Thursday, October 31, 2013

Meine Suche (My Search in Germany) Part 1

Germany (118)You’re on a quest. That was Mark’s answer when I wondered aloud, in the middle of the trip, what, exactly I was doing.

Ever since our Germany trip last year, when I realized that I had been within a few miles of the birthplaces of some of my great-grandparents, I thought of going back. Seeing Mark’s grandmother’s house on the island of Brac, in Croatia, stirred my desire to do some digging for my own roots.

I didn’t think we would go back to Germany so soon. However, I have once again learned to be careful what you wish for. Mark had another business trip to Strasbourg like the one in June when we went to Paris. This time the trip coincided with the start of the major Muslim holiday of Eid, which is kind of like Christmas, and Mark had a week off at the end of the trip. We decided to take advantage of his free flight, reluctantly cancelled the plans we had already made to go to Oman – we love Oman, it’s like our Mexico in the Middle East – and booked me a ticket to Frankfurt.

The plan: to take it day by day. Meanwhile, with two weeks to research, I joined Both of my parents are German/Irish. All of my great-great grandparents on both sides of the family immigrated to America in the 1860’s. Fortunately, I had quite a bit of information already at hand. My cousin Sue compiled a family history of Dad’s side during the early 1990’s so I had the Schreiber/Kessler family tree and some other information from that in my computer. My Aunt Louise had done considerable research on my mother’s side, and I had a printout of her Youngblood/Schulte family tree.


Once I began building my family tree, the website provided “hints” which I could view. I soon found that distant relatives had been busy on the site already, and I was able to corroborate information, add birth, marriage, and death dates, and narrow down birthplaces from regions to specific towns. Then, I mapped the towns on Google Earth.

There were two areas near Dusseldorf and Cologne where several small towns were clustered together, the birthplaces of relatives from both sides. Only Grandpa Adolph Schreiber was from the north, between Hamburg and Berlin. When I counted up the towns, they added up to … eleven! I didn’t expect to make it to all of them.

Germany-Europe 2
Mark picked me up at the Frankfurt airport on a Wednesday afternoon. We had eight days in Germany until my Etihad redeye flight on Thursday of the next week, with Mark following the next day in Emirates Business Class. The only hotel reservations we had made were the first two nights in Dusseldorf, at a Marriott Courtyard hotel. It’s a nice business hotel on the other side of the Rhine River from the Altstadt, or Old Town. We had agreed that this would a budget-friendly trip, as Mark earns Marriott points.

Days 1 & 2: Dusseldorf
Guard dog at the brauhaus.

Mark needed to unwind a bit after his week of meetings, so our main goal in Dusseldorf was to see the Altstadt. Dusseldorf’s tourism industry promotes the Altstadt as “the world’s longest bar” on weekends when the streets are lined with café tables where people are drinking inside and out at the beer halls. We were there on Thursday morning, arriving just as some of the shops and cafes where opening. This seems to be our pattern these days, usually avoiding the swarming tour bus crowds getting that “I was here” photo during the day and hordes of hipsters and other youngers roaming the planet in search of a good party at night. We get in early, and get out early.

Outdoor bar, Uerige brewery
Things were quiet. We wanted to try the city’s signature Altbier, a hoppy, amber colored brew that is light but richer and a bit fruitier than the clear, clean Kölsch brewed in Cologne. Ambling through town, we stopped in at the brewery closest to the river. Uerige has been brewing since 1862, and it operates the perfect, classic, rambling German beer hall. At 11:00 a.m. there were already a few groups occupying cozy corners in small rooms here and there, a main hall, empty this early but clearly well used by boisterous crowds, and a few tables in the front room where groups of mostly men sat, with perhaps one woman at the table. Everyone looked up and some greeted us with a “Morgen,” as we passed by on our look-around.  We chose a table in the front room where we could watch the swarthy faced men and listen to their German conversation and frequent, hearty laughter. The bartender brought beers without our asking, and made pencil swipes on a cardboard coaster for each round consumed. Presently, he began to bring food to the other tables, which looked mostly like bagel sandwiches. I decided to hold off. I would be eating and drinking my way through Germany soon enough.

