Master of tiMe, speed and distance
Finding yourself fogbound in Maine during summer is not an unusual occurrence. The combination of warm air on shore and profoundly cold water has fouled many glorious boating days. But it can generate positive outcomes as well.
Twenty or so years ago, I was in the Pine Tree State for a yacht rendezvous. The weather on the last day of the event was sparkling and clear until the run back in, which provided my first experience navigating a boat (thankfully, not mine) up a narrow channel at night in cement-thick fog using electronics. Somehow, we found the mooring without crashing. But as soon as we were safely ashore, I started thinking about how the fog might affect my flight home the next day.
As I feared, the airport in Bar Harbor was in a state of suspended animation with twitchy people trying to figure out how they were going to get back to civilization with no flights coming in or going out. Just as I was starting to cook up a plan, up walks four-time America’s Cup winner Dennis Conner and his wife. Conner had been skippering a cruising yacht Down East that weekend. We’d met a few times over the years, and I was surprised he remembered me.
“Should we charter a plane?” he asked, not really interested in my answer. “Sure,” I replied, assuming there was next to no chance that would happen.
When he, too, determined that nothing was flying that morning, we shifted to the Hertz counter and booked a car to meet a Portland flight that would take us to New York. That began five hours of intimate insight into the mind of one of the most successful sailors of his generation.
We chatted throughout the ride to Portland and the flight to LaGuardia Airport, and our conversation was punctuated frequently with his estimates of how long each stage of the journey would take: 15 minutes to here, 10 minutes to there, seven minutes to the gate. A bit tedious at first, his calculations began to capture my imagination. Was this a window on Conner at the helm of a 12-Meter in a match race for all the gold? It just went on and on. He called a car for us when we arrived in New York—I had to get back to Westchester County airport and he to Rhode Island—and estimated with uncanny accuracy how long before the pickup would occur.
When we got into the sedan, he began again to estimate how long the trip would take to reach our destinations, factoring in traffic choke points. As we approached the Westchester parking lot, with Conner still running the numbers, his wife proffered an overstatement of the obvious: “In case you hadn’t noticed, he’s a master of time, speed and distance.”
John Rousmaniere, who wrote a book with Conner three decades ago called “No Excuse to Lose,” explains in his story in this issue, “America’s Cup Game Changers,” why Conner ranks as one of the men who’ve had the greatest influence on the quest for yachting’s holy grail. Conner, it seems, takes his greatest pleasure from squeezing the most out of his liveries.
“When I do go out, I thrash the boat around the course,” Conner says. “I punish it. I’m likely to crash it into other boats. To me, boats are simply a means to an end, although a boat’s performance has a lot to do with my happiness.”
Those are words from a guy who really is focused on having no excuse to lose—and who truly is a master of time, speed and distance.