Relationships and experiences that money can’t buy.
I’ve been sailing since I was 4 years old. I grew up on long island and many of dads friends (and later my friends) had boats. My father loved fishing and liked boating and never wanted a boat. His opinion was the best boat to go out on was someone elses. During my single digit ages we sailed with my Uncle Al on an electra. My only real memory of sailing on that boat was drifting across middle bay with the lines hopelessly snarled until we ran hard aground and then watched the tide continue to go out. we ended up getting rescued by a motor boat and taken to a marina where a cab took us home. Uncle al stayed on the boat until the tide came back in and motored back. NOTE: running aground – BAD.
Dad’s business partners owned a j-24 and raced it out of Northport Yacht Club, it’s name was “Able Baby”. They needed crew, and the 16 year old me was the obvious candidate. I learned how to race with them. I have some intense memories. They hoisted me up to the top of the mast on a bosuns chair to re-align the windex. That day I saw the Sunset twice, once from the deck of the boat and once from the top of the mast. I learned the basic sailing lessons, like to sail fast we have to sail the boat as flat as possible, I trimmed the sails with unwavering focus. The skipper was a fanatic about everything being perfect all the time. I did my best. We did well. I got a lot of experience and knew what things felt like, learned what to do, but never knew or understood why. The best and only feedback I got was listening to the skipper tell someone “when I say put the sails up, they go up. When I say take the sails down, they come down.” In retrospect that, and a solid number of bullets (wins) was high praise. The racing bug had bit.
A decade later I bought a used Hobie 18 that I called “Das Boot”. I raced it and did miserably as the Hobie fleet on Long Island was full of extremely competitive and experienced Hobie sailors. I knew I needed to crew for someone talented. Fortuitously I went to the best Hobie dealer on Long Island, Bellpat Marine, and met Ed Laviano who invited me to go racing with him. I told him I needed experience racing Hobies. He had a Hobie 33 named “The Vicar Is…”, which I had seen around the waters of long island. It would be my first time racing on a yacht that large and in Bellport Bay
At the beginning of my first race with Ed, I remember he was looking in all the wrong places, seemingly disconnected with the whole race experience. In fact we were hard aground. It seemed this guy knew as much about sailing as my uncle al.
The starting gun went off, and Ed sheeted in the main and leaned the boat over on it’s ear. I almost fell off (which would have delayed our race) and scrambled to grab a hand rail to stay on. Ed noticed this, looked at me and said in a quiet, matter-of-fact voice, “Do hold On” (if I ever get another performance boat that WILL be its name in tribute and in memory of one of my best friends). That was it, I was done. One short race and i’d not have to sail with him again. I was sure this guy didn’t have a clue what he was doing. A funny thing happened though, he may not have been looking in what I thought was the right place, but we took the lead and it grew…. and grew…. and by the end of the race we had done a “horizon job” on the rest of the fleet.
There is one thing I DO know. No one wins a sailboat race by mistake. He was friendly and affable enough. At 26 years old I no longer needed to be “a kid” and do as I was told. So I said:
“Ed, can I ask you a question?”
“Isn’t it true that a boat sails fastest flat?”
‘yes, that’s true’
I was officially flustered and flummoxed, I blurted out:
“Then why did you lay the boat over on its side at the start of the race?”
Ed smiled, “Because the boat may sail fastest when flat, but it sails faster when the keel isn’t stuck in the mud.”
At that moment I realized there was a whole lot of unconventional thinking about racing (and life) that I wanted to learn from this man. I sailed with Ed as his crew for over 25 years, in dozens of campaigns, and many different boats and venues. I was known as “Ed’s foredeck crew” to the competitors. I also raced my own boats during this time and got pretty good at it.
I learned another important lesson as well. when you’re the first boat to a racing mark you have to decide which way to round it. If you do it wrong, you’re disqualified. everyone else follows you. There were times we would be so far out ahead that the competitors couldn’t see which way we rounded the mark. One of our competitors, after the race, came up to me and asked “which way did you round the mark?”. Before I could answer Ed jumped in and said “The correct way, which way did you round it?”
I and scores of other sailors on the bay were mentored by Ed, but none so much as me. I miss him dearly and hear his voice and his strategies in my head often. If you’re lucky enough to be with me on the bay during a sunset you may see me deep in thought. It’s likely i’m thinking of my friend and sailing mentor, Ed Laviano. There is no place I feel closer to him than when i’m sailing on the waters of Long Island, and Great South Bay.
Since those days I have coached, taught and mentored many young (and old) sailors. I have raced many different boats for many different organizations. None were like my days on ‘The Vicar Is…” with Ed. I like to think that I may have retained maybe 4% of what I learned from him.
That 4% is kickass.