Yacht Club

“Pressure?” Scott Dinhofer calls out expectantly from the wheel of his 44-foot racing yacht as it careens downwind just off Newport, Rhode Island. Though he is talking to a man standing less than twelve feet away on his $250,000 sailboat, Dinhofer never looks at him or lets his attention wander from the competing boats bobbing and rolling in the ocean swells just a few yards away.

Dinhofer waits impatiently for the answer as Tom Cagnina, his spinnaker trimmer and longtime sailing partner, struggles to maintain his balance. The spinnaker sheet – an elaborately braided line that runs from his gloved hands around a two-speed winch mounted on the cabin top, then aft to the farthest corner of the boat’s stern and finally forward to the edge of the 1,540-square-foot, balloonlike sail that flies in front of the yacht more like a kite – exerts hundreds of pounds of pressure, pulling at Cagnina. With his neck craned so he can keep his eyes firmly set on the sail (which seems to be struggling to break free from the boat), and his ears cocked for Dinhofer’s repeated demands, Cagnina could be forgiven a momentary lapse as the sail flutters.

“Dammit, Tom!” the tactician, Selig Berman, barks from his position behind Dinhofer. “Get that sail in!” Berman is the one man onboard following the whole of the action in the race; the rest are absorbed in making constant minute adjustments – the boat has enough digital readouts strewn about the deck to shame a small airplane. The team’s de facto coach, Berman is a Gentle Ben­like presence onshore, thoughtful and considerate; but afloat he is stridently competitive. The eleven other men around the deck can gauge the boat’s position relative to its competitors by the degree of anger and impatience in Berman’s voice.

Brown-eyed Girl, Dinhofer’s ten-ton J/44, has just made her first downwind jibe in the 2000 J/44 North American Championships. It’s Dinhofer’s target race, the beginning of his career in a prestigious big-boat class since buying the boat just weeks before.

“Pressure?” Dinhofer asks again, trying to establish a working rhythm of call and response. His steering is dependent upon Cagnina’s ability to fill the sail and increase the boat’s lagging speed.

Suddenly, the spinnaker sags, then ripples, and pops open like a giant paper bag. For a breath-holding split second, Cagnina waits to see if the sail will rebel.

“Pressure rising,” Cagnina says finally as the boat lurches over in a clear sign of acceleration. “Lots of pressure.”

Scott Dinhofer makes his living as a Wall Street recruiter, feeding the insatiable needs of banking and brokerage houses for foot soldiers and lieutenants. A typical 36-year-old product of the boom years, he lives with his wife, Benna (who will introduce herself to some of the guys on the dock at Newport by saying, “I’m the brown-eyed girl”), and their toddler, Allyson, in a large move-up house they bought four years ago in Chappaqua. Their center-hall Colonial has a den with a big-screen TV and a large portrait over the fireplace of Scott and Benna from their wedding – and a living room that is completely devoid of furniture.

Typical, except that Dinhofer is an avid, obsessive sailor who spends the greater part of his spare time thinking, e-mailing, and talking about sailing. Last year, he staked his claim as a racer to be reckoned with by buying the biggest boat he has ever owned, his fifth in the past fifteen years, and launching a racing “program” on Long Island Sound. Sailing requires Dinhofer to spend serious money to make his boat faster and more competitive, and to devote even more serious amounts of time to coordinating his crew. And, of course, he must take time away from his family to compete in races as far away as Newport and Block Island, and – he hopes – even in the granddaddy of local sailing expeditions, the 635-mile Newport-Bermuda Race.

“Let’s just say,” observes Benna, who indeed has brown eyes, and spiraling brown hair to match, “that it’s a cause for discussion. I say, ‘Just make sure you have money for everything else we need.’ “

Possibly because of the tension between domestic life and Dinhofer’s seafaring, this year he blew a hole through the back of the house – before they’d furnished the living room but after the boat had been refitted with winches and other goodies – in an ambitious renovation. Scott got his boat; Benna got a new kitchen and den.

