Not entirely sure if he has what it takes to become a competitive sailor, Dave issues a treatise on the distinctive apparel, native cunning and persuasiveness of the racing breed
They say racing improves the breed, but in actual fact it’s a different breed that goes racing.
For a start, they dress a bit funny.
Their jackets are made out of old carbon racing sails with great big numbers and GB on them – and if you’ve got one with the battens left in you have to go through doors sideways. Such are the sacrifices they make for fashion.
Then there’s the rugby shirts emblazoned with names of private banks and rakishly upturned fully-battened collars that come just above the top of their heads like Elvis’s Vegas jumpsuits.
You’d think they’d be a bit more concerned about windage.
The reason I’m telling you this is so you know how to identify the breed, and steer clear. And that’s because the only creature more devious than a cruising skipper on the lookout for crew is a racing skipper on the lookout for crew.
They’re witty, wise, jovial, full of bonhomie, joie de vivre and other French stuff, great company and generous.
That’s when they’re in their natural environment, which is at the helm of a barstool.
And that’s how come I ended up standing on the hard at the Blackwater Sailing Club one cold Sunday morning in April.
I’d fallen prey to one of the masters of the art. It started innocently enough with ‘fancy a pint, old boy?’ As Tommy strained to reach for his back pocket I think I heard one of his battens crack. He then praised the pert lines, sharp performance and eagerness of all Sailfishes – mine included.
I felt confused but mostly flattered, as I’ve never heard anyone apart from Sailfish owners say anything nice about Sailfishes.
Tommy asked if I fancied another pint, I said yes, then another, I said yes, he said nice things about my dog, which puzzled and annoyed Bart, then asked if I fancied going racing on Sunday, and I said yes. Of course I meant no, but it came out all wrong.
Being a racing sailor, Tommy quite often uses words like ‘commitment’ and ‘team spirit’, so I knew there was no backing out. Once we’d been weighed and signed a sheaf of ‘routine’ waivers relinquishing all human rights including compensation for post traumatic stress disorder, we hopped aboard Tommy’s new weapon, a Beneteau First Class 8 previously called Geronimo, but which Tommy now referred to as ‘Geronimooooooo-War-Cry-of-The-Sioooooooux’ each time he called up on the VHF.
You could tell this was a serious racing machine. It had no toilet, and its sails were made out of old racing jackets with numbers and GB on them. It had an adjustable split backstay, running backstays and not an inch of deck that didn’t have a clutch, cleat, jammer, winch, block, traveller, car or something else to trip over. It made sunbathing impossible.
The rest of the day was a blur. It’s Wednesday now, and I still ache… and that’s just my ears. The rest of me is a lacerated bruise. Still, I learned a lot and some of it’s beginning to come back to me, most often as I find myself in bed, sitting bolt upright in a pool of sweat at 3am.
The conditions on race day had been far from ideal. There was wind. I was on the winch, and each time we tacked Tommy shouted ‘skirt, skirt, skirt!’
I scanned the Blackwater hopefully, but couldn’t see any. Then Tommy shouted ‘concentrate!’ I still couldn’t see any. Turns out ‘skirt’ is the command to lift the genoa foot over the stanchions.
Downwind, Tommy bellowed ‘collar, collar, collar’, which is the command to increase sail area by raising the battened collar on the rugby shirt I didn’t have. And that’s just one of the reasons I’m a useless racing sailor.
But I did have one thing going for me – my 12-stone bulk. Tommy deployed my talent in this area to inflict waterboarding, with a twist – positioning me on the side deck with my bum precisely on top of the protruding knob of the genoa car. They say there’s no gain without pain, but there is pain without gain.
We didn’t win.
There was once an ad in the Blackwater Sailing Club that ran something like: ‘Brilliant race-winning skipper requires super-fit young crew with own jackets made out of old carbon sails for proven race-winning boat – conditions apply’.
Underneath, Tommy had written: ‘On the other hand, if you want to sail with me I’ll buy you beer and pasties’.
Tommy runs a happy boat, is a great sailor and generous host. And in The Queen’s Head the following week, he chimed in his chummy, cheery, clubbable way: ‘Wot-O, Dave, fancy racing on Sunday?’
That’s how desperate racing skippers are.
You know what, I’m thinking about it.
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