When the crew of the J/35 Aunt Jean tossed over a few lines waiting for a race to begin, what happened next was no fish story.
Fish stories and yacht racing stories do share one key element-that of, shall we say, literary license. You know, the fish was this big, the wind blew that hard. But rarely have the two met with more perfect symmetry than in the story of the J/35 Aunt Jean at the Annapolis NOOD (National Offshore One Design) Regatta this spring.
Things were pretty boring on the second morning of the three-day regatta; light air with a forecast shift in windspeed and direction prompted the race committee to postpone the J/35 start off Thomas Point Light. Most crews just float around during these times, telling the same old stories over and over again and trying to keep their paws off the beer. Not so the intrepid crew of Aunt Jean-or more specifically, of her co-owner, Jim Sagerholm. The boat comes equipped with two rodholders strapped to the stern pulpit (Sagerholm says they raised some eyebrows when the boat was being measured for the North American championships last year in Newport, R.I.), but other than those, North Sails sailmaker Jonathan Bartlett had thought he’d had the boat thoroughly stripped of all superfluous gear (to save weight) before the regatta began. Then came the postponement.
“I told the boys to get the rods out and Jonathan looks at me and says, ‘What rods?’ and I said, ‘These rods.’ And we pull the rods out,” says Sagerholm. “And then I said get the umbrella rigs-they weigh like two pounds each and he’s not too happy about that.” Sagerholm assured his crew that if they took the boat to a certain spot on the western edge of the shipping channel between Bloody and Thomas points, they would catch dinner. And sure enough, after just a few minutes on the spot, one of the rods took a hit.
“My crew looked at me like deer in the headlights,” he says. “They hadn’t caught a fish in their lives.”
Sagerholm reeled in a spanking 32-inch rockfish. “I said, ‘Get the net!’ and Jonathan said, ‘We have a net too? This is ridiculous!’ and I said, ‘How the hell you expect us to get it out of the water?’ “
They netted the unfortunate rock, wrapped it in a plastic trash bag secured with duct tape and put it on ice in the cooler. Then they rushed back to Thomas Point, where the race was starting at last, barely making it in time. Aunt Jean won all three races that day and won the regatta overall. “I knew it was going to be a good day,” says Sagerholm, “as soon as the lucky fish got aboard.”