Younger than the other owners by a good decade, Dinhofer devoted years to training in other vessels and participating in other “programs.” But now he has the yacht of his dreams: a sleek racer-cruiser with all the creature comforts and bunks for ten – not to mention one that’s part of a thriving competitive class. “I took Benna to look at both the J/120 and the J/44,” he says by way of explaining his decision not to buy the smaller J/120 he had initially budgeted for. “She went below on the J/44, saw how nice it was, and said, ‘Buy the bigger boat!’ “

On the lawn of the imposing brown mansion that now serves as the New York Yacht Club’s outpost in Newport, a large tent has been set up on the first evening to house the skippers’ meeting. The dryness of the pro forma event where the regatta’s ground rules are reviewed and any last-minute changes announced is, mercifully, lubricated by two bars the club has installed in the tent.

“These weekends can seem like a long drinking bout interrupted by some sailing,” Cagnina casually observes. Dinhofer, Berman, Cagnina, and the crew mingle among the white-haired men in blue blazers and Breton red chinos who serve as the race committee, as well as with sailors from around the country.

The din of conversation can barely obscure the chortles of laughter as friends jockey to retail their latest nautical war stories, but Dinhofer has to attend to some business. Jim Bishop is the president of the J/44 class, its official head and enlightened despot, and Dinhofer needs to introduce himself. Standing in a dwindling knot of knobby-kneed men in shorts, Bishop is wearing a piercing-yellow jacket (his crew’s color scheme is yellow and blue) embroidered with his boat’s name, Gold Digger (he made his money in mining), and he greets Dinhofer in the warm but distracted way politicians do.

“Good to see you,” Bishop says. “Lookin’ forward to some great racing.”

Though technologically advanced, sailboats show their premodern roots in the inordinate amount of labor required to make them run. “Organizing a crew for a regatta,” says Boston lawyer Jim Richardson, who heads the ultracompetitive and not-for-the-faint-of-checkbook Farr 40 class, is “like calling up your ten best friends and offering to pay for their vacations.” Tony Reaper, who manages the sailing operations for Long Island ball-bearing manufacturer John Thomson, estimates that a major regatta can cost an owner $10,000 when all the room, board, and transportation costs are tallied up.

For the pleasure of having a dozen capable bodies sail his boat, Dinhofer must make sure it is stocked with water for his sweating crew and sandwiches for lunch between the races and beer for the ride back from the race course. But first he must scare up crew for each weekend. “E-mail has been a huge savior,” he says. “I used to have to make a hundred calls a week to see who was sailing.”

Nevertheless, Dinhofer still logs a lot of message units reminding his crew of their commitments. Things come up, but he’s shameless with the guilt trips. John Neczesny, an investment banker at Bear Stearns, finds himself caught between his desire to sail with Dinhofer and his professional responsibilities to an unfolding deal that involves bankers and companies on three continents. Throughout the practice day, Dinhofer makes several cell-phone calls to Neczesny – who is still in Manhattan – to remind him of his promise to participate. To mollify both masters, Neczesny will leave his office on Park Avenue late Thursday night to catch a midnight train. Instead of sleeping on the five-hour trip, he will burn through two cell-phone batteries in a marathon phone conversation with his company’s office in Japan. He’ll be stood up by a limousine service at 4 a.m. and have to call a Newport cab to come 30 miles to pick him up. Friday morning, he’ll arrive just in time for a full day of races manhandling a Genoa winch.

Part of the secret of Dinhofer’s crew is that several of them, though not accomplished sailors, will show remarkable commitment to the program. Charles Ostroff, who evaluates multi-million-dollar real-estate transactions for the Related Companies when he is not paired with Neczesny at the winches, takes a particular joy in his role as a deck ape.

“Don’t worry about me getting tired,” Ostroff says during the practice session. “I’ve been in the gym all winter. I did lats, chest, upright rowing, all to get ready for grinding. I won’t get tired.”

