous generals – and of course, the gruesome cruelty of war. So when I had the opportunity as a young man to visit the Gettysburg National Battlefield to experience the site of perhaps the most infamous battle in American history, I was giddy at the prospect of imagining battle formations from atop Seminary Ridge, feeling the adrenaline pouring through the ranks of the 20th Maine on Little Round Top, and walking through the field in the footsteps of Pickett’s men as the battle reached its climax.
But when I arrived and began to tour the field, my excitement was overtaken by an immense sense of sadness and reverence. This was the place where over 8,000 men lost their lives in three days. 8,000 husbands who did not come home. Tens of thousands of children who would not see their fathers again. I knew the stories from the books, but it wasn’t until I was at that place that I could feel Gettysburg. Gettysburg has an energy that is as real as the love we feel for our own families. I felt the energy of those who died there. I feel it at all of the other battlefields that I have visited since.
It may seem ridiculous to compare a battle at a military park with a sailing regatta, but this past weekend I experienced a similarly powerful reaction. West River Sailing Club hosted the Dave Irey Memorial Regatta and welcomed back the Jet-14s, who have been absent from the club since the fleet was disbanded a few years ago. It was my first time back at WRSC since my first ever sailing regatta in 2001. At that time, my girlfriend (now wife Paula) thought it would be a good idea to put my 3 weeks of sailing experience to the test as crew in the WRSC fleet boat, “Betty”.
As I looked around the grounds, imprints of that weekend immediately came forward as if I was back in 2001. There was Rhett Simmonds helping us rig Betty. The damn tiller extension that kept popping off unless Paula pushed down on it just right. The race that turned into a reach to reach that was won handily by some guy from New Jersey named Brent Barbehenn. Hiking so hard that my legs began to spasm. Gary Mentesana showing up just for Sunday’s races in a boat held together with duct tape and 564 gallons of epoxy and winning both of them. I could feel that this was a special place for the Jet class.
This past weekend, 6 Jet-14 skippers, crews and their friends and families created new imprints in time. We raced, argued a little, had a few drinks, ate plenty of seafood, and promised to see each other again in August for the Nationals. Our numbers were not large, but the energy was positive and powerful. We missed those that have moved on but treasured our friends that could be with us. It was good to be back.