Do you have any idea what it was like for two teenage boys, gay teenage boys, to be in the situation Perry and I (Norman) found ourselves? Unless you've spent time in Shangri-La, Nirvana, or Utopia, you do not! Let me try to help you imagine it.
It'd been just under a year since I'd first met Perry and we'd taken our unbelievable trip to Darwin, Australia. Just to put my life for the previous year into perspective, that trip to Australia was my first time outside of Europe (except traveling as a newborn from Hawaii to England), and my trips to continental Europe had been a couple of business trips to France and Italy, and two family vacations in Spain. I was now a world traveler having at least touched every continent except Antarctica, and Perry and I had a Hell of a lot more travel ahead of us.
But it was much more than that. Perry and I had time to be alone together. Sure we were sexually active–think jackrabbits. But we were in love, which is a lot more than sex. And we had time for that love to grow and mature. We were gay in a completely supportive community that contained other gay couples. There was never the slightest hint that there was something wrong, or even different, about being gay. If you're gay, think about that a little. And finally, we had the time to be teenagers and the responsibilities of adults–the best of both worlds. How could our time on the Fred's Sports Sailing Team have been any better? Well, I might add that it was also great to be part of a winning team!
I guess our first conversation should've given me more of a clue about Perry than it did. Within minutes he'd invited me to sail and eat dinner with him. That should've foreshadowed a little of what was to come, but I simply considered him a good friend for that month in Portsmouth. Yeah, he was a sexy kid, and I certainly dreamt of sex with him, and I may even have dreamt of being his soul-mate some day, but it was never serious. My apathy was completely interrupted by his invitation to Australia. My God, it would've been so easy for my parents to have said, "No," to that trip. What sane, responsible parents would allow their just barely 17-year old son to drop out of school and head to Australia with an even younger kid, in the most improbable position you can imagine for a teenager? Had they seen something in Perry that I hadn't? Dad says not. He says he said, "Yes," because it was so obvious that going with Perry, going anywhere with Perry, was the most important thing in my life. I couldn't have told you that then, but my parents had figured it out.
This past year had simply been the ultimate. Perry and I have flown so many miles that our frequent flier accounts will keep us supplied with trips for much of the rest of our lives. God knows what Tim and Charlie are going to do with all their miles, because they rack them up faster than any of us with their frequent trips back to North Dakota. As we traveled about the world that year, and in subsequent years, we found time to be typical tourists, and we managed extra stops at interesting places. That began with our travel between Cape Town and Santiago. We headed north to Livingstone, Zambia, and spent four days exploring Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River between Zambia and Zimbabwe. We dared each other to bungee jump from the bridge across the river, and we both accepted the dare. Confession: Perry went first. The kid is fearless. I try to be.
You've seen our itinerary. The sailors and support crew went from Santiago to Hawaii, to Tonga, to Malcesine, Italy, and then to Portsmouth. Perry and I had no fear of our reception in Portsmouth, because we had spent Christmas there with my family. Perry was welcomed into the family, and we knew that he always would be. The sailing dates in Portsmouth were from May second to the tenth. However, thanks to the generosity of the rest of the support team which let us leave Italy as soon as the sailing ended, we were able to get to London the evening of April 18th and were met by my parents at Heathrow. I assumed that we'd take the evening train to Portsmouth, but my father had a surprise for us. He was completely flustered as he tried to explain that we were to be the guests of Fred Milson for two nights at Claridge's in Mayfair. He'd tried to tell Fred that that was entirely too expensive and unnecessary, but Fred simply didn't listen, explaining that the reservation had already been made and couldn't possibly be cancelled. My parents had been met at the train from Portsmouth in the afternoon by a chauffeur engaged by Claridge's concierge and were driven to the hotel in a Rolls-Royce, shown to their suite, invited to dinner, and then driven to the airport to meet us. We had, of course, learned to pack lightly and had no checked luggage, so we were swiftly escorted to the car and driven to the hotel.
A quick note on luggage. Perry figured that the less we checked luggage the less problems we were going to have due to losses, delays in the airport, and a whole barrage of issues with checked luggage. But we were, essentially, living out of our suitcases, with trips to Chicago infrequent. We needed more than carry-on luggage. Remember, however, that we had to ship two 49ers and assorted equipment between each of our stopover cities. We all got a large footlocker, packed our wardrobe and other belongings in it, and shipped it with the boats. The system worked well.