Some people are suited to jobs by physical size and temperament. Cagnina, the spinnaker trimmer, often trims the mainsail during other races. Tending to the precise calibrations necessary for optimal sail shape might seem tedious, but Cagnina, an investment banker, is the sort of meticulous person who keeps a small spiral notebook in the glove box of his BMW. Every time he fills up, he carefully records his car’s gas consumption.

“The people who spend a lot of money on this sport,” says architect Robert Seigel, who began sailing when fox hunting got too dangerous, “they’re going to spend a lot of money on something.”

“As an architect, I love the physics of sailing,” says Robert Seigel of Gwathmey Seigel, who owns the racer Pax NZL, which is a fixture on Long Island Sound. “It’s in tune with my personality – all the adjusting and tweaking to get a little more speed out of the boat.”

Pete Neczesny, John’s brother and a trader who took up sailing while working a currency desk in London, is a bull of a man who tirelessly works his station in the boat’s “pit.” Though he is as competitive as his crewmates, Big Pete has the stoicism to sit on the windward rail during a long-distance race in rain or cold for hours deep into the night.

“I make the crew feel like it’s their program, too,” Dinhofer says of his strategy for creating a loyal boat. “I also shower them with crew gear.”

The crew has gone for a shakedown cruise to calibrate the rigging and “go over the footwork,” as Berman says. “Okaaayyyyy,” Dinhofer bellows as he returns to the dock carrying a big cardboard box containing a pile of clothes.

“First day,” he says, holding up a pair of khaki shorts with the boat’s sail number, USA 44007, printed on one leg and a navy-blue polo shirt embroidered with BROWN-EYED GIRL over the right chest and a special logo for the New York Yacht Club’s race week over the left. The box also contains navy-blue T-shirts printed with the boat’s “eyebrow” logo across the back and heavy oxford shirts embroidered with the boat’s name on the chest. “Polos and shorts tomorrow. Button-down shirts for the party. Maybe we’ll do T-shirts the second day.”

The crew of Brown-eyed Girl is lying around the cockpit of the boat, relaxing in the morning sun, waiting for a few wayward members to straggle over from the hotel. Dinhofer pushes his way through the crowd of tourists to find several regulars from the sailing scene milling around.

“Nice boat,” says an owner, pumping Scott’s hand. “You must be doing well!”

“I just found a generous bank,” Dinhofer demurs before calling over his shoulder. “Could someone hand up my wallet? I think it’s in the nav table.” As the little brick of leather is passed from hand to hand up the companionway, a voice from below issues a mock command: “All hail the owner’s wallet!” Eric Feigel, a logistics expert for UPS, looks up from his spot lounging by the electronics. “Gee, I thought it was bigger than that,” he quips.

“The thing about sailing,” one owner says, “is that there is usually only one rich guy on any boat – that’s the owner.”

Motoring out to the race course in the morning breeze, Berman gathers the crew. “We’re new to this class,” he says more as a reminder to himself than as an admonition to the crew. “I don’t think we want to get into protests in our first regatta.”

To ease congestion at the starting line, the race committee has set up three separate courses, or circles, with boats of approximately the same speed. The starts are staggered in ten-minute intervals, but that still leaves several dozen very expensive and quite breakable boats darting and turning within yards, sometimes feet, of one another.

The J/44s are on the same circle as two of the hotter classes, the 1D35s and the Farr 40s, slightly smaller, more delicate boats built solely for racing during the day but not seaworthy enough for sailing beyond the horizon. More like Formula One racers to Dinhofer’s stock car, the Farrs, in fact, have several America’s Cup participants aboard this weekend.

Dickie Scruggs, the plaintiff’s lawyer from Pascagoula, Mississippi, who beat the tobacco companies for $1 billion in legal fees, is here with his yacht Gunsmoke (he flies a spinnaker with a no smoking sign, just in case you don’t get the joke). John Thomson is sailing with three-time America’s Cup tactician Tom Whidden on Solution.

