Despite subscribing to a leisurely sailing ethos, Dave finds himself accepting a sailing prize. Which had been won by someone else
This is the ultimate PBO tip-top top-tip racing tip: if it’s trophies you’re after you can get as much dented pewter as you like for a quid a pop at any decent boat jumble or car boot sale. All you have to do is empty the ashes, plonk the tin-ware on your sideboard and bask in the dimly reflected glory of your tarnished achievements.
That’s how I normally approach racing, but something rather odd just happened. I just bagged an actual trophy. That’s pretty remarkable, for if racing is in the blood I’ve got seven pints of Horlicks in mine, with a dash of laudanum. These are not the genes of your average Ben Ainslie type. Basically, I go sailing to slow down and chill out.
My view is that the longer it takes you to get there, the better. Indeed, if I was in a hurry I’d probably walk. My role model here is Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, who took Suhaili round the world at 31⁄2mph – which is actually quite brisk for a gentle stroll.
Yet nevertheless, once a year, my lust for glory rises to the surface for the Maldon Town Regatta. It’s well known among the Sailfish fraternity that my Sailfish is slower than all the rest – no one’s yet explained
it to my satisfaction – so this year, as there were three Sailfishes entered, and there are only three prizes in the Sailfish class, I decided to sail on a 60-year-old classic wooden boat.
As the Sailfish trio skipped off to the horizon in a tight formation, like a crack aerobatic display team, we lumbered along being overtaken by beautiful varnished yachts. Most were considerably larger, so it bothered us little. Some were a similar size, but that’s one of the great things about old wooden boats. Even with ones that are dimensionally comparable, the endless permutations of time, age, rig, build, layout, ballast, sail plan, set-up, wood-burning stoves, oil lamps, bilge and utter bilge mean there’s a fund of excuses. Because of that, most wooden-boat sailors are convinced they’re outperforming their boat.
You can’t get away with that in a Sailfish. So, as boats continued to overtake us we wallowed in our pleasant, unshakeable delusions of adequacy and the courage of our assumptions. We were even rather encouraged to smugness by the fact we were keeping pace with a larger wooden gaffer owned by an eminent yotting journalist, until, with a ‘what can you do?’ shrug of the shoulders, he thumbed at his wake and explained: ‘three- bladed prop’. What a drag, and we thought we’d been doing OK, when in reality he was outperforming his boat even more than we were. I knew the guy was an expert.
The final reality check came when the only other surviving example of our boat in the entire world, a 231⁄2ft Bermudan-rigged Blackwater sloop, breezed by us as if we were at anchor.
What’s more, it only had the owner on board. That’s when it twigged. Basically, my presence on board makes boats go slower. I know that.
You’ll kind of get the picture if I just tell you that by the time we arrived at the Osea Island finish, the Sailfish trio were just rising from their naps after three-course roast dinners. We, on the other hand, just had time to drop anchor, relax for three-and-a-half seconds, then swiftly raise it for the start of the second race, the Parade of Sail into Maldon. In our case, this was a pretty routine Charade of Fail. None of this disappointed me. It’s what I expect when I’m on board.
Yet, for all that, whenever prizes are given out I can’t help thinking I might bag a trophy. And I did. It wasn’t the pumpkin prize, which went to a 10.4kg whopper. It wasn’t the rubber duck race. It wasn’t even the hotly-contested seamanship trophy, which normally goes to someone who’s cocked up, then heroically and dramatically retrieves the situation: I’ve only ever managed the first bit of that. In fact, I don’t actually know what my prize was for.
Like any decent sailing event, the Maldon Town Regatta has more trophies than the summer Olympics, and at the prize-giving the top sailors turn up with wheelbarrows to cart off their silverware. Meanwhile, all I was filling up with was uncontrollable envy. That was until the compère awarded a trophy to an absentee winner and asked for someone to take it on their behalf. I seized the moment, walked forward, shook hands, grabbed the trophy and posed for a photo which never appeared in the local paper. I even got a faint ripple of applause.
But it didn’t stop there. I spent the evening showing off my fraudulent trophy in the Queen’s Head, while the trophy-less eminent yotting journalist shrugged ‘three- bladed prop’ late into the night. The wonderful, colourful pageant of the Maldon Town Regatta on a balmy September day makes everyone feel like a winner. It’s an education too. Next year, if I’m on a classic I’m pretty certain it’ll have a ‘four-bladed prop’!
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