A LESSON IN SAILING

WITH TOM BLACKALLER

By Paul Cayard

In the 1978 Tom Blackaller, the king of sailing on San Francisco Bay, asked me to crew for him in his Star. Blackaller was a two time Star World Champion with a character and charisma second to none. As keen as you'd be being 18 and being asked by the KING of sailing, I said, "Absolutely, positively." Then he told me the what, where, when, how.

The mission I had already signed up to was to drive the boat from SF to Toronto and back for the Star North American Championship. Further, I was to get the boat fully prepared and measured. Tom would fly in the night after the first race as he was busy "doing something else." Then, after the racing, Tom would fly out, I would pack up the boat and drive back to San Francisco. Sounded reasonable to me.

Shortly thereafter, I was contacted by Craig Healy, another young SF sailor like me, who wanted a ride to Kingston for a Laser race. So we loaded the Laser on the roof of Blackaller's light blue, Chevrolet Malibu station wagon, a.k.a. The Blue Pig, and hooked up "Faster Horses" (6150 for you Star trivia buffs) and headed out.

About 68 hours later, young Healy and even younger Cayard arrived in Toronto. First mission was to get to the Club. It is out on an Island. There are many sub-stories that include having "Royal Letters" (official admonishments) being written back to St. Francis Yacht Club for ungentlemanly behavior such as taking your shirt off in 90° heat when washing the boat in the boat park, but I won’t get into those now. If you haven't been to the Royal Canadian YC then ask someone who has like our Presidente Paul Henderson.

So I get the boat washed, and organized, measure every piece of rigging to make sure all is equal side to side, mast up, just like my written instructions indicate. Beyond that, I put a big effort into making sure my area, the jib sheet controls, are well marked and equal side to side. This is my tryout, the biggest opportunity of my sailing career. I am a meticulous person by nature and I did not skimp here. I present the boat for measurement and go through all the formalities. I even daringly and without written permission take the boat out for a spin after asking Ding Schoonmaker if he thinks it would be OK.

Finally the day of the first race arrives and I am sad to see everyone leave the dock and our boat just sitting there. Dennis Conner and my friend Ron Anderson (2x four gold bars.. that means two time World Championship winning crew) win the race. Sure enough, Tom shows up that night, with a girl friend and all three of us pile into one hotel room. He hadn't seen the girlfriend in a while, and I think more to the point, she hadn't seen anyone in a while. So no one slept very well. Another part of the educational process for young Cayard getting older and wiser by the minute.

Next day...to say that I was keen was an under-statement. I was KEEN. I fully expected that Tom and I would win this regatta. My mother used to get mad at the people I crewed for if we did not win. We had a bit of a delay at the ferry from downtown to the island where the club is because Tom said some unkind things to the ferryboat captain who tried to enforce the Blazer requirement on Tom. You can imagine how that discussion went, between the KING and this poor "bus driver". Anyway we made our way to the island and launched a glistening 6150.

Out on the course 45 minutes early, we checked the line thoroughly and had a good start in about 12 knots of wind. Tom was a bit tired and jet lagged as he had had a hard 24 hours so I was just happy that we were up in the noise. We rounded the first leeward mark about 4th in a bunch with Conner, Buchan, Melges, Schoonmaker and Knowles. I pulled the jib in and hiked my measly 210 lbs over the side and waited about 30 seconds to let things settle in. Then I popped the question that led to a career-marking statement from my mentor...

PC: "How's the jib?"

TDB: High pitched voice, "What?"

PC: "How is the jib trim?"

TDB: Higher pitched voice, "What?"

PC: "How is the jib? I mean, is it on the marks? Are you happy with the jib?"

TDB: "Oh, anywhere in there is fine. IF THAT WAS IMPORTANT I'D BE DOING IT!"

Whoa. I felt about that big. I just curled up in a ball on the side of the boat and did not say another word for the rest of the beat.

I felt about that big just then but I am not easily deterred. I went on to sail many a regatta with Tom including two America's Cups. I miss him and wish he could see how much good he did for me.

I'll have a beer for you Tom in Rio.