Fleet History

By PJ Schaffer

A historical perspective

Steve asked me to write the WOW this week and since I didn’t win the day, I won’t offer advice on how to get around the race course.  I will, however, take this opportunity to offer a historical perspective on the fleet from my years of participation.  Since there are so many new and young members this year, it may be important for all of us to look back on how it all started and where we are now.

IMG_3159Laser Fleet 413 (Newport, RI) was founded in 1983 by Pete Milnes, father of fleet members Scott and Sue (Wallace).  For those who didn’t have the pleasure to know Pete, the best way I can describe him was the ultimate true sportsman.  He was (and always will be) FLEET CAPTAIN and ran all of the duties for many years including dues, registration, scoring, cheerleader, coach, etc….and, oh yeah, an extremely accomplished competitor in a laser, J24, and Thistle.  He always had time for anyone but wasn’t afraid to send you a little heat if he thought you were slacking.  In my opinion, he ran the fleet with a simple philosophy: show up, rig up, compete, and hang out afterwards.

When I joined in 1989 we sailed from the basement of the Thames Street armory and launched from the small beach between the piers.  It was dark and damp in the occasionally flooded basement, but the racks held plenty of Lasers and everyone would help carry the fleet to the beach to launch from our “pre-Seitech dolly” home made bunks.  The tourist traffic would pass and stare at the group in winter and think we were crazy.  Like today, we usually went sailing.  Funny memories include beach landings in a smoking westerly, changing on the couches in the back of the armory, the RC raft, and green stripes on your boat from rounding the can at Goat Island.

Perhaps it was our cramped confines and launching co-dependence but the sense of fleet community was very strong.  Like now, the racing was competitive and performance was important, but not at the expense of a competitor’s respect.  Any veteran will remember more than one occasion where Pete set someone straight about their attitude, behavior, or sailing.  I remember complaining about being light and getting crushed by all the “fat guys” on a heavy air day.  His advice in a nutshell; sail as much as you can, hit the gym, and blow by them downwind.  Sound advice, look inward and you’ll usually find the problem.

As the racing seasons passed, I realized Pete was a genius.  He had created an environment where ego could be checked, ability was inspired, and community was encouraged: a “checks and balance” system where no individual was more important than the fleet as a whole. A non-written constitution that is the basis for what we are today.  I’m sure each subsequent fleet captain has often thought, “what would Pete do in this situation”.

As my WOW I will offer that we each take time and reflect on our good fortune.  I offer these general suggestions on improving fleet dynamics

– Cheating – Don’t do it. If you know what it is and you’re doing it, stop and think about the consequences.
– Run a tight program – In and out of the dry sail area quickly, keep your equipment tight, help clean up and keep the grounds tidy.
– Competition – show up on time, sail all the races, challenge yourself to become better (it only helps the strength of the fleet as a whole).
– Volunteer – for RC especially and helping Steve K. when needed.
– High School & College competitors – Push yourselves to become better and be aggressive. You are the future of the fleet and our representatives at regattas.
– Mentoring – It is the responsibility of the “veterans” to mentor fleet talent. Take the time and interest in the progress of an individual you can assist.

Looking forward to another great Sunday.

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