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A Sailor Who's Not About to Go Overboard

October 11, 1987|ANGUS PHILLIPS | The Washington Post

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — To those who have watched him flower into a superb competitive sailor, Charlie Scott is an enigma: a player who doesn't play games.

"I can't even picture him in a coat and tie," said sailmaker Will Keyworth, who has known Scott since childhood.

"He should have done an Olympics or America's Cup by now," said international sailing guru Gary Jobson. "He's easily one of the 10 best sailors in America, but someone needs to guide him into focusing on the international scene. Otherwise, the clock runs out ..."

"Here's this guy walking down Main Street with his belly hanging out of his shirt," said a longtime Chesapeake Bay rival who begged anonymity. "He never combs his hair, and yet he has the ability to win the America's Cup."

To all of which Scott, 33, says he's been too busy running his ramshackle boatyard on Whitehall Creek, raising a family and racing sailboats to worry about social appearances or throw away a year or two on some high-stakes international quest.

"When are the Olympic trials, anyway, in May?" he said with obvious irritation. "That's right in the middle of my (boatyard) season. What am I supposed to do, just walk away from my business?"

For those who think the sailing world is all pastel slacks, blue blazers and cocktail parties at the club, here's a glimpse of a typical morning in the life of the Chesapeake Bay's hottest skipper:

It's 8:30. Scott, dressed as usual in battered khaki shorts, paint-spattered T-shirt and grubby boat shoes, is trying to haul his neighbor's crab boat, Selma C., to clear the propeller, which has a crab pot wrapped around it.

But a steel pin is missing from Scott's travel-lift, rendering it unusable. "I know we have more of those pins around somewhere," says Scott, scratching his red hair.

He disappears, reappears, vanishes into an incredibly dusty office, comes up with a stepladder, clambers atop the Pepsi machine, vaults onto a shed roof and starts picking through an accumulation of junk.

"Got it!" he hollers after a while and soon enough has the crab boat up. "I'll charge you $30," he tells the crabber. "That's a bushel of crabs to you. You'll make that back in no time. That's fair, isn't it?"

"I'm still getting $40 a bushel for No. 1s," admits the crabber.

"Hell," says Scott, "I should have charged you more."

If it sounds like the unaffected ebb and flow of commerce on some sleepy creek instead of the financial ruminations of a world-class sailor, so it is, and Scott looks every bit as comfortable bantering with crabbers as he does negotiating with yachtsmen who bring him their sailboats to set up for racing.

"Charlie is an earthy, gutty guy," said his mentor, Arnie Gay, a veteran Annapolis sailor who took Scott on his first ocean race at about age 12. "If he has a problem, it's that he's too honest. I've always said I'll speak my mind when I'm 70. Charlie already does."

Nowhere does Scott speak his mind more dynamically than on a boat, where after much of a lifetime of racing and working in boatyards, he knows what there is to know.

The no-shouting trend Dennis Conner started among racing skippers with his calm display during televised America's Cup finals somehow bypassed Scott. "Smitty!" he shouted at trusted crewman Charlie Smith in a stiff blow during the Annapolis Yacht Club summer race. "Smitty!"

Scott was upset because the spinnaker wouldn't come down on his J-36, Smiling Banshee. It was stuck in a fitting up the mast, all but stopping the boat while the rest of the fleet thundered along. Scott barked orders from the cockpit, but they weren't getting results.

He left the helm to Keyworth and came bounding up the deck. He shot past the startled crew, grabbed up the bottom of the flailing sail, heaved and hauled it to the bow and, with white water cascading around him as the boat pounded into a steep chop, began yanking away demonically.

Down came the spinnaker in a clattering heap. "Help me!" Scott hollered. Crewmen ran forward to gather it. Scott scurried back to reclaim the helm and within seconds was shouting again: "Everybody off the (deleted) bow! Let's get this (deleted) boat moving!"

Smooth? No, but very effective, and from the results of his competitive forays so far, most of what Scott does is.

This fall he heads to Massachusetts and then Texas in pursuit of the nation's two top amateur-sailing championships, the Mallory Cup men's title and the Prince of Wales Cup for match racing, having won highly competitive local and regional trials to make the 10-boat finals.

Rarely does anyone shoot for both trophies the same year, and no one has won them in tandem since 1970. But few from the Chesapeake region would be surprised if Scott came home a double winner.

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