Waterlilies 2.0

The Waterlilies program pairs two less-experienced sailors in a boat with instruction provided by an experienced sailor of the club. Photo courtesy Quissett Yacht Club

By Marilyn Pond Brigham

From 2005 to 2009, I was a Waterlily. Waterlilies are members of the mostly over-40 ladies sailing program at Quissett Yacht Club (QYC) in Falmouth, Mass. The Waterlilies program meets on Friday mornings, July through August, and has done so since 1959.

I first wrote about the Waterlilies in the July 2013 issue of Points East (see the Last Word, “On becoming a Waterlily”), so allow me to provide a refresher. Waterlilies are women who either are just learning how to sail or are refining sailing skills in a non-stressful environment. The sailing program pairs two less-experienced sailors in a boat with instruction provided by a proficient and experienced sailor of the club – generally other over-40 women, but also kindly QYC helmsmen. Herreshoff 12½-footers – referred to as the “best small-boat design ever” – belonging to QYC members are used exclusively for instruction. Many QYC members own 12½s, so there is a large fleet to support not only Waterlilies, but also a strong Saturday/Sunday summer racing program for club members.

Waterlilies was, for me, both a terrific way to meet others in the club and to become more confident in my sailing abilities. I came to Waterlilies already knowing how to sail, but not having had much sailing instruction. Over those years, I became more proficient, enough so that I was asked by the program chair at the start of my fourth season, “What more can we teach you, Marilyn?” I made that my last season as a Waterlily.

Six years later, in 2015, the club newsletter announced that Waterlilies would expand their offering to include spinnaker instruction for qualified Waterlilies. I rejoined and learned to pack a spinnaker, set it, and sail a downwind leg with it. And I learned the finer points of sail trim on a 12½. As I have had no spinnaker on either of my boats, I only spent that one season in Waterlilies.

As with most U.S. yacht clubs, QYC is run primarily by those who volunteer their services. Waterlilies requires a lot of volunteers: a program chair (or two) to organize weekly sails – which member boats are available, who’s able/unable to come that particular week, and who’s going in whose boat with which instructor. The program also needs many instructors and several ferrymen, with powerboats, to get the sailors from land to sea and back. Much time and effort by many volunteers also is called for. And, most every one of them returns, year after year. I guess, like me, everyone has fun in Waterlilies.

Last year, I was asked to help out on Waterlilies’ opening day. It was a great opportunity to give back to the club. My duties that morning included greeting Waterlilies old and new, handing out nametags, collecting registration and waiver forms, and distributing a handsome QYC embroidered vest to each Waterlily, instructor and ferryman.

Again, this year, I helped on Waterlilies’ opening day, and I marveled at how many volunteers from my first season in 2005 were still giving their time and energy. It was fun to be part of the renewal of friendships after a long winter’s absence, and the anticipation of another season on the water.

Waterlilies’ instruction had expanded again to include a racing component – Waterlilies 2.0 – for ladies eager to hone skills so they could race 12½s. As usual, two proficient sailors paired with a QYC racer helmswoman (or helmsman) in a 12½. I was asked to help on the race committee boat, and I was delighted to do so.

The following Friday, after gathering for boat/instructor assignments, Waterlilies 2.0 participants had a brief chalk-talk on how the morning’s instruction would be organized. “Starting the race” would be the morning’s focus: how to approach the starting line, and how the starting horn and times would be shortened from the normal five minutes to three minutes to get in more practice. There would also be one short race.

Eager to learn and be helpful aboard, I looked to the race committee chair for direction. My first duties included raising the race committee flag on the Cornelia Carey, QYC’s 28-foot stake boat, and, later, dropping the mooring. Off we motored through beautiful Quissett Harbor and into Buzzards Bay on a clear, but not terribly windy morning.

Out in Buzzards Bay, the Cornelia Carey set out her anchor at a 90-degree angle to an existing racing mark and waited for the six participating 12½s. While waiting for the boats to approach, I imagined those six instructors reviewing with the Waterlilies the strategy of how best to position the boat near the starting line.

On the race committee boat, I learned some more practical aspects: the positions of the starting horn buttons, and how to sight the starting line from the boat to the racing mark. The race committee chair had a special watch for the countdown to the start: Sound the horn at three minutes to start, two minutes to go, one minute, then 20 seconds, and finally start!

My job was to line up the racing mark with the pole on the side of the boat, noting who went over the starting line, and when. No one was to drift over the line before the starting horn sounded. I was given the official X-flag to wave if somebody did, but I didn’t need it.

The six Waterlily 2.0 boats assembled and milled about the race committee boat. It was interesting to see how they maneuvered their boats to cross the starting line on time, and at the most advantageous time. We sounded the horn and practiced starting a race three times. The final start became a short upwind race to a mark and back.

The first boat over the starting line had a strong lead and fresh wind. On the Cornelia Carey, I asked how much of an advantage a good start was to completing a race in 1st place. The race committee chair replied that the first boat to take the lead often never lets it go. At other times, the lead boat might lose its wind, make a bad decision, or suffer a gear malfunction, and be edged out by another boat. He added that every racing skipper should join the race committee at least once: “When you observe the race, rather than being in its midst, your perspective changes. From the committee boat, you can see what all the boats are doing, and how individual boats are performing versus the others.

“And you can see how the skippers react to the same sailing conditions, and how they handle their crew and their boat. You can watch the reactions to the maneuvers of other boats in the race. Skippers would learn more about racing if they would observe, just once, rather than always race. How might their performance change from their perspective gained?”

I called off the sail numbers of the winning boats as they crossed the finish line. And no, the boat that crossed the starting line first didn’t win the race. It was a great day to be a Waterlily again.

Marilyn Brigham and her co-captain/spouse Paul sail Selkie, a Catalina 445, out of Quissett Harbor, Falmouth, Mass. She is a lifelong sailor and a current member of both the Quissett and Cottage Park yacht clubs.