Cured meats are big in Germany.With a couple of rounds under our belts, we continued our walking tour of Dusseldorf, heading throught the outdoor market, down to the Rhine riverfront, then on to the Konigsallee, or King’s Lane, the “Champs Elysees of Germany,” with its Gucci and Louis Vuitton stores. On the way back to the parking garage, we stopped in a wine store. We are drinkers of wine more than beer, and Germany makes some delicious wine in the Rhine and Mosel regions.

Buying Lebanese wine in GermanyAs Mark was looking at bottles and getting advice, I thought to ask if we could taste before we made our choice. Certainly! Chatting with the young man who was advising us, I mentioned that I was looking for some family history. I mentioned the maiden name of one of my great-grandmothers, Krischer. “My girlfriend’s name is Krischer,” he said. We could be related! We’ll never know, and this was just the first of several examples of how common my German family names are. However, my search was for signs of my heritage in the landscape, not for people. We left the store with a few bottles, not all of them from Germany. Did you know that Lebanon’s Bekka Valley produces some delicious wines?

Autumn colors at the outdoor market in Dusseldorf.We were visiting Germany during the “shoulder season.” Between Oktoberfest and the December Christmas markets, is “wild” season, when restaurants feature dishes made with wild mushrooms, pumpkin, and game meats. Although Germany is famous for its sausage and sauerkraut, which I am proud to say I love, and its schnitzel and spaetzle, which I love not so much, they also serve many dishes that are based on fresh, local, seasonal ingredients. We ate at the hotel’s Restaurant am Seestern both nights, which featured a special pumpkin menu. I had an absolutely delicious pumpkin soup the first night, garnished with roasted seeds, and a wonderful schweinfleisch (pork) and pumpkin dish the second night. It was a good start, food-wise.

The bronze sculpture "Monument of grant privileges of Düsseldorf" is a distillation of 700 years of the history of Dusseldorf.

Other things were not quite as great, such as the weather. The temperatures were in the 60’s and the sky alternated between gloomy and threatening. This was no problem, since we knew it would be cool and damp and had packed accordingly. In fact, I had been looking forward to wearing the warm clothes sitting in the closet in Abu Dhabi – my Italian leather boots and trench coat, and a scarf from Greece.

Without much time to plan the trip, we had the luxury of a completely open itinerary. We had nothing booked, so there was nothing to cancel. We had a comfortable rental car. It was rainy weather. We were on a road trip in Germany. Let’s hit the road.

Day 3: Lennestadt
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We decided to head north to the Schreiber birthplace in Lubeck, just northeast of Hamburg. On the way, an hour east of Dusseldorf, was a cluster of ancestor birthplace towns. The first stop was Kirchveischede where my great-great grandmother Anna Asmann was born in 1825. It was rainy, everything was closed up, and there was nobody around, but what a charming village.

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The small villages dotting this area are now collectively known as Lennestadt. It turns out that I have ancestors on both sides of the family who were born in four of the villages in Lennestadt. No wonder I love to wander in the woods!

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The half-timbered structures, which housed people, cattle, and crops, were built in the late 18th century. My grandmother was probably born in one of these. This structure was built in 1784, renovated in 1982.

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At the time of Anna’s birth in 1825, the population of the entire village was about 300, a 25% increase from the previous century – a population explosion that had begun in 1775. Back then, people subsistence farmed. As the population increased in the 18th century, arable land in this hilly, wooded country was scarce. Landless people lived with landowners or in outbuildings and worked as laborers or artisans. Political turbulence and lack of improvement in the economic structure meant times were hard.

During the years that Anna was growing up, many people emigrated, and Anna’s family was among them. They immigrated to Detroit in 1935, when Anna was 10 years old. In 1849 Anna married Christopher Kessler, who was from St. Vith, a town 100 miles to the southwest of Kirchveischede in what is now Belgium. More about St. Vith later.

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In the late 19th century, after Anna’s departure, the tobacco and cigar industry brought economic opportunity to the area. Today, people work in industries such as mining and metal processing, and the area’s natural beauty attracts recreation enthusiasts for hiking and biking. If the weather had been better, we might have elected to stay around and explore the beautiful countryside, and patronizing gasthauses and biergartens.

