I guess running a little late can occasionally pay off. Saturday, I intended to meet Ray Merrill of the Carolina Sailing Club at Henderson Point to discuss a story for the upcoming July 4 special section as well as shoot a few photos of the day’s event. When I arrived at the 55th Governor’s Cup Regatta, a number of sailboats were already out on the water getting set for the race’s 12:30 p.m. start time. I walked up to two gentleman near one of the Point docks and asked for Ray or Tom Wille (Look for a feature on Tom and his sailing partner and daughter, Nikki, in the aforementioned special section to be published Sunday, July 1). Well those guys were already out on the lake. But I did ind a way to get a little bit closer to the action. “Ever been sailing?” Jimmie Yurko, one of the gentlemen near the
dock, asked me. That would be a negative, Jimmie. I can barely tie my shoes. “Well, let’s go,” he said. Jimmie was going to take me out to the “committee boat,” where I could better position myself for photos. So I followed Jimmie down the dock to his Buccaneer boat
where his wife, Kristie, was waiting. (Side note: When I visited Tom for the feature story, I noticed a few people walking around yelling, “ARRRRRRGH!” at each other. Apparently, that’s how owners of the Buccaneers often greet each other. I found this to be
kind of lame at first until I remembered that I’ve spent many a Saturday in the fall at East Carolina doing exactly the same thing. Maybe football and sailing have more in common than I thought). Jimmie handed me a yellow life vest. I promptly put it on backwards. Good start, Kellen. As I stared down at what I considered to be a fairly small vessel being tossed about in the water, I began to wonder what had I gotten myself into. I managed to step into the boat without incident, sat down in the middle and the three of us were off.

That’s when I realized I was far out of my element. Jimmie and Kristie used all kinds of sailing terminology that made me feel like I was back in Spanish III class. Jimmie steered in the back while Kristie sat near the front and did all sorts of — sailing stuff — to assist her husband. Jimmie prepared me for a tacking maneuver. The goal of tacking is to turn the bow of the ship through the wind so that the direction from which the wind blows changes from one side to the other. My role in this was to move from one side of the boat to the other while avoiding being hit on the noggin by the turning boom (long pole along bottom of sail). That’s easier said than done when you’re 6-foot-3. It’s not the easiest thing to stand up in one of these things. I was also wowed by the complexity of the sail control lines. To me, they just looked like a bunch of ropes. I’m sure they had much more meaning and purpose to the Yurkos.
We did the tacking thing three or four times as we neared a crowd of boats. I found out Jimmie and Kristie regularly race in Maryland and Virginia and have competed in 11 different states across the country in just the past two years.  Eventually, we made our way to a judge boat (powerboat), rather than the committee boat (pontoon boat). I arrived at Henderson Point expecting an interview and to snap some photos. The next thing I knew was jumping from a sailboat to a powerboat in the middle of Kerr Lake. Believe me, I was much more concerned about the rather expensive camera I was babysitting than my own safety. I made the transition with relative ease and the Yurkos went on their way. It turns out Jimmie guided his Buccaneer to a first-place inish in the two-day event. What were the odds that I would just happen to run into the eventual winner in the parking lot? Surely, I served as a good luck charm. Riding on the judge boat was an older fellow by the name of Howard, who has been sailing since 1943, and Steve Wrigley. Steve, a judge since 1980, said he travels around the world to oversee sailing competitions. He called a lake outside of Moscow, Russia the most interesting place he’s been. There, the race was held out of an old Communist Party sports camp, monitored by guards with Uzis and glocks. Still, there’s something to be said for this area of the country, according to Steve. “I like Kerr Lake. I like this area so much I have a house out in Lake Gaston,” he said. “It’s a great compromise. It’s not the total heat that you get in the southern part of the ate. You’ve got the Virginia hills and you get a little bit of movement in the trees in the winter time.” Then, my sailing adventure took an unexpected turn. A boat sailed by us and alerted Steve and Howard that a girl was bleeding and needed to be taken in. We approached the boat and a girl, who appeared to be in her early to mid 20s, was holding a bloody shirt to her head. Her sailing partner was to take the boat in and she was helped on board with us.She didn’t seem to be in the best condition to me. She mostly held her head to the shirt, but at one point during the ride back to shore, she turned to me, smiled and said, “I’m Ellen by the way.” Ellen came down from Richmond, Va. to compete in the event. She took a spill and hit her head in the midst of a tacking move. Steve asked me to walk with Ellen to the Henderson Point Glass House where emergency personnel had been dispatched. Steve said he’d swing back by to pick me up, but I igured this was as good of a time as any to end my irst sailing foray.Ellen seemed to think she would be OK, but I heard the next day that she ended up with eight stitches. Hopefully, she’ll heal in time for the next event on Kerr Lake July 7. To be clear, I don’t think injuries like this are all too common in what Steve calls “grassroots racing,” but it does make me respect the sport even more. My take on sailing is that it requires an incredible combination of both physical and mental ability. As Tom’s daughter, Nikki, said, people imagine sailing as a bunch of old guys out on boats. Well, that doesn’t seem to be the case to me. These men, women, boys, and girls are tough. And they are smart. And something tells me Ellen won’t be out of commission very long.