Hammer Gels: Getting from Ewww to Yumm

As most of you know, I’ve been a devoted fan of Hammer Nutrition’s products for 13 years. In that time, both their products and customer service have constantly improved—especially the newsletter, which has gradually morphed from a chaotic bundle of useful information into a high quality magazine. I have written before about Recoverite, Endurolyte Fizz, and Personal Fueling. Today I want to eat some words I never wrote down: all the nasty thoughts I ever had about Hammer Gels.


Rounding the leeward mark at the 2015 DonQ Regatta in Miami, FL. Photo: Blake Middleton

My teammate Kim Couranz (also a Hammer Athlete Ambassador) has been consuming a gel between races for the past several years. And since we sail together on a fifteen foot boat, I couldn’t help but notice. I didn’t quite turn away every time, but I also quickly turned down any offers of trying one. There was something about the idea of eating a squishy substance out of a small packet that turned my stomach. No thanks, really; I’ll just sip at my bottle of Sustained Energy/Heed and munch on a Vegan Recoverite Bar.

Then Hammer announced a new flavor: Nocciola. What the heck, I thought: I’ll try one, in the privacy of my own boat. Kim won’t tell anyone if I spit it out—as long as I aim over the side, into the water.

So a few months ago, on the first day of our first 2015 regatta, I tore off the top of a gel packet. Then I stuck it in my mouth, and squeezed. I was probably wincing in anticipation of gross… and then it hit my tongue. “Gelato. It tastes like hazelnut gelato.” Ewww had turned to “YUM!”

Our next regatta was in Clearwater, Florida. The first day we had a one hour sail out to the race course; four one hour races on the beautiful Gulf of Mexico, in long swells that require constant trimming and body movements to keep the boat moving fast; and then an hour’s sail back to the beach again, against a two knot current. I brought along six water bottles, thinking it was too much, and sucked the last one dry on the sail home. I also brought more food than I thought I’d need—and ate everything.

Since they were so easy to carry, I’d loaded up my lifejacket pocket with gels. Mimicking Kim, I ate one between races. With only a 10-15 minute break (depending on where we finished the previous race), there was never enough time to eat, drink, pee, adjust the rig, and take a breather. Having an easy-to-consume and easy-to-digest snack was perfect.

Kim was right: gels are the perfect boat food.

Now that I’m back home between events, I’ve been adding a tablespoon of gel to my morning smoothie (Montana Huckleberry, one of Kim’s favorite flavors.) Fortunately Hammer offers gel in bottles as well, so I don’t have to open a packet every time.

And now for my biggest confession of all: I’ve got a new favorite afternoon snack. Banana slices and a little bit of granola, doused with a tablespoon (or two) of peanut butter gel. It’s like having dessert at three in the afternoon. As one athlete put it on the Hammer Facebook page, “You know it’s good stuff when kids like it.”

Thanks to Hammer for making such great-tasting, high quality fuel. And thanks to Kim for not laughing too hard when I spooged gel #3 all over my shirt. “Put it in your mouth before you squeeze,” she suggested. And then (too late) she explained: “The consistency changes quite a bit, depending on the temperature.”

Apparently there’s an entire technique to consuming these things. I’m looking forward to learning more of Kim’s gel tips and tricks this summer, as we prepare for the Snipe Worlds in Italy.

In the meantime… anybody want to come over for dessert?

For more info, visit the Hammer Nutrition gel page… where Nocciola is, wisely, the default flavor.

My First Two Writing Awards

Last week at the Miami Boat Show, I won my first (and second) writing awards, as part of the Boating Writers International annual contest. The two stories were about topics very near and dear to my heart: Olympic sailing and stand up paddling (with kayaking thrown in for good measure/comparison). And both are great examples of “stories with heart,” the ones that get those many extra hours of editing, the careful word choices, and (maybe most importantly of all), a lot of late night/early morning woolgathering, long after the first draft has been completed.

Carol Cronin and Lenny Rudow win BWI awards

I won two: my colleague, fishhead Lenny Rudow, won 4 (plus several certificates of merit). Lenny gallantly points out that I also submitted far fewer stories…

Olympic Broach: The No Good Very Bad Windiest Day won 1st place in the Boating Adventures category. It’s probably not a coincidence that it was the most agonizing story I’ve ever written. As I say in the introduction, “It’s taken me 10 years to swallow my pride enough to write about what followed. And I’m only going to do it once, so listen up.” Even after I finished the first draft, I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to publish it.

