Tuesday, 20 August 2013
Thrown in at the deep end
Mr B has considerable experience in the past, but my experience comes from dinghy sailing over 40 years ago and a bit of sailing with Pip which didn’t amount to much because, as soon as we moved in together, he proceeded to rip the boat apart to refurbish her.
So basically I turned up for the first day of racing (luckily Mr B was crewing that day) with no idea what to expect. I left, shaken and trembling. I'd thrown myself into a largely male environment of very experienced sailors (our helmsman, Keith, has sailed the Fastnet Race several times). And of course I was going to be expected to keep up.
Looking back, it was incredibly generous of them to let me have a go at all. I was so terrified I couldn’t eat or sleep, just wondered what the hell I had let myself in for and I was terrified of letting them down. Mr B gave me a lot of practical advice gleaned from his first day, but my stomach still lurches thinking about that first trip. So, I was sailing on a strange boat with strange men, having no experience. Everyone else knew their boats, their crew and the stretch of river where we were sailing – ie. where all the buoys are.
To explain briefly a little of what’s involved in racing: you sail out to where the race boat is and about half an hour before the race is due to begin, the course is hung over the edge of the boat. You have to make a note of all the buoys then chart the course, including finding the start line. This is a lot harder than it sounds, as all the other boats are thrashing around the race boat trying to do the same thing, and it’s not easy to read the course when you’re flying past at speed. Also, when you don’t know which buoy is which and where, it’s not easy to chart the course. All of this is done at high speed and under pressure, as the skipper needs to know where to be for the start, which is usually in about 5minutes. So, no pressure then.
From then on, apart from the physical sailing – ie, tacking and gybing, balancing the boat out (sitting right out on the side when we heeled over), tightening the backstays when we tacked etc., it’s vital to keep an eagle eye out for other boats to avoid collisions, have the next buoy in mind so you know where exactly where we’re going and can tell the skipper, and checking the sails. Well, that’s just some of what’s involved as crew.
But on the second day, I began to get the hang of it. I thought, OK I’ve got SO much to learn, but I love this. I love reacting really quickly, I like being treated as an honorary bloke and I don’t mind being shouted at because in racing it’s essential that everyone moves and reacts really quickly.
We came second that day (first the day before, but that was before the handicaps are taken into account), and I was so relieved that I hadn’t let the others down, I nearly burst into tears. I am very fortunate in sailing with Alan, the owner, who, along with his wife have become very good friends, and Keith, who taught me so much in two short days. When I gave him a hug he grinned broadly and said, “Sue, it was a privilege.” Which nearly made me cry all over again.
So last week was an emotional and physical rollercoaster. I am covered in bruises from being thrown about the boat when it was very windy but I don’t care (though several people thought Mr B had been whacking me. He hasn’t.) I got us all t shirts with SNAP written on the front, and Alan was so delighted he hasn't taken his off since.... The men had several races and Bonded well so the plan is to do it all again next August, by which time I am determined to be a much better sailor.
And, of course, to keep on writing about it.