“Ready?” the skipper asks. The guys nod as they stack up on the windward rail, all the way aft. Everything is just as it always is. Then comes the command: “Unfurl!” In a flash the R1 reaching sail, all 1,200 square feet of it, is catching the breeze off Newport, Rhode Island, as the crew grinds in the sheet. And all of a sudden, nothing is as it always is. The helmsman heads up slightly to build pressure, and the boat leaps forward, spray flying off the leeward bow as it shaves the crests off the little waves. Faster, faster and faster still.
They call him Doc. Not for what he does now, but for what once was his occupation: flying helicopter search-and-rescue missions as a hospital corpsman and fleet marine medic.
Go ahead, twist your tongue and call him Poprishchin, the protagonist in Nikolai Gogol’s short story “Diary of a Madman.” Although he’s not a schizophrenic like Poprishchin, he, too, does crazy things — but a different kind of crazy.
Away from the spotlight of micromanaged prime-time sailing events, a little celebration is in order this summer. The place couldn’t be more picturesque: Lake Lucerne in Switzerland. The occasion could not be more fitting: a world championship. And the excuse is better than any: The Tempest, like Medicare and Medicaid, turned 50 this year. It’s perhaps the best small keelboat you never sailed.
How many times this past week did you use the term polymath? Me? Less than once. It’s a word that is rarely used because people who know a lot about a lot are not en vogue. We are a society of experts who seem to know much about little and learn more about less until we know all about nothing. That, perhaps, is the pinnacle of expertise.
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