When it comes to elite sports, few can match yachting, the game of millionaires and kings. True or false?
Doubtless there are men and women of immeasurable wealth still skipping across the whitecaps on sleek, perfect boats today and every day, but yachting is no longer their province alone.
Witness the July 4 weekend cruise organized and accomplished by a small band of working people we'll call the Stellar Navy.
For the last five years or so this loosely knit clutch of weekend vagabonds has traveled to far reaches of the Chesapeake Bay. Each skipper - there were five this year - plots - his own course and picks his own crew. The boats meet at predetermined spots and everyone drinks and eats to excess.
Among these people you win respect not by the size and cost of your boat, but the ability to thread your way into a crowded anchorage under full sail and carelessly drop the hook at precisely the right spot.
Of the five boats that made te cruise or parts of it this year, four cost less than a new Chevrolet. The fifth, a brand new $10,000 Chrysler sloop, was borrowed from a dealer.
Two of the yachts are old, immaculately kept wooden sloops that have taken thousands of hours in upkeep and repairs over the years.
Another two are Annapolis 25s, simple cruisers widely available on the used market for about $4,000. Upkeep is minimal, but they are smaller and less sea-kindly than the wooden boats.
Two years ago the owner, let's call him Jim, of one of the wooden boats remarked on the substance of yachting as a sport.
"The reason I own this boat," said Jim, "is to sail to Oxford and get drunk."
That mission was accomplished this weekend. He sailed out of West River at 2 p.m. Saturday with a crew of four, racing down the choppy water before a sharp northwest wind.
At the mouth of the river they bore off to the southeast, 20-knot breezes pushing them along under blue skies studded with puffs, fair-weather clouds. It's a 10-mile run down to Blackwalnut Point and the mouth of the Choptank on the Eastern Shore.
There the crew brought in the sheets for a thunderous reach up the river to the mouth of the Tred Avon. They fought the wind the mile or so upstream to the historic town of Oxford, and arrived at 8.
There were cheers and blasts of air horns from the assembled Stellar sailors as Jim's boat rounded out the fleet. Then came the beer, and more and more.
Sailing is a worrisome sport for the moderate of means, filled with fear of weather and bottom and torn and failing parts and pieces. When a voyage is done and anchor is set there is great (too great?) rejoicing.
By nightfall no one was left sober; by 9:30 half the drunken Navy had repaired to the Oxford Carry Out for dinner, ferried in the motorboat of a fleet supporter.
As they finished up meals of fish and shrimp on the screened dockporch they could hear, in the distance, the merry shouts of their colleagues. Soon came light up the river then horns and more shouts and finally the borrowed Chrysler, bursting with inebriated crew, lurching through the anchored masses toward the carry out.
There was much fumbling and stumbling and running aground, then phase II of the Stellar Navy invasion was being fed.
It seemed forever before they returned to achorage. At midnight the Chrysler came weaving back out the crew howling college fight songs and such forgettable juvenile tunes as "Maizy Doats." A floating frat house.
But foggy brains soon descended to sleep and the dead calm of moonbright night soon was broken only by the lapping of wavelets at shere hull sides.
The Navy was awake at sunup Sunday, ictims of a dragging anchor, cursing and sputtering in the dewy dawn. And then it was off for Wye Island and more carousing.
There are the lunatic fringes in the sport of kings and millionaires, and these days there are more of us than them.