After a lot of thought and some of that late night woolgathering, I realized that it wouldn’t ever be “finished” until it left my desk and made its way in the world. We can wonder forever why we write and why we publish, but in the end sharing our own stories (good and bad) is its own reward.

And in this case, it was also satisfying to know I’d bridged the gaping divide between “blowboaters” and the rest of our on-the-water community. Judge Charles Fort called it “A great story told with unusual hubris for a sailor … it captures the excitement of high-level racing.” And one of the judges from another category told me afterward that she’d heard so many great comments about the post, she was going to go home and read it. (I judged the reviews category, and believe me, the last thing any judge usually wants to do afterward is read extra entries.)

Simple Boating: Which is More Fun, Kayak or SUP? Is a dear John letter to the sport of boating. “It’s complicated,” Jane Doe explains as the reason for her proposed breakup with the sport. As a solution, the sport suggests SUP or kayak.

Although I wish I’d made the headline more alluring, I’m proud of this story—and really psyched that it was recognized with a second place finish in the Boating Lifestyles category. It’s rare for me to be able to tie together two seemingly unrelated ideas (generic Dear John letter breakups and simplifying our complicated sport) into a single cohesive post; I wish I could do it more often. But that’s the thing about “stories from the heart” — they can be quite light-hearted, but they can’t be churned out on demand.

These awards both came with a cash prize, but long after that money is spent I will still remember the honor of being recognized by my writing peers for two jobs well done.

And now the challenge is on for 2015…

Read the announcement on boats.com: Recognized. Extraordinary Writing by the boats.com Team

To see what other writers won (including Lenny), read the Boating Writers International press release.

Channeling Belichick: Small Decisions

I’m not exactly a football fan. I’m pretty sure the 2015 Super Bowl was the first complete game I’ve ever watched (as long as you don’t count that quick trip to the grocery store for ice cream). And that wasn’t actually by choice; I was supposed to be flying home, not “stuck” in Fort Lauderdale thanks to the latest Northeast snowstorm.

So it surprises me to be writing a post about football.

Patriots logo

Late in that game, a decision was made by the Patriots not to call a timeout. I definitely didn’t notice it at the time, but the next day the after-pundits made hay. USA Today said, “By the Pats not calling timeout, Seattle had the opportunity to throw the ball without fear of New England regaining possession. In essence, Belichick dared the Seahawks to make the most ill-advised pass in NFL history and the Seahawks were all too happy to comply… Brilliant.”

Which contrasts quite nicely with Patriots Coach Belichick’s after-analysis:

“But it just seemed like — in the flow of the game — that we were OK with where we were.”

Now even a football-oblivious sailor like me knows that Belichick is not exactly verbose. A less confident, more spotlight-loving guy might have concocted an after-story that made it sound like he knew exactly what he was doing. Instead, he stuck with what sounds a lot like the unvarnished truth.

Every day, we all make play-by-play decisions (or, like this one, a lack of decision) that affect our lives. Most are not critiqued in any level of detail by anyone else, but I constantly look back at my own recent decisions/indecision to analyze what went wrong (or right): Not tacking on a competitor… holding on starboard for another thirty seconds to get to a little more wind… not calling a friend on what turns out to be the last opportunity to celebrate New Year’s together… or even writing a blog post about football.

I am my own Monday-morning quarterback for what I can see. For what I can’t see (the many roads I’ve chosen not to travel), there’s no point in hindsight. Who knows what icy pavement I’ve avoided, what new friends I didn’t meet, what lessons I could’ve learned?

All we can do is follow Belichick’s example, and hope our instincts lead us in the right direction. And then make sure we tell the truth afterward, even if a story would make us look smarter.

Cabin Fever: The Cure

First of all, for all my SoCal and Florida friends who’ve never lived through a New England winter, here’s a little background on the causes and symptoms of Cameram febris, commonly known as “Cabin Fever.”

Cause: Bad weather outside, too much time inside.

Symptoms: Grumpy, restless. Itchy dry skin, throat, sinuses (a fringe benefit of the low-humidity heat that keeps our older house so cozy).