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Every city, town, village and hamlet in Germany features a church, which I was drawn to in each village. I wanted to look at the cemeteries, and see if I recognized any names. In Kirchveischede, I found graves with names from both Dad’s and Mom’s side of the family – Assman, Klein, and Schulte. They were for people who lived in the late 19th-20th centuries. Nothing older. No graves of people of Anna’s era, or earlier.


I had a printout of an old postcard, and I thought maybe I could recreate the shot but the black and white picture was too dark, the quality too poor. I can’t even make out the church steeple.

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I think that perhaps the post card picture was taken from the ridge on the opposite side of the valley from where Mark and I drove to take this photo.

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After spending some time exploring the church and grounds, it was time to move on to some of the other villages in Lennestadt where my ancestors were born – Odingen, Cobbenrode, and Eslohe.

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We bought bread at the Schulte bakery. My great-great grandfather Anthony Schulte was born in Cobbenrode in 1818. Anthony emigrated, and he married Elizabeth Blanke, who was born in 1825 in Minden, about 25 miles northwest. In 1853, they were married in St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Detroit. How, when, and where did they meet?

We stopped in a little grocery store on the ground floor of a house in Cobbenrode, similar to the one we found on Brac in Croatia. I brought out my family tree and tried to explain that my Schulte great-grandfather was born there. The two women running the store looked at it, and shrugged a little, then beckoned a man over whose name was apparently Schulte. He looked at the names, shook his head, and said, “Interesting.” Yes, they all agreed. Interesting. But nothing more.

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A great-great-great grandfather on my Mom’s side, Johannes B. Schulte, was born in Odingen in 1782. His wife, Maria Emmerling, was from nearby Eslohe, where she was born in 1788. They died in 1849 and 1847, respectively. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any graves that old in any of the villages. Maybe I wasn’t looking in the right places. Maybe some day I can visit again, with a bicycle, in sunny weather, and look more closely. I figure, based on those good Schulte genes, I have lots of time.

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It was fall, the colors were beautiful, but it was also raining miserably, and Mark didn’t feel good. In addition to a pain in his gut, which comes and goes depending on what he eats, he was coming down with a cold. Yeah. So, while I traipsed through graveyards in the rain, he waited in the car. We stopped at a bakery where I got my coffee and strudel fix, he had tea, and then we hit the road for Lubeck.

It took two hours longer than we expected. Thank heaven for navigation systems in rental cars, with the soothingly familiar British-accented female voice saying “Prepare to keep left,” and “Stay on this road for a long time.” Not so good is when she says, “There are traffic problems on your route.” We heard this a lot. A word of advice: do NOT fall for the “alternate route” trick. The British lady knows only about the traffic on the main highway. She does not realize that all of the alternate routes are as plugged up as the sink on Thanksgiving, and she is sending you on a wild turkey chase. Am I getting homesick for a family Thanksgiving? Anyway, road work was usually the cause.

We arrived in Lubeck at dusk and checked into the Hotel Excellent on the edge of the town center, which is on an island in the Trave river. The hotel building once housed the immigration office. We had to haul our heavy bags up two flights of stairs, but our room looked out onto the water.

We walked into town for dinner and on the way back it began to rain. That night I woke up to hear a wild thrashing, and looked outside to see the trees outside our window whipping in the wind, rain beating down on the street, and waves on the water.

The melancholy weather wasn't going to deter me, but it added to my sense that I was traveling back in time, to follow in the footsteps of my ancestors, and to learn a little about what life in Germany was like for them.

Next: A taste of Lubeck, and on to Berlin.

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Sunday, October 27, 2013

Abu Dhabi Match Racing – Growing the sport in Abu Dhabi

Team ADCA, in new crew shirts.

The sailing in Abu Dhabi is getting more interesting, most recently with two special event regattas, both sponsored by the Abu Dhabi Sailing and Yacht Club. ADSYC was established in 2011 – the same year Mark and I arrived in Abu Dhabi. They sponsor events in dhow sailing, yachting, dinghy sailing, surfing, rowing & kayaking.