Claridge's! It's like entering the world of royalty. It is entering the world of royalty. You could hardly think of something you needed, and it would appear. Even Cokes with tons of ice for the Americans didn't challenge the magnificent service at Claridge's. The only things challenged were my parents' sense of proportion. They were small business people from the south of England. This was a different world. It would've been for me as well, but almost a year of travel with Perry and the entire team had spoiled me rotten. But even against that background, Claridge's was different. Our suite was magnificent. A wonderful living room with two attached bedrooms, each with a king sized bed. The beds, furnishings, television, bathroom, mini-bar were elegant, elegant, elegant.
My parents had had a full dinner before meeting our airplane. Perry and I had had lousy airplane food and we were still hungry. My father had suggested that we walk around the Mayfair area and look for a bite to eat. Perry simply picked up the telephone and reached the concierge. He said, "Say, we have two hungry, teenage American boys in the room, and don't know what your chef would recommend. Please send up a substantial snack or light meal." That was it, leave it up to the chef.
It was a wise decision. A virtual buffet appeared in about twenty minutes. Cold roast beef, a half roasted chicken, and four little lamb chops provided the core of the food which was joined by a little selection of salad, potatoes, and vegetables. The dessert tray would've taken care of us all by itself. Even Henry and Zenna, my parents, were tempted into helping us eat it. Did I mention the white linen, silver serving pieces, and coffee and tea services? My father asked, "What do you suppose this all is going to cost?"
Perry answered, "I don't know, and I don't care. I do know Fred, and he didn't put us up at Claridge's and expect us to not take advantage of its elegance. The team stays at nice hotels as it travels, but I can assure you that this is not the norm. Nor does Fred intend it to be. This is a gift to the four of us, because Fred likes to be generous, and he was really taken with Norman the two or three times they met."
I said, "And you can believe that he thinks a lot of Perry as well. How else to explain giving a teenager the job he has? He's also had a year to see how well Perry's performed, and the performance has been superlative–I can vouch for that."
Dad said, "I'm still getting used to this whole thing."
Perry said, "Only the queen gets used to it. The rest of us commoners have to come down to earth, and for us four, that'll be the day after tomorrow."
By that time it was almost 11:30 and I said, "There's a perfectly lovely bed in the next room, and I hear it calling me. Come on, Perry."
Henry said, "Zenna, we're going to spend the night in the most magnificant bed and surroundings of our lives."
Perry said, "I think we should order an early breakfast." I don't think that idea appealed to anybody, until he said, "How about 10:00 a.m.?" We all agreed and he ordered breakfast for 10:00 a.m. in the same non-specific way that he'd ordered our dinner.
What can I tell you about the night? We started in the two-person jacuzzi, dried off and moved to the bed. I think we may've slept a little. By 10:00 a.m. we'd proved to our own satisfaction that we were at the height of our virility, and were lying naked on our bed. There was a knock on the door and a very solicitous waiter told us, through the door, that breakfast was served. Perry thanked him and asked, through the door, "The hotel will put the service charge on the check, right?"
"Oh, of course, sir. That's not an issue. And you don't need to sign anything; I'll be going." We never saw him.
My family was an example of old English reserve. My parents were never undressed in front of me, and since my early teens I was never undressed in front of them. Perry obviously grew up in a very different environment. He pulled on his Jockeys and nothing else, and headed into the living room of the suite and knocked on my parents' door. They came out, fully dressed and a little startled to see Perry in his undershorts. I, at least, had slipped on a pair of pants, but had no shirt on, which was unusual with my parents.
Mom looked over the situation and said, "I see that there's going to be a lot that we have to get used to."
Perry caught on immediately and started to head to our room to put more clothes on. Mom was right on top of the situation. She said, "Wait, Perry, you're really the host here–at least you speak for Fred more than any of the rest of us do. If you're comfortable the way you are, please stay comfortable. Besides, I think I could enjoy the view."