As the Farr 40s start, Berman and the crew go into the dance of pre-start maneuvers that will determine their position on the line. And much to everyone’s delight, they pull it off. Not first off the line, but right in there with the best boats in the fleet, including Gold Digger.

The crew settles in on the rail (the windward side of the boat that is now high out of the water) for the long haul through the upwind leg. Even with the periodic inconvenience of having to switch sides as the boat tacks, the windward rail offers a front-row seat on the wind, water, and action ahead.

From this vantage, the crew can see two Farr 40s, Phish Food and Conspiracy, approach each other in a close but seemingly manageable maneuver. That is, until they collide, ripping a five-figure hole in one of the yachts and injuring a member of the crew on the other.

Berman and Dinhofer sail an exemplary race; the boat turns out to be a fast one, and they cross the finish line in first place. True to his word about avoiding protests, however, Berman advises choosing penalty points to avoid being disqualified for a near collision. Better to be tied for second place than to fall to last place. It turns out to be the right choice, as Brown-eyed Girl wins the second race and finishes third in the final race of the first day. After three races, they’re in first place. “We should have had two bullets,” Dinhofer says ruefully of the first-place finish that was downgraded by the I-flag. “But I can live with that.”

With racing yachts at this level starting at several hundred thousand dollars and going up into the millions to build or buy, it’s the ideal pastime for men who want to show that they’ve made it. “The people who spend a lot of money on this sport,” says Seigel, who got into sailing when he reached an age that made fox hunting too dangerous, “they’re going to spend a lot of money on something.”

To equip a boat with crew and sails, a competitive racing program will burn $60,000 to $100,000 a year. A new mainsail made with this year’s fabric of choice and cut in some computer-tested revolutionary design will cost $17,000. And no self-respecting program goes out without a full quiver of headsails, which maximize speed and the boat’s ability to sail close to the wind, each cut and sized for minor differences in wind condition. They run $6,000 a pop. Top boats will carry ten of these, not necessarily because they need each sail but because it is so hard to resist anything that might give them an edge.

Sailing is a world with its own language. On the first day of racing, after running through unself-conscious references to cunninghams, barber-haulers, check stays, and runners, Dinhofer’s crew will debate the merits of and then decide to rig “twings,” a system of block and tackle that keeps the spinnaker’s lines in place.

Perhaps more striking to the outsider than the nomenclature is the prevalence of computing power combined with the satellite global-positioning systems that have rendered the classic skills of navigation obsolete. “The Bermuda race was the big race then,” Edward du Moulin says of the years he raced on Long Island Sound, from right after World War II through managing several America’s Cup syndicates during the seventies and eighties. “You didn’t have the sophisticated technology then. You had to use a sextant.”

Today, no racing sailboat carries a sextant. “The navigator is still called a navigator,” says Charlie Ulmer of UK Sailmakers, “but he doesn’t do much more than go below and turn on a computer.”

The result of all this intensive R&D – and the competition from two-career families and other diversions – is to create a circuit of day races around the country. One of the season’s most important events, held every Labor Day, is the Larchmont Yacht Club Vineyard race, where boats race 240 miles to Martha’s Vineyard and back over one long weekend. “In the old days, the Vineyard race was a two-to-three-day trip,” Ulmer reflects. “Now you’re back in 36 hours no matter what boat you’re on. There are boats finishing in less than 24 hours.”

No one recognizes the bluntly competitive nature of these events more than Jim Bishop, the Gold Digger owner, who is tied for second place after the first day. To make sure there is a suitable occasion to bring the owners and crews together, he throws a party the first night at his waterfront home just across the bay from Newport.

“As a skipper, you’ve got to provide a platform for having fun,” Bishop says, “because if all you do is go out and scream at people all day – which some people do – they tend to not come back.

“I sailed in the distance races where you’d race against people for ten or fifteen years,” he adds. “And you would see a red boat, you’d wave at them, and that’s all you’d ever know about them. If they were beating you, they’d always just be some sons of bitches.”

