Ol’ Girl Pride

It’s not flashy or high-tech, but the fine race craft known as Lit­tle Wing is one of the quick­est Capri 25s on Bear Lake.

Sailing World - - Starting Line -

My dad was a per­pet­ual boat shop­per. Never a buyer. The lo­cal J boat deal­ers were al­ways pa­tient though. They’d reg­u­larly take my fam­ily sail­ing on their J/24s at reser­voirs around New Mex­ico. I was 8 years old when he first shared his love of sail­ing with me, but my own in­fat­u­a­tion with the sport came from watch­ing the 1987 Amer­ica’s Cup in Fre­man­tle, Aus­tralia, on TV late into the night.

By the time I was a se­nior in high school, I was sail­ing a lot, trav­el­ing to the Dil­lon Open, first with a J/ 24 team and then with a J/80. We trail­ered the J/80 to Key West, Florida, in 1999, and that same year, I raced with friends at the San Diego NOOD on their Ul­ti­mate 20. Soon after, I moved to San Diego, got a job as a sail­maker and raced Lasers, Capri 14s and J/105s. Col­lege sail­ing fol­lowed, as did a few off­shore races, such as the Pac Cup, from San Fran­cisco to Hawaii. Count­less races to Mex­ico and stints on boats big and small gave me a steady diet of races. My last ma­jor re­gatta of those heady days was the San Diego NOOD in 2007, on board a Beneteau 36.7 called Kea.

That was be­fore a “real” job landed me in Utah, where I started sail­ing with yacht clubs on Bear Lake and Great Salt Lake. It was fun, but be­ing away from the ocean, my in­ter­est waned. I traded race boats for bi­cy­cles, but kept in touch with my sail­ing friends around the coun­try.

Sail­ing kept call­ing to me while I was cop­ing with ma­jor life changes. I fi­nally an­swered in 2016, lit­er­ally, when a call came from a cy­cling friend who owns a day­sailer. He men­tioned he wanted to get back into rac­ing boats as well. We dived in, spend­ing the en­tire spring tun­ing up the boat. At the same time, I joined the Park City Sail­ing As­so­ci­a­tion and char­tered one of its El­liot 6-Me­ters for Thurs­day-night rac­ing.

Even­tu­ally, a 1985- vin­tage Capri 25 named Lit­tle Wing came into my life. It was show­ing its age, which you’d ex­pect of a 30- year- old fiber­glass boat, but it was ev­ery­thing I wanted: a sleek 1980s de­sign, a de­cent in­te­rior and a wide

deck. It had a few new bits and pieces, some cracks and fad­ing paint, but noth­ing my el­bow grease wouldn’t take care of. The Capri 25 came with a pedi­gree as a great club racer here in the In­ter­moun­tain West, but most im­por­tant, it had a spirit, that of a sail­boat ready for more ad­ven­tures.

After more than 30 years in the sport, I was cap­tain of my own ship.

I’m lucky to have found such a solid lit­tle craft. I wasn’t keen on the name ini­tially, but the boat spoke to me and told me its name was in­deed Lit­tle Wing. It’s now my prize pos­ses­sion, and it’s amaz­ing how a grown man like me can be so ob­sessed with 25 feet of fiber­glass, wood and lead.

The boat is 33 years old, re­mem­ber, so the work list was long. I first over­hauled the trailer and then tack­led Lit­tle Wing’s bot­tom with hours upon hours of sandpaper and epoxy. My ma­jor projects in­cluded re­plac­ing a bulk­head, paint­ing the deck and re­ar­rang­ing a few pieces of hard­ware, but my ap­pre­ci­a­tion for Lit­tle Wing grew deeper with ev­ery tat­tered piece of sandpaper, empty tube of goo and quart of paint.

Our first race with the boat was Fa­ther’s Day week­end at Bear Lake, a 109- squaremile oval- shaped stretch of fresh wa­ter on the Utah-idaho bor­der. My dad was vis­it­ing from Al­bu­querque, New Mex­ico, and my buddy brought his daugh­ter along for the race. Even in adult­hood, I try to im­press my dad and make him proud. Rac­ing this day proved no dif­fer­ent. He was a bit rusty on ac­count of not hav­ing raced in many years, so I guided him through spin­naker jibes and sail changes.