My mom! I couldn't believe it. I don't think that Dad could either. He looked toward Perry and me and said, "That definitely isn't the Zenna that I married speaking."
We all laughed. Perry said, "Well, I could be comfortable with nothing on; would that be preferred? Come on, Norman, let's get our clothes off."
Mom said, "No! Stay the way you are, please."
Perry just laughed, picked up a plate, and helped himself to breakfast. I would've been hard as a rock in those undershorts, but he obviously wasn't.
Dad knew London fairly well, and suggested that he show us some places we wouldn't see as tourists. We got a great tour of the Port of London, walking on the docks and through some of the warehouses. We visited several ship's chandlers and a sailmaker. Lunch was at a little hole in the wall near the port. Dinner was back at Claridge's in their main restaurant. I wanted a steak, but Perry wanted to try goose, which he'd never had and which was on the menu that evening. Our waiter told us that if we all ordered goose it would be carved at the table. We all decided to defer to Perry's plan to try goose, and that's what we all had. It was wonderful, festive, very English, and Perry was delighted.
The next day, following breakfast (we all dressed the same, except that Perry wouldn't let me put on pants over my boxer shorts), we were taken–again by Rolls-Royce–to the train station and bundled onto the train for Portsmouth. We felt like Cinderella at the stroke of midnight. The reality of our lives came crashing down. There's a set of people who live all their lives like Cinderella at Claridge's, but we weren't among them. And, you know, I wouldn't want to be. It was great fun for two days, but the reality of our lives was much better. My parents, whose lives were much more tame than Perry's and mine, agreed. But to live like three kings and a queen for two days was great. All four of us wrote thank you's to Fred before our heads hit the pillow in Portsmouth. Perry sent the four letters via FedEx–at his own expense, I might add.
If I'd read this story before our stay in Portsmouth, things might've been a little different. I'm thinking of the story of Charlie and Betsy getting used to being naked in front of each other. I really laughed over that, thinking of what it would've been like to try to get that to happen with Perry and my mom. But I hadn't read or heard that story, and I don't think Perry had either. Mom never appeared less than fully clothed, and Perry realized that in the scheme of things he would be better off to treat his dress code at Claridge's as part of the unreality of those two days and not try to start that pattern in Portsmouth. So we were always fully clothed around the house, and it certainly didn't bother us, or constrain us. When in Rome, do as the Romans, was Perry's motto when we discussed the subject.
On the other hand, my parents were fully accepting of our sharing a room and a bed, and they were certainly well aware of what went on in the bed–at least in a general way. Actually, over the months we'd been together, Perry and I had explored just about every way that two men (boys?) could physically relate to each other. We'd played around with a little S&M, but we didn't really enjoy that, nor did we have any interest in acquiring any of the tools of that trade. We rarely got beyond spanking each other, and weren't much into that. I'm quite certain, however, that we did a lot of things that my parents never even imagined.
OK, since you asked. For the most part we were orally fixated. We did fuck each other–we were both tops and bottoms–but seemed to like our mouths best. Our version of 69 usually started with our lying one on top of the other, full weight on, head to foot, and each rimming the other, trying our best to shove our tongues inside. Then the one on top would slide down a little and we'd proceed to a more conventional 69, usually ending by kissing and mixing up all our cum before eating it. [We always thought of it as eating, not just swallowing.]
I'll have to say, at least at the beginning, each of us was rather fascinated with the other's penis, because I hadn't been circumcised and Perry had. We both had grown up in cultures in which we were the norm, and were quite unfamiliar with the opposite penile configuration. Perry swears that he'd never seen an uncut cock before mine, and I know that I'd never seen a cock without a foreskin before Perry's. I think my penis was more of a surprise to Perry that his was to me. After all, if you pull my foreskin back, either with fingers or arousal, my penis doesn't look very different from Perry's. On the other hand, it's pretty hard for a circumcised boy to look at his own penis and envision a foreskin! Furthermore, foreskins vary tremendously, as I knew from seeing other boys in school, and some uncircumcised penises aren't that different from Perry's. Others, like mine, have a long foreskin that totally hides the head, which only peeks out during an erection, or if I push my foreskin back. Or if Perry pushes my foreskin back. In the beginning of our relationship he found that quite exciting, except that I was usually erect by the time he got his hands on my penis. Now that we're more comfortable with each other, it's easier for Perry to play with my flaccid penis. He does, and he continues to enjoy playing with my foreskin, and washing my penis for me. On the other hand, I find his very dry glans to be strange, but not particularly exciting. We concluded that the maxim, "Variety is the spice of life," was definitely proved by our penises!