Dinhofer’s crew joins the hive of conversation on Bishop’s back deck as the teams line up for a crack at the buffet of barbecued ribs, beans, and corn. Ally and Benna meet some of the other owners and their families and enjoy the meal at tables set up on the lawn between the house and the dock. Berman sits in the darkness with the two far more experienced members of the crew who work in the sailing industry: Tom Manco, whose job it is to care for the boat, a free spirit whose wraparound sunglasses appear to have permanently etched white rings around his eyes, and Spencer Ogden, a straw-haired man-child who got a job through Dinhofer working for a sail-maker during his summers off from college.

“These guys have really put in a lot of time together,” Berman says, summing up the day’s successes and frustrations.

“I’ve been out with them a bunch of times,” Ogden says. “And it’s pretty much the same crew. They’re dedicated.”

“Yeah, but there’s not much talent there,” Berman says offhandedly.

Manco and Ogden nod in sympathy.

Several of the owners suggest that part of the problem with keeping people involved in the sport is the prevalence of professionals. “If you spend a lot of money and you come in last,” Doyle Sails’ Mark Ploch remarks, “you’re gonna get some help, or you’re gonna quit.”

“A lot of veterans of America’s Cups are making a living,” Du Moulin says of the pros who have taken over the sport. “It’s really broken through to be a world-class sport. It’s not tennis, but … “

Many of the boats have sail-makers with them. Some because they enjoy the racing; others are there almost under duress. “Sail-making is more than handing a customer a bag with his sails and saying ‘Have a good time,’ ” Ploch says. “They expect you to get out there and help ‘em win.”

“Sailing is the only sport I know where you can participate right alongside pros,” says Tony Reaper. “You can own a racehorse, but you can’t ride it in the race.”

“Look at Philippe Kahn,” Reaper says of the former Borland Software CEO who employs world-class professionals on his several boats. “He’s 300 pounds!”

First thing on the second morning, Berman wakes up and logs on to his laptop to check the day’s stats. There are race results on the yacht club’s Website, and weather reports to consult. In addition, Berman calls his private weather forecasters, Commanders’ Weather, who will fax him a micro-forecast focusing on the few miles of water just off Naragansett Bay that will attempt to pinpoint where the wind will be at what time of the day.

The opening race has Brown-eyed Girl across the finish line first again, but there is another protest. Sticking to his strategy, Berman bitterly unfurls the I-flag to acknowledge the penalty points. Worse, Bishop has regained his form and takes an easy second place that has now been converted to a first.

By the fifth race of the series, the pressure has begun to get to everyone. As they set the spinnaker on the downwind leg, the choreography begins to falter. Though his responsibility is only to steer the boat along the fastest possible course, Dinhofer, like any owner, cannot resist the urge to comment: “Tom, you’ve got to get the sail around faster on the jibe.” But Berman loses his patience. “Scott, you’ve got six tacticians onboard,” he bellows in exasperation. “Shut up and drive!”

As the mistakes mount, Bishop improves his boat-handling, winning the fifth race with Brown-eyed Girl just behind in second. But in the sixth race, tempers really fray – with the seasoned sailors finding it hard to conceal their exasperation. “C’mon! C’mon! You’re not sailing this boat!” Berman bellows. “Let’s get back in this race.”

But they don’t. Not only do they finish the race in third place, but there is a final run-in with boats at the finish line. Once again, the I-flag comes out, dropping the boat to fifth place.

The second evening, Bishop hosts a party on his 70-foot antique trawler, The Coastal Queen, which follows Gold Digger up and down the East Coast with a full-time cook and enough berths to house the rest of his crew. Tonight it has been festooned with flags from bow to stern, obstructing the boat’s tiny but functional helicopter pad, and the built-in sound system is cranked up. At the end of two days, six races, and three penalties, Brown-eyed Girl is still tied for first place with Gold Digger. It will all come down to a single race held on the last day.

