The Caribbean 1500 and the people that make it special

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(Caption shows the crew of the Moody 54 Habits of Health).

My favorite thing about big sailing events - whether boat shows, rendezvous', pot-lucks or rallies - used to be the boats. I love nothing more than walking the docks and looking at boats, and I like them all. Some more than others to be sure (give me an old classic over a modern plastic bottle anyway), but all of them nonetheless.

There's just something about being around boats that lights me up inside. Looking at the subtle differences in the way they're rigged. How some catamarans have spreaders on the mast and some don't. How clever little design touches like a collapsable emergency boarding ladder let you clamber aboard a boat with high freeboard if you accidentally go in the drink. The way the best designers make amazing use of space in tight quarters down below. The different types of wood finish people use on their boats, inside and out. How they run their sail control lines (I like mine on deck, at the mast).

I'm absolutely an introverted person - Mia will vouch for that for sure - and something about being alone with a boat brings me to life. I have a long-standing desire to do some real single-handed sailing, to test myself in that way and get that time alone. I wrote just the other day about wanting to go out camping by myself this winter, and I'm going to do just that. While I'm not as extreme as my friend Matt, who just completed his epic Solo the America's voyage, I can understand why he wanted to do it. I'm not saying I want to do it, but I get it.

But my outlook is changing, and in subtle ways. Being around these events that we've worked on for the past four years - in St. Lucia for the finish of the ARC, as participants with Kinship on ARC Europe last May, at the Caribbean 1500 (where I'm writing this from now) - has changed my understanding just a little bit of why I enjoy this stuff so much. It's the people.

Mia is right in that with such a limited time being around the people in these events, you don't really get to know them, per se. But you get to know a lot about the people, and that is a cool thing.

Take for example Joe on the J/42 Keep It Simple. I met Joe at the Annapolis Sailboat Show in October. He was already signed up for the 1500, but stopped by our booth just to say hello. I said hello back. Joe seemed like a nice enough guy, and we had a nice chat. Said I'd see him again in a few weeks in Hampton. And that was that. Yesterday I met him again in Peg Leg's, here in Nanny Cay. He and his crew had just arrived the night before (they'd left their foulies out to dry on the lifelines, and woke up this morning to a downpour. Oops).

Joe, as it turns out, is an extraordinary dude. He's retired now, but he worked as a Nasa scientist on the Hubble telescope project. A rocket scientist (and no wonder that he has a J/42 - he likes to go fast).

Joel, another of Keep It Simple's crew had brought this to light by talking, of all things, about marathon running. He'd done the Toronto marathon on the same day that Mia and I ran Baltimore. Joel lives in Annapolis and is an avid cyclist as well, so I got his card and plan on doing some group rides with him this winter when we're back in town. The conversation turned to Joel's experience running the Cocoa Beach Marathon, which had an obvious space theme to it (being adjacent to the old shuttle launch site), and Joe chimed in from the next table over that he worked on the Shuttle. Pretty cool stuff.

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Take for example Merril, from the Shannon 43 ketch Serentiy. I knew Merrill to be an interesting guy the first time I chatted with him at one of the cocktail hours in Hampton. He's also retired, and has a hobby making re-created 18th century furniture. A true craftsman (incidentally, it was his passion for woodworking that inspired him to buy a 1980s vintage Shannon and restore it to like-new. He painstakingly went through the entire boat and redid everything, all by himself and in his free time. The non-woodworking items - and on that boat there aren't many - he had done by the Shannon yard themselves, and they gave him a brand-new warranty on the boat when the completed it).

Merril, aside from his woodworking passion and his immaculate boat, is a coffee fanatic as well, which I discovered last night at the beach bar here in Nanny Cay.

"I roast my own beans!" he told me over a beer. I immediately invited myself down to his boat - I still hadn't seen it inside - and he made me coffee.

"I started roasting the beans in one of those air-popping popcorn machines," he said, showing me a ziploc full of his beans of varying color and flavor. They smelled phenomenal. "They tell you to listen for the 'crack'," he continued. "The first crack is subtle, when they're just a light-roasted color. The second is more definitive, like popcorn popping. That's when they get dark and nice," he added. He gave me a few to sample. "Taste them," he said. Then he put the kettle on the stove and continued to tell me about his boat.

By the time the coffee was ready - he makes it in an insulated, stainless French press, after grinding them himself (of course) in his small electric grinder he keeps onboard - his wife Mary and her brother Fred came by and joined the conversation. I ended up staying for over an hour, and left with the inspiration to write this piece.

I could write about dozens of other people as interesting as Joe and Merril. About Scott from Pendragon, who left a big-time position at a big-time company to go cruising on his Valiant 40. About Rob and Ginny from Helia who took their three young girls, Hannah, Mia, and Ellie on their Slocum 43 for a year of adventure outside the classroom (not to mention Rob's incredible series of mustaches).

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About Rick and Julie Palm of Altair, who after having already been round the world once, continue to complete the 1500 year after year and never tire of it. About Calleva, my favorite group of people of all from this year, the father-and-sons team on the Beneteau 423 that barely made the start in time and had one hell of an adventure getting here (stay tuned for a story exclusively about them, coming soon). They call their dad 'Chief', which tells you a lot right there. About Avanti, the Hanse 430 and the only double-handed crew this year, Jeremi and his wife having to hand-steer when the autopilot broke. We're expecting them to arrive tonight, and it ought to be to some considerable fanfare.

The fact of the matter is that everyone has a story. Everyone. I could write a book about the people here. And they make the event special.