Cure: SUP

winter bird feeder with snow cap

Now a quick search back through the recent posts here might lead you to the conclusion that SUP is my new cure for everything—aging, fitness, grumpiness, bad balance, water access—and you wouldn’t be far off. But what I’ve realized this year is that my personal brand of cabin fever is caused by a very specific fringe benefit of winter: not getting out on the water. Walks, skiing, snowshoeing—those more normal New England cures for the winter blues aren’t nearly as effective for me as a good paddle. (Frostbite sailing would work, but there are other issues that interfere with that… all too long and dull to go into here.)

So I’ve turned to my paddleboard as the solution.

Last winter, I kept paddling even as fall turned suddenly to winter, a new addition to my seasonal denial about the cold weather to come. After New Year’s, when it’s no longer possible to ignore or deny winter (especially last year, when we already had a foot of snow on the ground), I still kept paddling, figuring every time might be my last one until spring. And then spring came, sooner than expected, and I realized I’d made it through another winter without succumbing to the dreaded Cameram febris. (Yes, I admit, a few sailing adventures in Florida helped too.)

This year, I feel like I’m getting away with something every time I go out. For one thing, it’s usually warmer than I expected. Even a weak low-angled winter sun will reflect off the harbor surface better than it warms up frozen ground ashore. A few days ago, it was 28 degress when I left the house—and halfway through my paddle, I had to remove my hat and neck gaiter. Two days before that, I paddled through a light snowfall—a rare treat.

Of course, I’m wearing the right clothes to keep warm, I always tell someone before I leave the dock, and I stay out of the water.  (Watch this video for a different approach to winter paddling.) I don’t try anything new; instead, I paddle a little easier that I do in the summer, enjoying the view and smiling at the ducks and geese who are usually my only companions.

I do have a few trips planned to warmer weather, which is an even better cure for Cameram febris. But I’ve found that if I grab the chance to paddle when I can, warm summery optimism is easier to come by even during those long winter days at home.

(Which makes me wonder: Do you think I can get my health insurance to cover a new board?)



Olympic Sailing: Where Fiction Meets Fact

Sometimes seemingly unrelated events coincidentally come together, reinforcing each other in a totally unexpected way. That’s exactly what happened last Sunday when I sat down with the Severn Sailing Association book club to discuss Game of Sails: an Olympic Love Story. (And thanks to Kim Couranz for organizing what turned out to be a really fun evening.)

I hadn’t prepared a formal presentation, so it was the best kind of book club discussion: free ranging, with a chance for anyone to bring up a topic, question, or comment about Olympic sailing, the characters, or the story.

That was seemingly unrelated event #2.

Seemingly unrelated event #1 happened a few weeks earlier, when we published a story I’d written on boats.com entitled Olympic Broach: The No Good Very Bad Windiest Day. In it I describe the day back in 2004 that I still remember all too well: the two races that cost us any chance of winning a medal in Athens.

Game of Sails book club discussion

Discussing Game of Sails with a bunch of sailors made for a really fun Sunday evening. Thanks to Paul Cronin Studios for the photo.

Some of the book club members had read the post, so it came up a few times throughout our discussion. But only one of them suggested a connection I’d never thought of myself. We were talking about one of the two main characters in Game of Sails, Casey Morgan, who uses her heightened sense of smell to sniff out shifts on the race course. And this reader said, “It’s just like you talked about in Athens, that you should’ve smelled the meltemi coming.”

That comment stopped me in my tracks. Because it meant that somewhere deep in my subconscious, well-buried for the last ten years, I’d been wishing for a better sense of smell—a trait that turned out to be very, very important to one of my favorite characters in her own Olympic sailing.

I don’t know if it’s possible for anyone other than a fellow author to understand how weird this is (or even believe it). But for me, Casey just “had” that sense of smell. I didn’t consciously “give” it to her; it’s part of her personality. I “learned” about it as I wrote her story, and it was only in the course of getting to know her that I eventually realized how important it would be to the book.

The book club discussion quickly moved on to other topics, like evil sailmakers and a few moments that probably would’ve turned out differently if they’d happened in real life. I couldn’t stop smiling as I listened to people I’d just met discussing Casey and Spencer and Gordo as if they were friends from the SSA boat park. Like these characters were real sailors we all knew. It was a great way to spend a Sunday evening.