Abu Dhabi Sailing and Yacht Club
The first event was the Abu Dhabi Match Race Trophy, the last weekend in September. There were two classes, Elliot 6 meter and Beneteau 7.5, both fleets provided by Miguel Contreras of Duboats. The racing was managed and umpired by international ISAF officials Manuel Dos Santos (Portugal), Andres Perez (Spain) and Rafael Bohorquez (Spain).


There were seven teams, and Team Unwind represented our club, Abu Dhabi Cruiser Association (ADCA.) Other teams represented Dubai Offshore Sailing Club, Emirates Heritage Club, Abu Dhabi Sailing Club, Emirates Palace Marina, Duboats and Abu Dhabi Sailing and Yacht Club.

Match Racing Team ADCA 008Neither Mark nor I had ever match raced before, and nobody else on the boat – Emiliano, Paolo, or Marco, had much more experience. At the skipper’s meeting, the ISAF judge explained the basic rules. One flag, two flag, red flag, blue flag. Yellow flag. Green flag. Three flag. Black flag. By the time the meeting ended, my head was swimming. When you watch the video at the end of this story, look for Mark and me at the end of the meeting, about 00:40 to 00:55. A bit dazed …

Match Racing Team ADCA 007

The first day was very relaxing. Emiliano had set up camp under a shade tent on the beach, and this was our headquarters between races. His darling daughters played happily on the beach all day. Mom was vacationing in Sri Lanka. Yep.

ADCA Match Racing 004The way match racing works is that there are four boats, with two boats racing at a time. Teams switch boats until they have raced all the other teams as many times as possible, depending on the wind and time constraints. When our turn came up to race, we were taken out to the racecourse on a powerboat. We lost both races, mainly because we “drew a foul” during the start that we had to clear, which essentially means doing a 360 degree turn. But we were learning, or so we thought.


After our first two races were over we went back to shore. Then it was lunchtime. The yacht club provided the lunches – a choice of chicken shawarma sandwich, which had french fries inside the sandwich …


… or biryani, a meat, rice and vegetable mixture seasoned with turmeric. Then there was a delay while the Muslim sailors went to the mosque to pray.

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Meanwhile, the wind got very light. In fact, so light that although we went out on the water again and watched the racing, we never got another turn to race that day. So, after waiting from noon until 5:30 p.m., with the sun getting low, we were told that we would have two sets of races the next day.

Match Racing Team ADCA 005

The next morning our tactician and helmsman, Paolo and Mark, went out on the powerboat to watch the racing and try to learn. When they came back they seemed to have a handle on the starting maneuvers and rules.

match racing

But when we got out there and into our starting sequence, all hell broke loose. We were getting flagged left and right. Mark kept saying, “We weren’t even close!” and the judge would come and explain that, somehow, we hadn’t done enough to show that we were trying to get out of other boat’s way when they had rights over us.

Match Racing Team ADCA (5)

Obviously we didn’t win. But we didn’t lose. There were only 5 teams the second day, we made it to the semi-finals, and actually came in 4th. I’m not sure how.

So … how did we like match racing? We don’t really know yet, but we think we just might not be match racers. To me, it just seemed like the whole point was to disqualify the other boat before the start – three fouls and it’s a black flag, so no race. So … you’re racing, but you don’t sail the race.

Match Racing Team ADCA 010For Mark, he enjoys close racing. Like, sometimes inches between very expensive boats. But in match racing, if you are anywhere close to the other boat they start screaming and yelling and forcing you into a foul if they can. This just isn’t the way I am used to racing. Some people love match racing, and I would like to talk with them. What am I missing? One thing I that I know I was missing was the feeling of competence.

I’ve been sailing for 45 years, but I found match racing confounding. Which means I will might someday sign up for a match racing clinic, which is a great way to learn.

ADCA Match Racing 008
Still, it was a great regatta. Why? It was a new experience. We were sailing on warm, flat water in front of the corniche with the Abu Dhabi skyline as our backdrop. We learned something, even if all we learned was how little we know. Here is the regatta report on the ADSYC website. And this video, which is very long, but Team Unwind/ADCA is featured in a lot of the footage from 2:20 to 9:00.

