‘Five boats lengths’ came the call from the back of the boat – The windward mark was rapidly approaching and there was a realisation that there was a job for me to do. What was it….oh yes, pole up – quick, otherwise the helm will shout at me if the kite does not go up upon demand. ‘One boat length’ phew the pole is up and ready, just in the knick of time – no time to relax though there will be a call of hoist very shortly!
‘Hoist’ – I felt all eyes were upon me, apparently I am quite demanding as a skipper and always suggest a good hoist results in the kite filling within a boat length of the mark. I have a slight advantage on Hydrocarbon; she is fifty foot long so I have a whole twelve foot more time to get the kite up than on our normal steed, the Reflex 38, to hit the target.
I was pulling the halyard like a mad man in an attempt to the able to practice what I preach. I was vaguely aware of a coil of rope developing at my feet as the pit person was obviously taken by surprise at the speed of the hoist – either that or he was half asleep when the call was made and was a slow starter! I could not slow down though as I had the bit between my teeth and was determined to get that kite up quicker than Richard Jefferies.
I just hoped that as I slowed down as the kite got heavier Brian would be able to catch me up. ‘Made’ I shouted back to the pit and looked down to see a short length of rope still to go. The kite was filling but I was adamant I was not going to let it go and held on as tight as I could, for as long as I could. As always the halyard won the battle as it burned through my hand! ‘Ouch,’ or something similar, I exclaimed as I let go, by which time the pit had just about caught up!
I should have known better! Brian as cheeky as ever just met my tirade of abuse with a simple ‘do you want to borrow my gloves?
’ Gloves I thought, now there is a top idea and it suddenly became clear as to why I see people fiddling around with their gloves before any work commences. Maybe now I will have more sympathy for the team who have to pull on ropes!
No time to stop – otherwise Tim will be on our backs if the jib does not come down quicker than quick enough. Straight to it, and then it was time to relax for a brief moment to enjoy the comment from the back of the boat ‘great hoist guys, that is one of the best!’ Note to myself – compliments are very well received up front!
Now with an element of reluctance I donned Brian’s gloves, I say ‘reluctance’ as they are not a sailing accessory that I am accustomed to using! My finger tips do not really suffer from chafe on the wheel! In my mind they have always been for wimps and vanity, but I conceded that it was time to eat humble pie and wear the appropriate clothing. ‘Prepare to gybe’ shouted Tim – ‘hang on’ I thought, ‘I have not got my gloves on.’ I decided that for peace and quiet on the foredeck it was best to delay my personal jobs and get to the mast for the forthcoming manouevre.
‘Trip’ shouted the helm – nothing happened as I just stared at the pole end. I was trying to understand why the pole was not coming down. Suddenly it dawned on me; it was my job to pull the trip line! Ooops, I had one job to do and I got it wrong! Hopefully no one noticed! If they had I would have just blamed it on the pole end and suggest it was an equipment malfunction! A technique that Phil Chandler has taught me well!
The rest of the race went very smoothly as jibs went up, kites came down, gybes were executed and then decisions on mark roundings were constantly changed, all in a blatant attempt to keep the foredeck team busy. At the front of the boat it is very clear that late calls are just as a result of the tacticians incapability of calling laylines properly and a clear lack of planning a suitable strategy in advance. Then when there is not quite enough time to sort the mess out properly before rounding the mark they seem to take out their frustrations of inadequacy on us lot at the sharp end!
There was a definite buzz on Hydrocarbon as we stormed across the line with a victory on corrected time. Our first Caribbean regatta and we had on our first race. Obviously at the front end we were quite confident that it was as a result of excellent teamwork and brilliant foredeck action. Clearly the brains at the back of the boat had a difference of opinion and felt the boat speed and tactics were the influencing factor.
Time to relax now before the next race begins. I slumped in the cockpit exhausted and slightly irritated that the people at the back of the boat who don’t really do that much during a race could not understand that we had just put our heart and soul into the race. To add insult to injury they were already munching on the Scooby snacks and drinking light refreshments! ‘Oh well, lets just join them I thought,’ and without even realising it, we had not really started to get the bow ready for the next race. At least we were not missing out on the social at the back of the boat though.
Tim suddenly sprung on us that the next race was starting in less than seven minutes. Uh oh
– my estimate suggested that we probably needed closer to eight minutes to get ready. My half eaten nectarine was deposited over the side (saving 30 secs of the prep time) as we rushed around like mad things trying to salvage some of our hard earned respect from the previous race. We just made it and crossed the line with all sails up. But that was about it, it is fair to say that we were off balance and the ‘last minute dot com’ nature of the race preparation was a clear refection of the performance on the race course.
We were unable to repeat the excellent form of the previous race and at the front end we were at the receiving end of a tirade of abuse with the least insulting compliment being ‘that was distinctly average.’ We sweated buckets in the intense Caribbean heat and put everything into the race, constantly rectifying errors and always ensuring the hoists and drops were close to perfect. We thought that under the circumstances we were doing a great job. It appeared that the back of the boat did not agree and after a particularly bad manouevre I sat on the rail sulking a little.
Wanting to understand more about life at the sharp end I casually asked Joseph, our experienced foredeck man, if all skippers acted in this way and spoke to the crew like this. He smiled at me with a glint in his eye and promptly retorted ‘every single f***ing one of them, without exception!’
I was both emotionally and physically spent at the end of the race. At times I was hating it and wondering where I would get the energy from for the next hoist! Not sure what it is about yacht racing though, but when we got to the bar for a well earned beer there was nothing but smiles all round. We had in fact had an amazing day on the water and the news we had secured a fourth place in the Commodores Cup was met with significant enthusiasm. All the bad parts had long since been forgotten to the extent that I actually question whether there were any bad parts!
The good news came when Joseph assured me that his big toe was recovering well (he dropped the anchor locker hatch on it the day before!) He promised me that he would be able to do mast the next day and would let me return to the back of the boat to get more chafe on my finger tips!
Four big lessons were learnt by spending a day at the mast:
- The importance of sometimes racing in a different positions to improve the understanding of the full dynamics of a race team
- At the end of the race ensure the boat is ready for the next race before relaxing, including bagging the jib
- Everyone should help tidy the boat and no one should have refreshments until the job is done
- DON’T DO MAST – The body is guaranteed to hurt for days after!