My addition to the support team made one big difference for everyone. They had concluded that on a regular sailing day, four of the support team needed to be on hand–two in the launch, one with Lynn, and one standing by at the marina or shore base. That gave the fifth member of the team a day off. Increasing the team to six allowed two of us to have days off together, which made the time off much more enjoyable. If you don't count arrival and departure days, the team had seven sailing days in Portsmouth. In the normal course of things, Perry and I would've had two, or possibly three, off days. We got five, and could've had all seven days off if the rest of the team had had their way, but Perry insisted that he wanted to have a couple of days in the launch watching the sailing.
It was David that spoke for the group when they came and told us that we could have the entire time off to enjoy time with my parents, and for me to show Perry around where I grew up. However, David made it clear that there was a very specific quid pro quo involved in the offer. He said, "You know, boys, we're all beyond our teens, and most of us went through our teens without a lot of sex. We're all voyeurs to some extent. So take all the days off you want here in Portsmouth, but we expect to be royally entertained with stories of your adventures, especially your sexual adventures, and in lurid detail. That should supply good entertainment in the month ahead in Weymouth, and Bandol." I wasn't sure how comfortable I was with that arrangement, but Perry thought it was a great bargain, and clearly looked forward to the story telling.
In the actual event, our sex was pretty tame in my parents house, for two reasons: first, we stayed pretty busy during the day and were tired at night, but more importantly we kept our activities pretty quiet in my room, because we didn't want to disturb my parents–not to protect their sleep, but not to raise too much interest or concern regarding what we were actually doing.
I had great fun showing Perry around my childhood haunts. We'd had time before in Portsmouth, but then we were playing the game of romance, and trying to figure out who was and who wasn't gay and/or interested in the other. Now, having made a commitment to each other, I was confident of his love and interested in showing myself to him by inviting him onto my home turf. Of course, that immediately raised the question of what we were going to tell my friends, particularly my school buds, about our relationship. We included my parents in that discussion, because we were concerned that if we let it all hang out, so to speak, we might expose my parents to criticism, and that it might even impact the business. Mom and Dad weren't concerned. Mom summed it up, "If our friends cannot accept our son and his partner, and all that implies, then they're fair weather friends only, and their loss is not our loss."
Dad said, "The business won't be affected. Sailors know all about homosexuality–after all they spend months at sea. Besides, our customers are a completely different group than our social friends."
Perry was willing to go by my decision; after all, he pointed out, he had no history here, and would be leaving with the team. They were my friends and I needed to decide. Well, it wasn't a difficult decision. Since Perry and I were going to be moving on, and didn't really see a future in Portsmouth, I really didn't see any downside to coming out. In the actual event, it was no big deal. My school buds were much more interested in how I was going to get on in the world having dropped out of school. They were jealous of my easy access to an American university, and I got more negative response to that fact than I did to being gay. A couple of guys were totally unaccepting, but they chose to keep their distance rather than confront us, so all worked well. We spent two Saturdays with my group of friends, and they were all delighted to meet Perry.
My former teachers were equally supportive. Mr. Taverton, who'd taught me maths, was particularly interested in meeting Perry and learning about our lives together to date and our plans for the future. We took him out to dinner one evening and had a great time talking to him. Afterwards Perry said, "I think he's gay and jealous of you. His generation of gays had a tough time. Now he's fifty plus, single, in the closet, and sees no possibility of a relationship. When I say he's jealous, I think I mean he's jealous of our birth-dates. We were born at the right time."
The waters of the Solent and the English Channel are too cold for swimming in May, but that didn't stop Perry. He reminded me that he grew up along Lake Superior, which was bitingly cold all summer long. So I was dragged to the beach one sunny afternoon. It wasn't bad in the sun, but when Perry pulled me into the water I thought my balls would freeze off. There were a number of people on the beach trying to get some early spring sun on a warm day, but we were the only two in the water, and we didn't stay long. I was out as soon as Perry let go of me, and he only swam for about ten minutes. I think he was showing off rather than enjoying it, but he insists otherwise. You be the judge.