And best of all, we avoided the dreaded question: “Where do you get your ideas?” Hopefully the smell-discussion made it clear that I don’t “get” ideas… the best ones “get” me.

Thanks to all my readers who’ve taught me over and over again that fiction can teach us something about the facts. May your holiday season be filled with many such surprising intersections.

Dress for Success: Cold Weather SUP

Okay, it’s cold out. Buffalo is currently buried under snow taller than me (or local Jody Swanson Starck), and even here in southern New England the wind chill is down to the single digits. There’s a threat of snow in tonight’s forecast, and out on the harbor, the whitecaps have—seemingly overnight—become unwelcoming. So what’s a watersports-loving girl to do, now that winter weather has arrived—five weeks early, again?

Fortunately, there is a solution (besides the one we call “Florida”). It’s called SUP (stand up paddling). I was able to paddle right through last year’s brutal winter—which kept away the usual cabin fever. Unlike frostbite sailing, SUP is surprisingly dry—assuming I pick my days carefully and stay on the board. Winter is not the time to start paddling, but it’s a great time to keep paddling.

SUP is also warmer than other winter watersports because its ideal conditions are flat calm. The wind and its chill are limited to my forward speed, which never gets above five knots even when I sprint hard. In fact, on days when the air temperature is lower than the water temp, I often find it warmer once I get on the water. The coldest part is getting down to the beach.

carol cronin selfie on SUP

My favorite Zhik top and lifejacket plus a warm beanie will keep me paddling right through the winter.

The key to staying warm, of course, is wearing the right gear. Clothing choices are extremely personal, but since so many people have asked me “what to wear” I figured I’d pass along what works for me. Much of what I use is no longer made, because my paddling wardrobe is made up of leftover sailing gear. So I’ve tried to include general description as well as specifics.

First, to deal with the cold walk to the beach, I throw on a “pitcher’s jacket,” an extra layer over everything I plan to wear paddling. That keeps me warm at the beginning, which helps me stay warm right to the end.

Note: The temperatures listed here are for the air, but water temps affect paddling comfort too. If they are drastically different from the air, I adapt up or down (always keeping in mind the potential for an unplanned swim).


Default layers below 65 degrees

Lifejacket (I use an inflatable during the summer, but switch back to the Zhik as soon as the temps dip below 65).
Silkweight style long sleeve shirt.
Zhik wetsuit shorts. Unlike the current deckbeater models, these are all neoprene and very stretchy.
Gill neoprene boots. State of the art, circa 2002… but still going strong.

50-55 degrees

Capilene 1 leggings under wetsuit shorts
Lightweight socks

45-50 degrees

Beanie, which I’ll remove and tuck into my lifejacket once warmed up
Zhik tights 
Zhik hydrophobic fleece top (Note: This is the only piece of gear I wear both paddling and sailing, because it is simply the best baselayer I’ve ever worn.)

40-45 degrees

Medium weight socks
Goretex socks 
Zhik hydrophobic top, plus a lightweight windbreaker

35-40 degrees

Zhik hydrophobic top, Patagonia R1 top, Kokatat spray top
Fleece leggings, windproof pants
Neck gaiter (remove once warmed up)
Heaviest socks I can fit inside boots
Zhik gloves (thin, but just enough warmth to keep my hands working)

30-35 degrees

All of the above, replacing Patagonia R1 top with R4

under 30 degrees

Windowseat time. :)

You’ll note that there’s very little neoprene included here, except for those wetsuit shorts. I’ve found that paddling in a wetsuit is clammy, since there’s nowhere for the sweat to go. But it would definitely be safer for that unexpected swim.

Lastly, a piece of advice: If you don’t already have a closet full of old sailing gear and you are going to buy something special for winter SUP, don’t skimp. The good stuff from Zhik and Patagonia will last a long time and be comfortable over a huge range of temperatures, so you don’t have to buy as many different pieces of gear (and will more frequently be wearing the right thing).

Enjoy, and I’ll see you on the water.

Team Support: Thank You


A few weeks ago, I talked about the benefits of proper fueling and how much that’s helped me stay competitive as a “master” sailor. This week I want to talk about something else that’s really important: my team. I’m very lucky to have so many people who support my sailing, and I’d like to take an end-of-the-season moment and thank them here.

