Last Time Over the Finish Line
By Shirley Schroeder

“How much time?”

“Two minutes fifteen.”

“Time the line start-i-n-g . . . now!”

“Thirty-five seconds.”

“Ready, about. Time.”

“Minute thirty.”

“Tell me when it’s forty-five.”


“Ready about. Let that jib out - we’re early. OK, now pull it in.”

“Head up, head up, starboard, right-of-way!” Terry yells at the boats to port.

The gun goes off, we scramble up on the high side, Terry heads up just inches from the boat to starboard and another race is underway.

Terry and Shirley Schroeder back in 1995.

Terry’s the skipper – I’m the crew and my main job before any race is to watch the clock. I bury my head in my chest and stare at the stopwatch so I don’t have to see how close we are to other boats or the committee boat at the start of a race. Adrenalin runs rampant, mouth is dry, all muscles tense until we clear that starting line and the race is underway.

For nearly thirty-five years, my husband Terry and I raced our 19’ Flying Scot sailboat, Checkmate. That first summer the boat was on the lake nearly every day and when we won the very first race entered, we were bitten by the racing bug. Once bitten, the only cure was to enter every race possible. So we did and we raced every summer until this one. We have dozens of trophies to show for our sport. While the trophies meant a lot at first, after while they were expected. We won everything from individual regattas, highest points for the season, Skipper of the Year, Crew of the Year and good sportsmanship. Terry has a trophy named after him at the annual North American Flying Scot Championship Regatta.

How I loved being in that Flying Scot. For those who aren’t familiar with it, it’s 19 feet long, seven feet wide, has a centerboard that reaches approx. 6 feet down and boasts three sails, main, jib and spinnaker. Because of its width, it’s a very stable boat. It has seats much like a normal chair and room enough for eight adults. It’s entirely fiberglass with styrofoam floatation and unsinkable. One of my favorite things about it was to lean over the side and dip my hand into the water.

While most of our Flying Scot friends sailed their Scot for a few years and upgraded to a cruising boat, we couldn’t bring ourselves to leave our Scot. It was just too much fun being down near that water.

But last summer was the end of my racing career. It’s most difficult to explain the emotions that ran rampant through my mind and soul when it became clear to me I couldn’t handle what it took to race anymore. Oh, I tried it. Went out there as usual only to find my seventy-year-old legs just couldn’t handle scrambling over the centerboard and up the high side to hike out. That entire night I tossed and turned, aching, stabbing pain in every leg muscle and joint. I had to keep moving my legs because I couldn’t stand the agony when I lay still. After that sleepless night I realized my racing career was over. Not sailing. Just racing. At least racing in our Flying Scot.

Emotions I dealt with were an overwhelming sense of loss – loss not only for me but Terry. He depended on me in a race because over the years he trained me to do exactly what he wanted when. Husband-wife teams are rare because most skippers become Captain Bly when racing. And he went through that stage but soon learned I was the best crew if only because I was more available than anyone else. We had our share of arguments on the water but we both loved it out there too much so soon learned to make allowances for each other.

Besides a sense of loss times two – one for me, one for Terry – I felt like I was letting him down. On the other hand, I am just plain physically unable to go on. I had to face it – the end had come for me to crew in races with our Flying Scot.

People might wonder why I can’t just sit in the boat? Why move about so much? Instinct won’t let me just sit there – not during a race. In a race my entire body is trained to move constantly depending on how the boat heels. Without thinking I automatically switch my weight back and forth, move at exactly the right moment when tacking so weight distribution is perfect and there is no time to relax until the race is over.

So now what? We give up sailing? Not yet! We’re going to get a cruising boat. Not too big so we can trailer it around the area but big enough to it’ll be less taxing on my old legs. Sad as it is to say farewell to Checkmate, it’s easier that than farewell to sailing.

Shirley Schroeder is a freelance writer from Wisconsin and a member of the Lake DuBay Sailing Association.



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