But before then, there’s plenty of time for Dark and Stormys, the official quaff of Bermuda. “When I was young and couldn’t afford very much,” Bishop says, explaining the yachtsman’s code, “the skipper took care of you. He didn’t pay for transportation, but while you’re there, you had your meals and entertainment.”

“There aren’t many wives or racer chasers here,” Robyn Specthrie says from the railing overlooking one of The Coastal Queen’s two bars, referring to the women who crash the yacht club parties.

“I come off the boat with swamp butt and wind-blown hair,” Specthrie says. “But you can always tell a racer chaser, they’ve got nice clothes on and they’re coiffed.” The lack of women in racing is brought home again each day as the boats circle between races while men casually stand with their flies undone peeing over the side of the boat.

The morning of the final race, there is little wind. With Brown-eyed Girl and Gold Digger tied for the lead, there’s no room for error; it’s a match race. The tiniest opening will give one boat the entire race. Gold Digger’s crew is well trained and has been sailing together for a number of years, which significantly increasing its advantage.

The boats head out to the racecourse in near silence as each member of the crew goes over his mistakes in previous races. Berman, trying for any last piece of knowledge that might give him an edge, calls Nashua, New Hampshire, on his cell phone, hoping to get a weather update.

In the sixth race, tempers really fray – with the seasoned sailors finding it hard to conceal their exasperation. “C’mon! C’mon! You’re not sailing this boat!” Berman bellows. “Let’s get back in this race.”

“Like they’ve gotten anything right so far,” one of the crew grouses.

“Hey!” Berman says, looking up from the companionway and his cell phone, “have a heart. These guys probably make all year what you earn in a month.” His tone is sympathetic to the forecasters. Before he got involved in sailing full-time, Berman was a commercial-real-estate broker living in the Village. When the market tanked in the late eighties, Berman decided to make a life out of his hobby. Now he runs Yachtsoft.com, a company in Great Neck that outfits vessels with technology.

When wind enough for the final race eventually comes, Gold Digger’s superior training and experience win out. Both boats start well, but Gold Digger gains a slight advantage downwind and exploits it to full effect. After the crucial moment, which is over before most of the crew realize it, Berman refuses to give up, calling for tack after tack upwind and an endless series of jibes downwind that Gold Digger, the lead boat, is obliged to mirror.

“Between now and the finish,” Berman says as he increases the frequency of the turns, “we can only keep doing it and hope something breaks on their boat.”

It’s 9:15 on a Thursday morning in late July – almost a year to the day after the weekend in Newport – but the weather feels more like April or October. Feigel stands impassively in the rain as traffic clogs the Throgs Neck Bridge several hundred feet above him. But Feigel isn’t concerned about the commuters because he’s got a clear lane down the East River and only a tugboat coming up in the other direction to worry about.

Down below, Berman has three laptops open on the nav station, calibrating instruments and running charts that show the boat’s exact position and speed within the tides and currents of Long Island’s waters. Brown-eyed Girl is making her way through the heart of New York City to arrive at the starting line for this year’s Around Long Island Regatta, a 190-mile race from just off Sheepshead Bay in the Atlantic Ocean, around Montauk and Orient Point, and back down Long Island Sound to Hampstead Harbor.

During the trip from City Island, the weather begins to clear and they get a rare and peaceful view of the city. On the lawn of Gracie Mansion, three large dogs disport themselves by racing up and down an open patch of green. At the 59th Street Bridge, the FDR is stalled out in the morning rush. (“You gotta love going faster than the traffic,” Tom Cagnina says.) And along the embankment, a few morning joggers and a nanny or two with strollers parked at the railing wave to the passing boat. Brown-eyed Girl passes under the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges, where a photo shoot involving a yellow motorcycle and dry ice is under way in dumbo, and behind Governor’s Island before ducking a large ship moored just under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. It’s a little after noon when the sailors begin to converge on the starting line. In staggered intervals, the 126 Around Long Island competitors start in classes according to their size and speed, with the faster boats, like Dinhofer’s, at the end.