Coming up next: we redeem ourselves in the Abu Dhabi Yachting Cup.

Team ADCA is featured from 2:20 to 9:00

Abu Dhabi Yachting Cup–best regatta yet

Emiliano is the Commodore of ADCA this year. He is a great organizer, and works tirelessly to promote the sport of sailing and racing in Abu Dhabi. His Pacer 27 Unwind races continually, even when Emiliano cannot be on the boat.
This year the Abu Dhabi Yachting Cup included a one-design fleet of Farr 30’s. The boats, which competed in Sailing Arabia – The Tour last February, were provided by Oman Sail for charter. Emiliano chartered a Farr 30 our regular crew to sail, and recruited a crew and skipper to sail Unwind in the handicap class. He is the Commodore of ADCA this year, a great organizer, and works tirelessly to promote the sport of sailing and racing in Abu Dhabi. His Pacer 27 Unwind races continually, even when Emiliano cannot be on the boat.

Mark and I began the weekend without any expectation of doing well. We were both sick and taking antibiotics all week, still stuffy and coughing. We were also still smarting from our thrashing at the Abu Dhabi Match Racing regatta the month before, and we would be racing against some of the same sailors.
Farr 30

Neither Mark nor I had ever sailed on a Farr 30, but the moment we stepped on the boat, we both felt at home. It felt like a smaller version of our beloved CM1200 Raven, which we sold a few years ago.

The team.Needless to say, the crew had never sailed on the boat together. Emiliano, who recruits Italians whenever possible, found a really good main trimmer named Giulio. Marco, the other trimmer who usually works with me, couldn’t make the regatta, but his replacement was Lucio, who told me right off that he was a bit rusty and wasn’t too good with English. Matteo, who is in high school and usually spends most of his time on the rail on Unwind, was pressed into service in the pit, with Emiliano on the bow and Paolo as tactician and floater.

As we went out to practice, there was a great deal of discussion about how things would be done. As usual, most of it was in Italian. Although we have been sailing together for almost two years, we still struggle constantly with the communication gap – although it usually just makes us laugh.

The starting line was long and square to the wind, so our strategy for the first race, and all the others, was go for a clean start. Unfortunately, nobody was calling time. Suddenly we were started, and not trimmed in or on the line. This started the first round of discussions about that happened and why. It is always important to describe in detail what has just happened and why, and then discuss. Fortunately, mostly in Italian.

Yachting CupNever mind. As Emiliano always finally says, “It doesn’t matter.” It seemed that we were at least even on speed and point with our regular ADCA rival Idefix, the only boat in the fleet not from Oman. There were two other boats ahead of us, and one of them was the crew from Oman Sail, the other an Abu Dhabi club. We passed Idefix, rounded the upwind mark, and put up the spinnaker.

And we were fast. We jibed early to get away from the two boats ahead of us, and rounded the downwind mark in second place. Then we held on for the second upwind leg, and finished in second closing in behind the Omanis.

Sail Arabia-The Tour FleetAfter the race, the guy from Sail Oman who takes care of the boats and coaches the team, came alongside in an inflatable boat. He had talked to us before the race as well, as he did for all the boats, giving advice on how to rig them and sail them. “You did very well,” he said. “But you are not as fast upwind. Other than that, very good.” He gave us some advice and a thumbs up. Mark and I just looked at each other and smiled, a bit dumbfounded, because we have never, that I can remember, been coached like that during a regatta. He was helping us beat his Omani team! But he wanted everyone to be as good as possible. They were his fleet.

Omani mark weather markOn first upwind leg of the next race, we almost hit the Omanis. Mark and Giulio saw that we might not cross, and asked Paolo to call it. But somehow there was a lack of communication, and we were getting closer. “I want to duck!” Mark was yelling. “No! No!” was the response. Then more yelling. I thought maybe we were crossing, so I stayed on the rail and hiked out. Italians don’t know what “duck” means in sailing. They heard “tack.” So they were yelling don’t tack. But it sounded to us like they were telling us to tack, and Mark was saying it was too late. We couldn’t understand what they were yelling, which turned out to be “just-a go-a down-a.” Finally, when everyone on both boats was yelling at the top of their lungs, us in English and Italian and the Omanis in Arabic, I dove for the jib and we dove for their stern.

