Mas­ter of tiMe, speed and dis­tance

Yachts International - - Contents - Kenny Wooton Edi­tor-In-Chief

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.

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