In the near-perfect conditions, Brown-eyed Girl sets off at 3 p.m., sailing closely by three of the five J/44s. Though they are racing against the entire fleet on a handicap system, the well-matched 44s struggle to gain yards and even feet on one another throughout the afternoon and into the night as they skirt the Rockaways, Jones Beach, Fire Island, and, finally, the Hamptons.

Aboard this time is Tim Mahoney, a former J/44 owner who lost his boat, Saline Solution (he owns salt mines in the Dominican Republic), in a storm in 1996. With Wall Street in hibernation and Benna about to deliver twins, Dinhofer is looking to share expenses with someone like Mahoney, who will race the boat. “At this point, I’m looking to get a partner,” Dinhofer says.

It hasn’t helped that the spring series and Block Island Race Week were plagued by stumbled maneuvers and awkward crew work. But tonight everything’s going right. Around eight in the evening, the wind dies a little, and Brown-eyed Girl is quick to make the decision to hoist a larger headsail, which gives the boat a brief but decisive advantage.

When Mahoney takes the 10 p.m.­2 a.m. watch at the wheel, Brown-eyed Girl is burying the competition. A confident and calm sailor, Mahoney widens the lead before returning the boat to Dinhofer and Cagnina, who’ve found their groove. Through the night, they sail against the computer, calling out numbers from the readouts and matching their performance against target speeds, which the computer generates from the wind conditions.

Just before 9 a.m., Brown-eyed Girl rounds Montauk Point, calling in its position by cell phone to the race committee at Sea Cliff Yacht Club. The two trailing J/44s have slipped off onto another tack, and Dinhofer and Berman spend the next hour busily trying to determine where the competitors might be – ahead or behind? For all the sophisticated equipment aboard, there’s no way to tell whether the boats remain a threat.

“Why don’t you get your wife to call Sea Cliff and pretend she’s married to someone on Charlie V,” Berman jokes about one of the missing boats as he heads below to retrieve a pair of binoculars. “Then she can ask when they expect the boat back and what time it rounded Montauk.”

“We tried that two years ago,” Dinhofer says, laughing. “They left an answering machine on the phone line so you couldn’t ask.” Berman scans the horizon ahead of the boat and behind it.

“You should really get a pair of gyroscopic binoculars,” Berman says. “You can see twice as far. I can get you a pair for $1,200.” Then he gives up on trying to figure out if a very similar-looking boat is actually one of the missing J/44s. (It isn’t.)

“You know, with the GPS and the weather reports and the gyroscopic binoculars,” Dinhofer says, “you’ve taken all of the guesswork out of this.”

Five hours later, both boats have been located several miles back; ahead there are only two other boats. But it will take another ten hours to finish, including a tense bout of maneuvering as Brown-eyed Girl and three other boats desperately try to cope with a last-minute wind shift within a mile of the finish line.

Just before midnight, a tipsy blonde woman with corkscrew curls shouts, “Welcome to Sea Cliff!” as one of the nearly dozen women on the committee boat raises a chromed shotgun and fires a round, signaling that Brown-eyed Girl has crossed the line first in its class. Eventually, the corrected time will give Dinhofer and Mahoney first in their handicap fleet and second overall.

An hour later, the crew members have freshened up in the basement of Sea Cliff Yacht Club and sat down for a drink on Dinhofer. Though he’s pleased with his boat’s performance, he’s having doubts about returning next year: “I think we’re done with this regatta. We’ve won everything we can win here.”

A few days after the race, Scott and Benna are considering selling the boat.

“It’s getting harder,” Benna says. “Being on a boat with a toddler is not a nice thing. Ally’s always going for the water. She’s in a life jacket, but I’m still worried.”

“If I don’t sell it, fine,” Dinhofer says. “I still have a great boat. If I do, I’ll never have to say, ‘Someday, I’m going to own a big boat.’ I’ve done it – and maybe I’ll get another one when I’m 50.”

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