Then the main halyard slipped down, causing us to almost not make the mark, and we had to shoot it. Which means sail head to wind – I actually had to backwind the jib to push us away from the mark – and pray that the boat had enough speed to keep going, enough momentum to pass the mark, be able to steer, tack, and get going again in the right direction after rounding. Then, the spinnaker was caught between the main and the spreader – because we were hoisting from the main hatch, which I didn’t like doing but it wasn’t my call. Plus, it had a twist. Then everyone was yelling again, and I was trying to find some words to explain what was happening. I heard Paolo say, “Caramella!” It’s what the Italians say when the spinnaker is twisted. Like candy.

But we were fast again downwind, passed the Omanis, and kept the lead to win the race. Now the Omani guys were looking at us. We were good enough upwind, and faster downwind. We apologized for the bad duck, and they were really nice to us and said, “No worries.” For the rest of the regatta, it was us and them. On the third and final race that day, they took first.


That evening, there was a posh barbecue dinner on the floating dock at the Emirates Palace Marina.

The next day, we had one more short buoy race, then a coastal race upwind to a buoy and around Lulu Island, to finish in front of the Corniche. Things were tense on our boat. We had lost Giulio, who could only get a one-day pass from the “war department” (if his wife is reading this I am sorry, please no offense) and his replacement was a couple. They were Greek. Demetrius sails a TP52 and his girlfriend Marina sails big boats as well, all over the world. Very experienced, but not much English. Now, there was a whole lot more discussion about everything. I had been struggling with Lucio, he was the first to admit that he was having trouble. He kept pulling the guy too much, or letting it off too much, or doing the opposite of what was needed. Then everyone would yell something at him, Italian, English, and maybe some Greek thrown in, I don’t know. What a guy! He never gave up, never melted down.

It was cutthroat. At the top mark, the Omanis came in on port, tacked, and called for room. They yelled, “Yalla! Yalla! Yalla!” And some other stuff in Arabic. They had plenty of room on the mark, but still wanted us to go wider. After the spinnaker set they tried to take us up, were not even close, but still yelled. I normally don’t do the yelling, but by this time, after all the yelling at each other on our own boat, and being so close in the regatta, I really got into it. I yelled right back at them. Come on up, you guys! You have room! They were all looking at our boat, watching me yell at them. It was so much fun.

We won that buoy race. So we were tied with the Omanis, each with six points.

Abu Dhabi Yachting Cup finishWe took third in the coastal race, with the Omanis in second. The Abu Dhabi Sailing Club team that trashed us and took second in the match racing got a good start, sailed a good upwind leg, and got away while we were duking it out downwind with the Omanis. Plus, we took our spinnaker down for the close reach along the Corniche, and it turned out that we could carry it. After the race, the Sail Oman coach came over and told us that if we hadn’t made that mistake, we could have won. It was that close.

ADSYC awards 007

And so it goes. We were still overjoyed at how well we did. Overall, it was Oman Sail in first, team Unwind/ADCA in second, and ADSC in third. “You need to have some girls on your boat,” I called out to the Omanis after the finish. “Yalla!” they said. Come on!

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It was great to be on the podium next to the Omanis. And, in addition to the second place trophy, we will collect a sizeable cash prize for ADCA. I had brought a bottle of champagne, and we toasted our team.

Paolo's son Matteo tuned out to be a super pitman.

It was Matteo who, at the end of the regatta, had done the most amazing job, picking up on everything and running the pit. “Matteo,” I said to him. “I think you are a new level in your sailing.” “Yes,” he said. “I think so. I liked doing the pit.” Of course, Matteo is the only one on the boat who speaks both English and Italian. Come to think of it, I’ll bet his ears are on fire sometimes!

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 After all that yelling, we are better friends than ever.

Another ADCA boat, the new J80 Mistress, took first in their division.

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What a great regatta! Mark wanted to just keep celebrating.

Thanks to for the regatta photos.