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Vail Valley Voices: Never a bad day

Warren Miller
valleyvoices@vaildaily.com
Vail, CO Colorado

Recently, it was with a lot of nostalgia that I read the local sailing magazine 48 Degrees North. For over 20 years, I was in every weekend sailboat race off of King Harbor in Redondo Beach, Calif. Except, that is, when I wasn’t off filming somewhere.

I started with a Pacific catamaran and my two sons, who were my crew at different times until they each grew tired of me yelling at them. Once we mastered that, we moved up to the Olympic class Tornado catamaran. We very quickly got our hat handed to us by some of the best catamaran sailors in California, one of whom went on to race in the Olympics. We managed one third-place finish but finally sold it.

During those winter days, I’d read and re-read boat-equipment catalogs while I was traveling, and when I was home I would read them again while I worked on boats in the garage at night.

After my catamaran-racing days were over, Don Trask, the fellow I made a Laser sailing film for, was making the then-new J 24. It was now time for me to crew for my son. (Remember how I always say that your kids ski as well as you do, just one day in your life … and then they pass you by? Well, it’s true with sailing/racing, too!) We talked Monday through Friday about making the boat go faster, implementing our speedier ideas in the evening and going to yet another regatta on the weekend.

I never had a bad day with a fiberglass boat under me and racing around the buoys.

When I was racing my Pacific catamaran, one of my speed secrets was to learn to splice 1⁄4 inch in nylon halyard to a piece of 1⁄16-inch wire so that I could reduce the wind resistance of 20 feet or more of nylon line flapping in the breeze while we were sailing upwind to the first mark.

I bought my catamaran in 1962 when surfing was already getting too crowded in Southern California. This was five years before my friend Hobie revolutionized sailing with his Hobie Cat. It was when wetsuits were still very thick, crude and uncomfortable to wear.

I had been very lucky during all of the years I surfed a couple of days or more a week. I only got hurt once. I broke three ribs when I slammed into my 100-pound, 11-foot-long redwood surfboard while body surfing a good-sized wave.

As I work on my autobiography, I keep uncovering high points in my life to write about. My problem is that I remember so many that the book is very long and full of foolish mishaps. In some places when I was lurching from my last disaster to my next one, I try to decide if my telling of it is fun and interesting for the reader. By the time it gets to be handled by a good editor, I’m sure a lot of it will be edited out.

My 86-year-long autobiography is a completely new storytelling and is a challenge that I have never experienced before. While I have written five books in the past 10 years, most or all of them are compilations of my short stories. It is a daily challenge to reconstruct my life as it happened and at the same time keep writing my weekly newspaper columns and get in some golf games and some boat trips to the other islands.

One of the reasons I don’t sail anymore is that where we live now on an island in the San Juans, the wind is so erratic and unpredictable that it would not be any fun to keep my boat in Seattle (a long ferryboat and 90-mile automobile ride from where we live). Then, too, I know that if I still had the drive I would own a big racing sailboat and move to Seattle instead of enjoying exploring in our powerboat like we do.

I forgot to mention that I spent 12 summers on the north shore of Maui and windsurfed every afternoon when the wind came up. I had my computer and video copies of the films I needed to write the scripts for. That script writing pretty much filled out the day for me. After windsurfing on the face of what always seemed to me to be a gigantic wave, higher than my 16-foot mat, and scaring the jeepers out of me, there was not a lot of other things for me to try on as a windsurfer at my age. I did manage a trip on my windsurfer from Maui to Molokai and returned safely.

While it seems very sedentary to some people to sit on a powerboat and not have to trim sails all day, the cruising where we live attracts people from all over the world to come here and cruise. And the cruising for a 2,000-mile round trip north to Glacier Bay in southeast Alaska, as we’ve done, is great adventure.

Being on a boat of any kind has always been the best part of any day.

Filmmaker Warren Miller lived in Vail for 12 years, and his column began in the Vail Daily before being syndicated to more than 50 publications. For more of Miller’s stories and stuff, log on to http://www.warrenmiller.net. For information about his foundation, The Warren Miller Freedom Foundation, go to http://www.warrenmiller.org.


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