Kim-headshotFirst of all, a big shout out to my friend and forward teammate Kim Couranz. She makes our time on and off the water fun and easy, and that distinctive laugh has earned us friends around the world. (As Augie Diaz always says, “Stop having so much fun, girls!”) At every one of our regattas in 2014 Kim showed up with a great attitude, some new off-the-cuff one-liners, and the strength and stamina to hike all day if necessary. We have a great time together, and whatever goes wrong on the water we leave on the water (and try to learn from for next time). As the results show, I don’t do as well without her in the boat. Thanks Kimmie! (And PS, are the new hiking pants a hint or something?)

paul-spin-smNext I need to thank my husband. Paul is always supportive of my sailing, even when it takes me away (both physically and mentally) from our life at home. Between events, he helps me work through the latest questions about tuning, sail trim, and boat mechanics, and he always has great feedback. He was also our coach for “Snipe Camp,” a two day training session in Newport. We all agreed it was so successful, we’d like to turn it into an annual event. (And if you want to see what keeps Paul entertained when I’m off sailing, check out his cool boat Kincora.)

teddyAnd here’s another husband I need to thank: Ted Morgan. Ted’s married to Kim, but he’s also the Cronin Sailing Team Angel of 2014. He volunteered to drive our boat and car back to the east coast from San Diego after the Western Hemisphere and Orient Championship. And then instead of treating it as a chore, he turned it into a fun adventure by bringing along his camera (and his rattlesnake-dodging sneakers). That got me back to my desk sooner, but even more importantly, it took away my dread of the drive home. Thanks Teddy!

Next up is a big thanks to our title sponsor WAMIT. This small software company has supported my sailing for more than a decade, always claiming it makes them look bigger to their competitors. They are happy no matter how we finish as long as we show off their logo, and their support makes it possible for us to commit to an international regatta every year. This past summer, I even found a fellow sailor who was a big fan of their software. The word is spreading…

We also have several housing angels: people who graciously open their homes to us, year after year. These include Ron Drucker/Lisa Ware; Lili and Andy Neale; the Voss and Commette clans; and on the West Coast, the Szabos (Stacey, I swear it wasn’t me who left the water running). Thanks to all of you, and to the many other house moms and dads who’ve put up with our food on the counter and our wet sailing gear dripping in the bathroom.

john-burnham-headshotLast but not least, I’d like to thank my boss. John Burnham’s a competitive sailor himself, so he understands we’re not sipping Mai Tais when we go to regattas. He also understands that I’m used to squeezing in work around a day of sailing. So whenever I tell him I’m going to another regatta or trying to fit in a few extra afternoons of practice before a big event, he asks a question about the conditions instead of reminding me about something at work that needs to be done before I leave. Thanks, John… your flexibility made all of my adventures this year more fun. (And don’t worry, I’m done… well, for 2014 anyway.)

It takes a village to make a successful sailing team, even one with only two people. Thanks all… and stay tuned for 2015, which will hopefully include the Snipe Worlds in Talamone, Italy!

Want to Fuel Right? It’s Personal

Those of us who want to remain active and competitive athletes well into our second half century have learned a few things about ourselves over the years. One biggie is how to properly fuel to keep going day after day. Sailing regattas last anywhere from 3-5 days, and getting tired halfway through an event or halfway through a race day is no fun.

The problem is that what works for me won’t necessarily work for you, because once you get past the basic numbers of how many calories of food and how many ounces of fluid we all need to stay fed and watered, what I need for optimal energy is probably different from what you need. But lots of people have asked me recently about fueling, so I figured it would be helpful to collect what I’ve learned over the past fifteen years into one place.

Snipe sailing upwind, black sky

Kim and Carol finished second at their final windy regatta of the year. Photo: Robin Richards

And since it’s such a personal thing, I also figured it would be more useful to include a second perspective. So I asked friend and fellow sailor Kim Couranz to jump in with what works for her. In addition to sailing doublehanded Snipes with me and her singlehanded Laser, Kim is also a long-distance runner—her favorites are ultra trail runs. Can you say “stamina”?

The Snipe is a 15 foot long wet ride of a sailing dinghy that rewards fitness and strength. We are one of the lighter teams, so letting body weight do the hard work when the wind pipes up is just not an option for us. We have to hike hard to keep up with the big boys.