We were with the team on May tenth as Tim and Charlie got a last early morning sail, left their boat with the support team, and headed to London for the flight home. Perry insisted that David go with them as far as Heathrow in case of any problems in London or with their flight. Of course, if David went, Millie went, and they spent a couple of days in London before they came back to Portsmouth. Auggie and Goose stayed a few days for more 49er sailing, and then we packed up the boats on a rented truck and everybody but Perry and I headed for Weymouth, a road trip of only 80 miles and less than two hours. By the next day they were established in Weymouth, and Auggie and Goose were sailing again. Only three of the support team were needed to support Auggie and Goose: two in the launch and one with Lynn. With only one 49er in the water, and it not being Tim and Charlie, whose time was critical, Auggie didn't see any need for someone sitting on the shore as a backup, and Perry agreed, perhaps reluctantly.
Perry and I delayed going to Weymouth as long as we could, in order to have time with my parents. We realized that we weren't going to be seeing a lot of them during our time with the sailing team, and it appeared that we weren't likely to make Portsmouth our home, thus minimizing the amount of time we would be able to spend together over the years. So we took the time to enjoy each other's company while we could, and we all got to know and enjoy each other.
We did talk about our plans for the future. We couldn't be sure when our present jobs would end, as it depended on whether Tim and Charlie made the U.S. Olympic Sailing Team. We both assumed they would, and that would mean that our jobs would end in the fall of 2000. Tim had assured us of guaranteed admission to the University of North Dakota, regardless of our lack of having completed high school. At the closing of the 2000 Olympics Perry would be 19–twenty the following March–and I'd have just turned 20. A good age to enter college–probably better than the more typical 18. Fred had assured us both of Fred's Sports scholarships, which he offered to many of his employees that had outstanding work records and wanted to go to college. He said that it was from the ranks of Fred's Sports scholars that he found some of his best managers. We realized that there was a hint of a job offer there, and I found it quite reassuring. After all, I'd grown up in the retail business. Perry wasn't so sure about wanting a career in retail management.
Perry suggested that we leave a day earlier than planned in order to spend a day exploring the Isle of Wight with my parents. Tim and Charlie would be arriving in London on an early flight on May 16th. Curtis and Gene would meet them at the airport and bring them to Weymouth, which was south and west along the English Channel from Portsmouth. They'd be sailing by early afternoon. So Perry, my parents, and I set out from Portsmouth on the first ferry to Fishbourne on May 15th, and spent the day driving around the Isle of Wight.
As we soon learned, Perry had us as a captive audience, and that was exactly what he'd planned. Choosing a momentary lull in the conversation, he tossed out an idea about our future. He began by asking my father how his business was going. Dad was quite capable of letting pride get in the way of an honest answer, but he'd come to accept Perry as a second son and gave a very honest answer: "Not well. The big boys, including your Fred's Sports, are underselling us on our high volume–and therefore our high profit-- items, making it very difficult for us to maintain the inventory of goods that are required of a good chandlery. We still make a profit, and we put food on the table. If I had a mortgage to pay, on either the business or my home, we couldn't survive. It isn't a business to pass on to Norman or you, Perry. It's tragic after nine generations, but that's the world of the late twentieth century."
Perry said, "I have an idea." Of course, he had an idea. This wasn't an accidental conversation, as became very clear, very quickly. "I've been thinking about this for a while. There are a lot of businesses like yours, in ports all over the world. Not all are threatened yet they way you are, because not all have blossoming stores like Fred's Sports springing up, but its coming. I'm thinking that some kind of cooperative arrangement could be established so they could buy as a group and share inventory. Things like rudders for a Laser are your stock in trade, if you can't supply them, you're out of business. But if you and a hundred other chandlers around the world each stock one...."
Henry interrupted with, "We stock five different Laser rudders, because that's how many Lasers there are."
