Picture from www.madison.com
There was no mistaking the sound of the snap.
"It's metal breaking," Meg Six was saying Wednesday. "It was pretty loud."
Earlier this month, at the Midwest qualifier for the Inter-Collegiate Sailing Association's single-handed national championships in Texas in November, something happened on Lake Michigan that Six had never witnessed before in a sailboat racing career that began in Lake Geneva when she was 13.
Six, a UW-Madison sophomore, races for the University of Wisconsin Sailing Team. It's a club sport on the Madison campus, but the team is highly competitive even against varsity squads.
In the first of three races scheduled for Oct. 11 in the chilly water off Milwaukee, Six was running second behind her Wisconsin teammate, Christine Porter, and just ahead of Lauren Knoles of Michigan State.
But that Sunday morning, the unthinkable happened. Racing just behind Porter and Six of Wisconsin, Knoles was making adjustments on her boat, aiming for more bend in the mast, when the mast snapped nearly in two.
Six, closest to Knoles, called out, "Are you OK?"
Knoles yelled back. "I'm fine."
But she wasn't, not really. There were tears on her cheeks.
Six could tell that Knoles' boat was completely disabled. It meant the defending champion and current regatta leader would not only not finish the race, she would also miss Sunday's last two races and fail to qualify for nationals.
The top two women in the Midwest qualifier would advance to the national championships next month in Corpus Christi. But the qualifying regatta is a cumulative event - seven races over the Oct. 10-11 weekend - and by the first race Sunday, the fourth overall, Meg Six was out of contention for nationals. She'd been battling illness since summer and had not had a good regatta.
Knoles of Michigan State was first overall starting Sunday morning. The junior is a highly accomplished sailor, having won the Midwest qualifier her freshman and sophomore years. She finished fifth nationally last year.
Porter, now leading, called over to her teammate Six.
"Somebody should give up their boat," Porter said.
"Christine is a competitor and didn't want to win by default," Six said this week.
Six swung her boat around until she was next to Knoles. "Lauren," Six said, "do you want my boat?"
At first, Knoles appeared stunned by the offer. Then she called out a thank you and the two women switched boats.
"I wasn't going to qualify," Six said. "I wanted the best sailor to compete. Lauren is a great sailor. It wouldn't be right if she couldn't go to nationals."
Six was towed in by a power boat, and missed the last two Sunday races.
Knoles scored no points for the first race Sunday - switching boats was the equivalent of not finishing that race - but using Six's boat she finished well in the final two races and qualified for the national regatta. Porter of Wisconsin qualified as well, and the two women will represent the Midwest in Corpus Christi Nov. 6-8.
Six's sportsmanship did not go unnoticed. She's received notes and e-mails from the Michigan State campus, and she was named "sailor of the week" by U.S. Sailing.
But the best reaction may have come that Sunday morning, only moments after Six gave up her boat, when her teammate Christine Porter came sailing by Meg in the disabled boat and yelled, "You're my hero!"
The line forms behind Christine.