You can also toss out your pre-conceived yachtie images of well-stocked coolers and umbrella drinks. Instead, think 2-3 water bottles each and as many sports bars (me) and gels (Kim) as we can carry in our lifejacket pouches. Because our carrying capacity is limited, what we do bring along needs to be effective—and easy to eat/digest in the ten minutes or so we have to scarf it down between races.

Those races last 50-70 minutes. We usually have a 30-50 minute sail out to the race course and back to the dock after racing, which means we’re on the water for 5-6 hours.

I’ve used Hammer products since 2000 and I’ve always been impressed with how well they work for me. I also like the fact that they don’t include any artificial sweeteners… and in my Olympic years I really appreciated not worrying about a positive drug test.


Food For Focus

Here’s what Carol eats on an average race day:

  • Breakfast: 2 scoops of Hammer Whey protein mixed in a glass of orange juice. 1 cup of coffee.
  • Pre-race snack: cinnamon raisin bagel with a very light smear of cream cheese (or a cranberry Hammer bar)
  • After race 1: Hammer recovery bar or half an almond butter and jelly sandwich
  • After race 2: same
  • After race 3 or on the sail back to the dock: Hammer recovery bar
  • After sailing: 1 scoop Hammer recoverite
  • Big dinner with mix of protein and carbs, and one glass of wine. (Two makes me stupid the next day, unfortunately.)

And here’s what Kim eats on an average race day:

  • Breakfast: Bowl of cereal, banana, ideally a hard-boiled egg
  • On the way out to the race course: Hammer bar
  • Before additional races: Hammer bar, half of Carol’s sandwich if she’s not going to eat it (wouldn’t want it to go to waste). If I know it’s the last race of the day, or if I’m feeling particularly “empty,” I’ll have a Hammer gel as well.
  • On the way in: Recoverite!
  • Dinner with, as Carol mentions, protein and carbs. I’ll toss in some healthy fats, too. Like ice cream. Right?!?

What Kim eats on a trail run day:

  • I usually do long runs first thing in the morning, so I’ll enjoy a Hammer bar and glass of water as I’m getting dressed and ready.
  • Then every 45 minutes to hour (depending on where a convenient place to “pause” is), I’ll have a Hammer gel, for the first three or so hours of a run.
  • After four hours, my food “break” changes to Perpetuem solids.


Hydration Help

We like food, but what we eat is less than half the story, because we haven’t talked yet about hydration. The most important thing I’ve learned over the years is that staying hydrated is by far my biggest personal fueling challenge. Once I get behind, it’s really hard to catch up—and the side effects will probably carry over into the next day.

When I say “hydration,” I don’t mean “water.” Yes, fluid intake is important, but electrolytes are even more important. I seem to need more than most people, which is why I’ve stopped drinking “just” water while racing. I don’t understand the chemistry; I just know that when I get behind on electrolytes, my reaction time goes to hell. Then I start doing stupid stuff on the race course. And then Kim turns to me and says, “Time for a smart pill.” (She’s referring to Hammer Endurolytes, which we’ve discovered can catch me back up again almost instantly.)

So here’s what Carol drinks on an average race day:
15-26 oz. per hour of water mixed with one scoop of Hammer Sustained Energy and ¾ scoop of Heed. Sustained Energy provides a balanced mix of carbs and protein; Heed includes complex carbs, rather than the simple sugars most sports drinks include, and also has a subtle flavor that makes it all go down easily.

What Kim drinks on an average sailing day:
1 water bottle per hour with Endurolytes Fizz.

What Kim drinks on a trail run day:
I generally fill up my fluid bladder with just water, so I can more closely track what I’m putting into my body (and I’m a bit of a cleaning freak; that way I also don’t worry about “stuff” lingering in my water bladder). I’ll have 1-2 Endurolytes every hour (depending on heat/humidity), and if I’m racing, I’ll add on 1-2 Anti-Fatigue Caps as well.


Try It First

So that’s what works for us. It may take awhile to figure out what works for you. And because fueling is such a personal thing, it’s very important to test a new product before race day. It’s also important to like the taste of whatever it is you’ll be trying to choke down when your adrenaline is running. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a bunch of half-eaten bars in that lifejacket pouch at the end of the day. (Kim, stay away from my sandwich.)