"You make my point. That's several hundred Laser rudders in inventory around the world. What if a cooperative of a hundred chandlers just kept six or seven in stock–housed in the cities with the most likely demand. Then a rudder could be shipped immediately to where it was needed, rather than having to go through the very slow process of ordering one from the manufacturer?"
Henry said, "Interesting idea."
Perry went on. "There's another important aspect to the idea. If you could buy in the kind of quantity that Fred's Sports buys in, then you could sell jackets, water skis, swimming suits, and the like at competitive prices."
Henry asked, "How could you possibly get a thing like that started?"
Perry said, "That's the key. We use the power of Fred's Sports. The cooperative would be sponsored by Fred's Sports which would be a full partner. I'd guess that a lot of chandleries are ready to be sold, but there aren't many buyers, for precisely the reasons you suggest. We get Fred's Sports to offer to buy out those that would prefer to sell than participate in the cooperative. That'd make Fred's Sports, and its management and buying expertise, a key player in the cooperative. You would be working with Fred's Sports instead of competing against it."
I said, "Perry, you can't talk for Fred's Sports. What makes you think Fred's Sports would buy into that idea?"
He said, "Don't forget, I have the ears of the number one and number two honchos of Fred's Sports."
"Don't tell me. When we were last in Grand Forks you talked about this with Fred, didn't you?"
"Of course. And you know what his main concern was?"
"No, but you're about to tell us, aren't you?"
"Of course. He's worried that Fred's Sports would be seen as an interloper into a new area of business, trying to buy up or kill off the little guys."
Zenna said, "Well, isn't that exactly what it would be?"
"No. The idea is to push this as a cooperative. Each business would be individually owned and managed, but part of a big co-op. Fred would offer to buy only those that preferred selling to being part of the co-op. He, we, would avoid competing with those that didn't want either option. But as you know, Dad (Perry liked calling my dad, Dad, and Dad liked it as well), the time of the small independents is coming to an end. This might only provide the means to survive for an additional generation, but it would also provide a way for a lot of little guys to gracefully exit."
Dad asked, "And just how do you two fit into this?"
Perry said, "I'm not sure that I do. Maybe. As you know, retail management isn't necessarily my thing. However, I see Norman as the manager of the whole thing as a executive level employee of Fred's Sports."
He nearly blew me away. So this was where this was heading. My first reaction was to resent his meddling in my life. Then I realized that my life was also his life, and he was, with Fred's help, offering me the chance of a lifetime. And the more I thought about the idea the more I liked it. And the more I thought about the idea of being the manager of the whole thing, the more I liked it. I said, "Perry, we have a team to get through the Olympic Games before we can talk seriously about this. But it does sound interesting."
Mom said, "After the Games you and Perry are supposed to be going to college."
Perry said, "Yeah, sure. But that can be put off or done part-time. But I think the time to strike on this idea is very soon. A lot of those businesses that we need to make this work could be gone if we wait an additional four years. I think we need to plan now and be ready to strike in the fall of 2000. Dad, we'd need your full involvement and enthusiasm."
I added, "And your contacts around the world."
Dad said, "I'm simply overwhelmed. But it is worth thinking about."
Well, over the next two years we did think and plan a lot. We involved Fred, Andy, and other key players in Fred's Sports. And by 2000 we were ready to go.
Back to the Isle of Wight. We spent the night in a little hotel on the south coast. The next morning we took the western ferry off the island to Lymington, and from there drove on to Weymouth getting there late morning. Charlie and Tim were there, and so the entire team were assembled. My parents joined us for lunch in the hotel the team were staying at, and they were invited by David and Millie to join them in the launch in the afternoon to watch the sailing. I went along as well. Perry accompanied Lynn, who'd rented a smaller boat to anchor out near where they were sailing, and from which she would paint. We'd all learned that accompanying Lynn could have some pretty boring moments, so we took books, cushions, and blankets to try to be comfortable in her boat, or on shore if that's where she decided to position herself. She assured both Auggie and Perry that she didn't need to be accompanied every minute, but she might as well have been talking to a sailboat mast. And, from time to time, our being with her was important–we could operate her boat as she took pictures (she gave up trying to paint from a small moving boat), and sometimes we left her either on shore or with the launch, while we went back to port to get something or other which she needed. Lynn was quite self-sufficient and had to get used to the idea of having a support person at her beck and call. With our urging, and Auggie's, she slowly got used to having the support and found ways to use us. We all found Lynn to be interesting, very kind and loving, a good artist, and a perfect match for Auggie. While it was boring from time to time, nobody minded the assignment of spending the day with Lynn.
