Colington’s tight-knit sailing community is fueled by friendly competition and camaraderie.
It’s Wednesday evening and Bob Carter is leaning over the wheel of his Pearson 30 sailboat as he slowly motors through the canals of Colington and into the opening of the harbor.
He is clearly in his element. This seasoned sailor falls into a rhythm of hoisting the sails and assessing wind patterns. It’s all part of prepping for the mid-week sailing races that have been a part of the Colington Yacht Club regatta for the past 25 years.
Fellow crew members Bryan Oroson, Chuck Lycette and Chelsea Quattrone all follow suit. They know drill.
In just a few minutes, the Albemarle Sound will be dotted with 10 or so vessels heading west with sails raised. On this particular night, the competitive vibe is lighthearted, what Carter and his crew like to refer to as a “beer can” race, a chance to get out on the water and have a little fun.
The competitive races that count toward a boat’s ranking only take place twice a month during the summer. Still, there’s a touch of rivalry in the air, along with a light westerly wind that will help them reach the MR (Middle Ground) marker, the turning point and halfway mark of the 7-mile race.
Oroson, a seasoned sailor in his own right, says that what attracts him most to sailing and the races is the self-sufficiency it requires and the tactical aspects. “It’s like playing chess,” he says. “There are so many variables like wind and the water and what your boat is doing relative to the others. If you run into problems, there is no one to ask.”
And the camaraderie, not to mention friendly competition, is evident by the banter between crew members and the waves across the water to fellow sailors.
“There are a hundred different ways to do something on a boat,” Carter says.
Everything about Carter – from his smile to his lighthearted conversation and relaxed look – gives you a clue as to why he has named his boat Freedom.
But if you ask, he’ll tell you he named the Pearson 30 that because it “gave him the freedom to do what he wanted.” An old salt in every sense of the word, Carter can tell you everything from how many minutes it takes for the sun to set after it touches the water to what is happening in the night sky on any particular evening. And he just laughs when you ask him how long he’s been sailing. “It’s been a long time,” he says.
Once called the Roanoke Island Yacht Club, the Colington Yacht Club is part of the Albemarle Sound Sailing Association that includes the Albemarle Plantation, Pasquotank River, Osprey and Edenton clubs as well. It has several hundred members, but only the diehards regularly participate in the regatta.
“They refer to us as the bad boys from the beach,” Oroson says. “We are like the hillbilly yacht club.” But the bad boys give the other clubs a run for their money during the races that take place at each venue on selected weekend over the summer.
“Most of these boats out here are good old boats,” says Quattrone, who has been with the crew for about five years and says she loves the sense of adventure sailing offers. “These boats out here aren’t fancy. Some were even salvaged after hurricanes, but they all have a story to tell.”
Quattrone says the Wednesday sailing series provides a much-needed break in the middle of the week. “Whatever drama you may have going on, this resets your compass, it makes everything real,” she says.
Colington Harbour resident Ben Miller will tell you the same thing. While he doesn’t belong to the yacht club, he tags along at times on Wednesday nights but mostly loves to go out on the sound by himself on his Catalina 22.
Miller’s mother taught him to sail when he was a child and it’s been in his blood ever since. His sailboat is distinct because of its unique jib and small size.
“It’s therapy out there,” Miller says. “My dad died three years ago and being out makes me feel like I am more in touch spiritually.”
The combination of the water, sunsets, winds and the lapping of the waves against the hull are some of the things that draw Miller and other sailors to the water again and again.
Miller likens the sailing community in Colington to a fraternity. “It’s very much a community of its own,” he says, adding that there is always a fair amount of friendly competition out on the water.
On this particular Wednesday, when the boats become neck and neck, the crew of the Freedom doesn’t waste any time. It isn’t long into the race that the crew makes a unified decision to hoist the spinnaker, and it proves to make all the difference. The sail does its job, taking the wind and pushing the Freedom toward the MR buoy and ahead of the other boats.
“People will say it’s the boat, but it’s not,” Oroson says. “It’s the crew.”
As Freedom’s crew nears the halfway marker, Carter looks to his right and notes a boat gaining on them. “He’s going to put a sail up and go by us like we are tied to a tree,” he says. But the crew holds its ground and rounds the marker.
The first boat to the marker signals the other boats to tack and turn, and the Freedom now takes up the rear, tacking several times as it makes its way back into the harbor, through the canal and docks.
The crew parts ways until next week, when they’ll again do one of a hundred things to win the race.