And if you decide to give Hammer products a try, use this link to get a 15% discount on your first order (and me a credit toward future orders). Thanks, and happy fueling!


Deer in the Headlight: More Good Luck

In part one of Deer in the Headlight, I explained how we managed to drive 2000 miles across the country after hitting a deer. That’s unexpected, but what happened once we got to San Diego was also a bit of a surprise. So here’s more detail than you probably needed about getting the car fixed.

When we got to the Audi dealer in Miramar, he took one look at the car and said “It needs body work. We can’t do that here.” Then he recommended World Auto Body just down the street, which had also been recommended by a friend. We drove a few blocks and turned into a small parking lot, where we were greeted by the owner, Robert Shamshoum. He looked quite unfazed by all the damage, and said he could complete the work “in a few weeks” as long as the insurance company approved the repairs promptly and the parts weren’t back ordered.

Audi Q5 and trailer

Here’s what the car and trailer looked like when we left RI. After 4 days with World Auto Body, the left side looks even better than this.

Andrew and I would only be in San Diego for a week (to sail the Snipe Western Hemisphere and Orient Championship), but we were flying home afterward. Team angel Ted Morgan (husband of my Snipe teammate Kim Couranz) would fly out ten days later to drive the car and boats home, so luckily we had a bit of time to spare. And luckily we had friends who could retrieve the car, even after I flew home. So we left the car with Robert, who gave us a ride back to Point Loma (about 20 minutes away). It was an unexpected treat from the owner of a body shop, though we had all figured out by then that my car needed a lot of work.

(One additional lesson learned is that insurance companies will try to direct you to a “recommended” repair facility, though they are required to tell you up front that it’s your choice where to have your car repaired. Fortunately Robert had warned me of this, so when the agent started to look up where in San Diego State Farm would recommend, I could say, “Don’t bother.”)

Robert also suggested I check in with State Farm early and often, to make sure they didn’t drag their feet on getting the estimator out to look at the car. I called them the next day, but the date had not yet been set; since it was a Friday, the agent suggested I call back on Monday. At that point I wasn’t sure whether the car would be done in time for Ted to drive it home as planned, so Kim and I started coming up with many Plan Bs. Since all involved more sailing in San Diego, it was hardly a dull weekend. And oh by the way, we had a big regatta that started Monday, so there was plenty of non-car stuff to think about too.

When I finally called State Farm Tuesday morning to ask when they could look at the car, I had my first pleasant surprise. The estimator had been there on Saturday, and they had already issued a check for the damages (which totaled even more than I had predicted). So then I called Robert to see when he could start the work, and he told me they’d already ordered the parts and were underway! Best of all, he was hopeful he could return the car to me three days later, before I flew home. That would make everything easier, since I could check over the car personally after it was finished.

There were a few small glitches, more parts that were needed, an even higher bill at the end, and Robert’s crew had to work late Wednesday night… but sure enough, I picked up the car Friday afternoon, in between finishing off our regatta and the final closing awards dinner. And it’s beautiful, better than new (though I forgot to take the picture that would prove that). Robert’s manager told me, “Your file never left my desk.”

So this long story has a happy ending, thanks to several helpful friends and a few businesses who did their job while I went sailing. Thanks to Audi for building such a great car. Thanks to State Farm for getting the paperwork done so quickly. And thanks especially to World Auto Body, for working late and bringing my car back to better than new in record time. Because of you all, we won the deer in the headlight war.


Deer in the Headlight: Better Lucky than Good

For those of you looking for a blow-by-blow report of last week’s Snipe Western Hemisphere and Orient Championship, I suggest you read the report on SnipeToday. Because today’s post has nothing to do with books and only a loose association with boats: it concerns one lone deer who (until a few Wednesdays ago) was wandering somewhere along I-80 in Illinois.

I’d always thought hitting a deer was a very stupid thing to do. I still think that, but now I realize how unimportant smart or stupid are in this particular situation. When a head (and a very scared eye) appeared just over the hood of the car, only inches away, there was no time to brace, or swerve, or do anything other than yell “SH*T” at a very loud volume. And once I’d hit the thing, the whole picture changed. Deer in the headlights? Yup.

deer in the headlights

I only saw one eye and the head of my deer, before he was gone again… but he left behind quite a few memories.