Weymouth was a center of competitive sailing in the south of England. Races could take place in the relative calm of Portland Harbour, or out in Weymouth Bay off the English Channel. Both sites could count on good winds, but the bay had rougher water without the breakers and shelter of the harbour. Auggie had, of course, come to Weymouth to sail out in the bay, and had chosen to enter a 49er race that would take place there. You didn't have the complicated chop of the Solent, but Weymouth Bay, without the shielding of the Isle of Wight could be rougher than the Solent. Just what Auggie was looking for.
Perry and I were on duty most of the days in Weymouth, having been forgiven so many work days in Portsmouth. Perry thrived on being in the launch, but he couldn't hog that job all the time. However, the other two pairs on the support team weren't all that fond of spending the day in a launch, so Perry and I got plenty of chances. Perry also spent at least one day with each of the other support team members with him in the launch; he wanted to see them in action on the water. Despite a lack of sailing or water backgrounds, all of them had gotten to be quite good at running a launch and supporting the 49ers. At night Perry often would look at me and say, "We have a really good team." I know he meant it.
May 25th ended our time in Weymouth. Tim and Charlie headed to Grand Forks and the rest of us caravanned in two rented cars and a large van for the sailboats to Bandol, France. It meant going through the "chunnel" on the train. We could've taken a ferry from Portsmouth which would've saved us quite a few miles, but no time. However, none of us had been through the "chunnel" and we all wanted to try it. Fifty kilometers on the train in a tunnel in a little over a half hour is exciting, but not something that you're going to hurry back to experience again.
We had to overnight in France in order to arrive in Bandol at a decent hour. Lying on the Mediterranean, Bandol is a lovely town and a great place to sail. We were here for the 49er World Championships, and it would put Tim and Charlie to their first really serious test. We had a little over a week in Bandol before Tim and Charlie arrived. Auggie and Goose went sailing on the Freddie, ostensibly to "check it out" but I really think it was to make the Maddie II available for Perry and me to sail, which we did. We both had been pretty good sailors before we joined the team, and under the influence of Auggie, Goose, Tim, and Charlie we did nothing but get better. Auggie gave us some pretty high praise at the end of each day of sailing, as well as some valuable pointers. But Tim and Charlie, not Norman and Perry, were his responsibility, and he put most of his effort into sailing with Goose. They were definitely in the same league as Tim and Charlie–almost the best in the world. The race in Bandol, the 49er World Championships, would give all four of them a chance to prove it.
Tim and Charlie arrived, right on schedule, and they headed for the water almost immediately, with Auggie and Goose sailing with them in the Maddie II. The waters were full of 49ers and their support boats. It was the largest collection of 49ers that I'd ever seen, and we soon learned that it was the largest assembly of 49ers yet to occur in the world. The popularity of the boat was growing by leaps and bounds, both because it had been selected for the Olympics, but also because it was proving to be a very fast, high performance boat that was fun to sail, but also required exceptional skill–just the combination that talented sailors wanted.
Goose and Auggie were again sailing under a Bahamian flag, because Auggie didn't want his boat to be considered an American contender with Tim and Charlie. That meant that Goose had to be the helm and Auggie the crew. While that wasn't their usual arrangement, Auggie liked to crew and was glad to let Goose have a chance at the top position. Tim was helm and Charlie crew on the Freddie, which was their standard arrangement. There were a variety of reasons for that–better weight distribution being the reason that Tim always gave. Charlie, on the other hand, simply said that Tim was the better sailor and thus it was obvious that he should be at the helm. The truth is in the middle. Auggie never got into the discussion over who should be helm and who crew, Tim and Charlie worked that out together. Sometimes in practice they'd reverse roles, and the boat didn't seem to go any slower, but when the day was over, Tim was helm and Charlie was crew.
By this point Auggie and Goose, as well as Tim and Charlie, were recognized as very talented sailors and were considered among the contenders for a medal finish in the championships.