With the roles of our youth re­versed, the dy­namic on board Lit­tle Wing was far more re­laxed and fun than the early days. There was no frus­tra­tion or im­pa­tience, just old-man jokes and a few bumps and bruises along the way. Ev­ery ma­neu­ver was an op­por­tu­nity to con­nect with him in a way that was com­pletely dif­fer­ent from when I was the one learn­ing to sail as a kid.

Thank­fully, my dad was im­pressed with Lit­tle Wing and what I’d been able to ac­com­plish with it. Our new rac­ing sails weren’t on the boat for that first out­ing. On ac­count of it be­ing our first true race, we were plenty rusty and fin­ished dead last.

It didn’t mat­ter. That day with Dad was per­fect any­way.

The sum­mer sail­ing sea­son con­tin­ued, with ex­cur­sions and overnights with my fam­ily and booze cruises with friends who’d never sailed. They reg­u­larly re­minded me how the day­sails were the most fun they’d had all sum­mer.

We im­proved our rac­ing re­sults each week­end and even­tu­ally took Lit­tle Wing on the road, to Flat­head Lake for the Mon­tana Cup. We later wrapped up our first sea­son in the best way I could ever imag­ine: the an­nual Bear Lake Mon­ster Race, a 22-mile lap of the lake. As the slow­est boat in A fleet, we did our best to keep our air clean and sail the boat fast. At about the half­way point, we fig­ured we were win­ning, beat­ing the seven other larger and faster boats on cor­rected time.

The fleet in­verted, how­ever, when a new wind filled in along the western shore­line, spring­ing the other boats ahead of us. The wind shift was so ag­o­niz­ingly close; there were white­caps 500 yards away that we just could not reach. Off they went with the new breeze, leav­ing us in their wakes.

Once we fi­nally got to the new wind, it was gust­ing 20 knots and higher. No one else was fly­ing a spin­naker, so what the heck, if we were to have a shot at get­ting back in the race we had to push our­selves. We popped our spin­naker, it snapped full and Lit­tle Wing surged onto a sleigh ride to the bot­tom mark. We turned the cor­ner within strik­ing dis­tance, and with our heavy­weight crew, we were able to keep the boat flat and the heavy No. 1 fly­ing. At one point, I could see my 30-year-old genoa lit­er­ally com­ing apart at the seams. I won­dered whether the sail would en­dure the five or so tacks we needed to make the fin­ish line.

The strain­ing genoa got us there, and by our rough cal­cu­la­tions, we were close on cor­rected time, but un­sure of the out­come. Once at the dock, we anx­iously made our way to the race com­mit­tee. They cal­cu­lated ev­ery­one’s times, and fi­nally the sus­pense was over — we won. We whooped and hollered, and I’m sure the en­tire ma­rina heard us cel­e­brat­ing. There were high- fives, hugs, pats on the back and smiles ear to ear, re­wards for all our ef­forts. We headed for the near­est burger joint and cracked open our cel­e­bra­tory beers, toast­ing as though we’d won the Amer­ica’s Cup.

This was a hard-earned win against fast boats and great sailors. Un­til this sum­mer, the Mon­ster Race per­pet­ual tro­phy sat on my shelf, en­graved with Lit­tle Wing’s name, re­mind­ing me each day what this boat means to me and all who sail it. And while my pur­chase was based on many fac­tors, the po­ten­tial for one-de­sign rac­ing was a big part of it. There are now five Capri 25s in Utah, with pas­sion­ate own­ers who share knowl­edge and keep these cool lit­tle boats alive and sail­ing fast. We’ve proved to our­selves that hav­ing fun and be­ing suc­cess­ful is pos­si­ble in older boats, and that even in the mid­dle of the Moun­tain West, sail­ing is where the ex­cite­ment is found. Q Ben Tow­ery, of Og­den, Utah, splits his free time be­tween fam­ily, sail­ing, swim­ming, cy­cling, ski­ing and pam­per­ing his Capri 25. He was un­able to de­fend his Mon­ster Race ti­tle in 2018. “Lit­tle Wing is def­i­nitely in her el­e­ment in light air,” he says. “But we have yet to fig­ure out how to han­dle her in heavy breeze.”

The Mon­ster Race per­pet­ual tro­phy sat on my shelf, en­graved with Lit­tle Wing’s name, re­mind­ing me each day what this boat means to me and all who sail it.

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