‘Wait for meeee...’

This month’s Dave Selby column explores how ‘You can’t win a race at the start, but you can lose it,’ or so the saying

But getting to the start line in the first place can be a win in

Follow the link below to hear Dave’s latest podcast of his ‘Mad about the boat’ column from the December 2014 Practical Boat Owner magazine.

The issue is out in the shops tomorrow, Thursday 6 November, 2014.

Click here to download the latest podcast

Don’t get me started

There’s a common bond between sailors – a common language, even.

For no matter how far I travel from Maldon – to the mangrove-strangled upper reaches of the Crouch, where the dangerously shallow gene pool in the primitive hamlet of Burn’em has created a fierce tribe of chinless but alarmingly rosy-cheeked natives, or down sarf up the ‘Amble which is exactly the same, indeed wherever you find sailors in red trousers – I’ve never understood a word anyone has said.

Among the most ludicrous things they’ll tell you is that ‘the start of the race is critical: you can’t win it at the start, but you can lose it.’

Pardon me, but what does that mean? In my book the finish is just a bit more critical, ‘cos that’s where you lose it on account of other people getting there first!

What they have overlooked is that getting as far as the start, or anywhere within the same hemisphere, is far more testing, especially if you’re local.

Take the Maldon Town Regatta, and in particular Gwilym Newnham who towed his 16ft winkle brig 503 miles from County Clare in Ireland to win the 2014 PBO Miles to Maldon Trophy.

Lucky for him he didn’t keep his boat in Maldon: if he did, he’d find the logistics of getting downriver to the start damn near insurmountable.

It’s all to do with tides and stuff, which when you’ve a mud berth in Maldon where you’re afloat for three-and-a- half minutes either side of high water (on Springs) is all a bit critical.

I’d consulted the al-maniac, which said it couldn’t be done as it would have involved leaving in
the dark and that would have involved hitting things, or being hit, as I don’t have nav lights.

I was perplexed, so I went to the Queen’s Head where I consulted both of Maldon’s greatest minds… and ended up more perplexed, and poorer. These sages don’t give of their knowledge cheaply.

They’d suggested crazy things like anchoring overnight, in the dark.

‘My anchor is purely decorative’

Madness. In the first place, my anchor is purely decorative – it gives a nice nautical look to my ensemble; second, I don’t like getting it muddy; and C, I’ve only got about 3in of anchor chain, more than enough for a mud-berth in Maldon.

Then there was my crew James, who’d been going on about how desperately keen he was to sail with me in the regatta, then booked a holiday in France and was arriving back late the night before the race.

If I’d anchored I’d need my tender to pick him up, and as my tender is bigger than my boat I felt that towing it throughout the race would hamper my pace, unless I sailed the tender and towed my boat (it was a passing thought).

The trouble with crew is that you can’t be too picky, and I count myself lucky to have James, a long-haired loft-insulator fisherman drummer who I’d hand-picked on account of his special attributes: he knows nothing about sailing, so he isn’t aware what mortal danger he’s in every time he comes out with me.

Like most skippers, I’m desperate, so I agreed to sail to Bradwell Marina the day before, where James could hop aboard, eat all my food and drink the boat dry – apart from the bilges.

And it still meant we had to leave brutally early to escape Bradwell before low water. And still we hadn’t yet made it to the 8.40 start off the Nass Beacon.

As the fleet began jockeying for position in the flukiest of light airs everyone got in my way, and just as the gun went they all got lucky and caught the only puff of wind there was the whole day, edging away from us stragglers.

As I tacked back and forth against the incoming flood, James smoked cigarettes and created a cloud of thick fug that hung over the cockpit.

Even so, in relative terms I thought we were doing OK because there were still a few boats behind us, even though the Nass Beacon was still in front of us.

For a fleeting moment I got very excited when I looked behind and couldn’t see the Nass Beacon. It was now beside us. At least we were making leeway.

In all honesty, I’m not sure we ever actually crossed the start: after a while they removed it altogether when the committee boat marking the line upped anchor and headed back.

But it was a sunny, warm September day, and once we gave up we had a lovely waft upriver, enjoying the spectacle of spinnakers, tan-sailed smacks and gorgeous classic yachts.

That was the prize. It’s not about the start or the finish. Of course, James being a fisherman, which means he has no soul – and rarely any sole – said: ‘Thanks matey, put me down for next year.’

That’s what it’s all about.