Tim and Auggie, both fierce competitors, seemed intent on ending each race ahead of the other. Over the course of the championships a pattern was established: The stronger the wind, the more likely Auggie would be ahead of Tim (and other boats); the lighter the wind, the more likely Tim would be ahead of Auggie (and other boats). Perry and I were aware of the pattern and we agreed that it would lead to Auggie taking the team sailing in locations where we could count on high winds.
In the end, neither of our boats was able to win the championship. Auggie and Goose came close with a third (bronze) finish. Tim and Charlie finished fifth. However, you need to reflect on that. Except for very casual sailing at Camp White Elk, neither Tim nor Charlie had sailed prior to the beginning of their Olympic quest, a mere eighteen months before. Virtually all of the competition had, like Auggie, learned to sail at a young age, and had sailed a lot, and competitively, ever since. It was true that most were new to 49ers, having started sailing the 49er at about the same time that Tim and Charlie had–very shortly after it was announced that this would be the two-man Olympic sailboat. But most came to the 49er with years of experience on a trapeze and in competitive sailing. Tim and Charlie had started from scratch.
Still, their placing fifth didn't seem like a very big deal to us; we were in fact used to the idea that for Tim and Charlie winning was the norm. However, when we started picking up various sailing magazine and reading about the championships on the internet, we discovered that people were making a really big deal of the tyros placing so high. Fred's Sports had rocked the entire sailing world with a fifth place team made up of two novices. None of us were comfortable with the implication that Fred had bought the team's success, not clandestinely, but by pouring unlimited funds into the team. Well, there was a certain amount of truth to that, but I challenge you to find any other two men in the world who could've accomplished what Tim and Charlie had accomplished. Granted they couldn't have done it without Auggie. We were a good team, but good teams can be bought. But you don't buy, anywhere at any price, the kind of intense dedication that Tim and Charlie brought to the sport of sailing.
Tim and Charlie declined to enter the fray. Auggie and the rest of the team followed Tim's lead. Fred and Andy decided that a response was needed and that it should come from Fred. Fred remembered that Tim had a good contact at Sports Illustrated and he called Tim for the name. It was Mick, and Fred and Mick met in Chicago for an exclusive interview. Fred pointed out the obvious: that Tim and Charlie were unique, and that, and not Fred's Sports' money, was the source of the success. He also pointed out that Tim and Charlie had approached him, and he was delighted to support them–not to bring glory to Fred's Sports, but to support two old friends who'd contributed so much to the people of North Dakota, and indeed the world. He also pointed out that had he been in the business of trying to create an instantly successful sailing team, he wouldn't have gone to two older men with little or no sailing experience. No, if he wanted an instant team, he'd have bought it by hiring the best two sailors around, and he had enough money to outbid their current sponsors. He also pointed out that while the support team was on the Fred's Sports payroll, Tim and Charlie were not. "I couldn't hire those two at any price; neither could anybody else except the University of North Dakota." The interview was featured in the next SI issue, with a teaser headline on the cover which included a small photo of Tim and Charlie. For the record, that was SI cover number 17. Fred's interview seemed to put an end to the complaints about Fred's money.
Perry and Auggie huddled to talk about the question of money. They wondered if they should be more cautious in their spending for the sake of image. They concluded that the only way in which they were truly excessive was in their moving around the world so freely, at considerable expense. Perry had told Auggie, "You were told to produce a winner, and you did. Moving around was a legitimate part of the strategy. You were, after all, making up for considerable lost time–virtually all of their competitors have been sailing competitively since their teens. However, we have little travel scheduled for this summer–Canada and Mexico–and beginning in the fall we'll be following the fleet on the standard circuit leading up to Olympic selection. There's very little further opportunity for money to contribute advantageously to their itinerary." As to flying business or first class : "How else should the President of a major university and its Dean of Law travel? Get real." No changes were made in team procedures.
Things were scheduled to enable us to relax a little during the summer. We would spend most of July in Toronto and August in Ottawa. Then Mexico in September, followed by a very taxing race schedule that included a return to Toronto in May, 1999, for the first race of the year in Toronto, the Icebreaker. Charlie has asked Perry to take you on that tour.
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