We were 1000 miles into a 3000 mile road trip, towing two boats from Rhode Island to San Diego, and yes of course it was 2AM. The good news is that I was wide awake, listening to the radio and probably singing along. Andrew Pimental was nodding off, so his first reaction to the impact was “We’re rolling over.” Fortunately we didn’t, and I quickly pulled to the side of the road to inspect the damage.

Once on the shoulder, however, I could hear the voice of Liz Filter in my ear: “Do NOT stop by the side of the road unless you can’t possibly drive any further. You’re going to get hit.” So after pulling the dangling and probably destroyed side mirror in through the window, I crept on another mile or so to the next exit.

There were two trucks already pulled off onto the shoulder there, so I figured it was a safe place to stop. Andrew and I got out and looked at the front left corner of the car… and we both figured our trip was over. The left headlight dangled from its wires. The surrounding trim was in pieces. Even the front grill had been damaged, though fortunately we didn’t see any deer remnants anywhere. How were we ever going to make it to San Diego now?

(Fortunately, we and the boats and trailer were all fine.)

Necessity is the mother of invention, and it was two in the morning in a very dark, very uninhabited part of the country. It could be hours before a tow truck arrived, and besides, we both hate asking for help. So we got out a flashlight and started pulling out all the loose parts we could reach, all the while looking to see if there were any dripping fluids of any kind. The longer the road stayed dry under the car, the more optimistic we became.

Andrew figured out how to unplug the headlight, which was actually still working (but no longer secured to the car except by the wiring). That large square of unshattered but now useless plexi and plastic dominated a pile of parts that eventually filled up the foot well area of the back right passenger seat. Trim pieces filled up a plastic shopping bag, all too small to save but not exactly biodegradable either. Loose wires were taped up, and a final piece of trim (still secured to the car at the bottom, but flapping at the top) was tied up with line so it wouldn’t drag against the tire. And then we got back in (switching seats, since Andrew very kindly offered to take over driving), started the engine, and carefully crept back onto I-80.

After we got to SDYC I took this photo showing the damage to front grill, left headlight, left mirror, and car door. And there's a lot you can't see.

After we got to SDYC I took this photo showing the damage to front grill, left headlight, left mirror, and car door. And there’s a lot you can’t see.

Amazingly, the car drove as if it had never been hit. Yes, we were missing a headlight, and the left mirror (taped back into place) was too low even for me. But the steering, alignment, tires, and other key aspects were all working fine. We spent the next 2000 miles marveling about Audi engineering, which obviously had worked out what should be designed to self-sacrifice and what should be impact-resistant in a collision like this.

We drove through the night as planned, though I was too keyed up to sleep very much during that next shift. When I took over after sunrise, it started to get hot inside the car… and we realized we did have a serious issue: no AC. Unfortunately it wasn’t just a fuse, so we lived with open windows and sweat for the rest of the trip—just like our previous road trips together in older vehicles. The west side of the Rockies in the late afternoon was the worst, with a dropping sun beating in through the windshield. But the car was still going, so a little discomfort wasn’t going to stop us.

Our original plan was to stop somewhere the second night, but the hottest part of the drive still lay ahead.  So after a short dinner stop in Colorado we kept going through the night again, taking turns every time we filled up the gas tank and checking on each other in between. (“You okay?” “Yup.”) The outside temperature rarely went below 80 degrees through the desert that night, so it would’ve been brutal midday.

Andrew did admit he was getting a little sleepy at one point, but before we could get to an exit to switch drivers we were pulled over by a state trooper who had noticed our missing headlight. As soon as we explained that we were without AC and trying to get through the desert in the relative coolness of night, he let us go and wished us well. And the adrenaline kept Andrew awake for another two hours.

We rolled into San Diego Yacht Club in time for a well-deserved and delicious breakfast Thursday morning. Elapsed driving time from Jamestown to Point Loma was a mere 51 hours, a new personal record that I have no intention of trying to match or break any time soon. After filling our bellies and cleaning off the road grime with a long hot shower, we got back in the car again (minus the trailer) to head for the local Audi dealership.

Tune back in for part 2 of Deer in the Headlight to see what happens next.




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