Sydney winters are an interesting time to sail: an “average” day of 10 to 15 knots is rare but you get a lot of extremes – days with almost no breeze (and at times some sunshine to compensate but that’s not a given) and days with so much of it that races are on the verge of being cancelled.
Race 2 of the Winter series had us sitting in a hole for ages as our entire division caught up to us and then overtook us; the forecast for the next week looked like a complete opposite: gusty 20-30 knots and rain. Race 3 was also on Mother’s Day.
We had a long and very warm summer and autumn this year so the first cold days came as a complete shock. I generally find myself unable to complain about the cold too much because even after living in Australia for over 10 years I still hear that a Russian person, let alone a person from Siberia, can’t possibly feel cold in 10 degrees. I just glare from under my fur hat. Just kidding, I just sit there with my eyes closed.
Inshore races generally get cancelled when there is a gale warning and I’m not going to lie, I was waiting for that warning with almost the same trepidation I feel as I wait for my toddler to start sleeping better. A cancelled race, some restful sleep and being able to read all by myself with a cup of hot tea were the only things I really wanted for Mother’s Day, and I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be getting the last two things. So when the committee announced that the race would proceed it was a blow.
I saw no possibility of cancelling and just not showing up either. Sailboats really need crew on windy days (especially heavy crew so you should have a big breakfast if it’s blowing outside) and pulling out on a windy day is bad form. So I cursed and put a lot of layers on myself and used my Russian glare on the Uber driver who thought I was a tradie wearing some kind of work clothes when he saw my wet weather gear.
And man, did we had some fun that day. I got to sail with a couple of people who I haven’t seen in a few years, people I really like, and all the usual suspects. We didn’t break anything. There was a lot of grinding involved and a lot of splashing but I managed to stay dry. We forgot the only spinnaker we could’ve used (a fractional symmetrical kite). We put a reef on and then shook it out. I was shouting “weeeeeee!” through every gust of 35 knots. We rounded up a few times and we had to crash tack because of a boat that appeared seemingly out of nowhere. I lost another hat. And after the race tea and red wine tasted better than they ever did before.
Turns out I don’t mind an inshore race in 30 knots, after all. Thanks Bureau of Meteorology for not issuing a gale warning and thanks CYCA for not cancelling the race, obviously you know better than me what’s good for all of us.
I had a long break from sailboat racing, from the early days of my pregnancy until my daughter was almost a year and a half. Partially it was because becoming a parent turned out to be an all-consuming task not leaving time for much else, especially in that first year (babies generally like having their mothers close by at all times and I was happy enough to oblige), but there was also a bit of fatigue involved.
My boat ownership was a mixed bag of exhilaration at its best and frustration and hopelessness at its worst. The older boat required a lot of patient investment of time and money culminating in a replacement of the keel and while I got some help from friends I was never competent enough to do any repairs myself and wasn’t cashed up enough to delegate them to someone else entirely. What was even more painful, even with experienced crew I never got to the point when I felt confident enough as a skipper of a sports boat – every time a race came around I would be obsessively checking the forecast worrying that I would lose control of the boat and smash into someone else or that something would break and hurt people in the process (de-masting is not all that rare even inshore). I had an experienced crew, by far more experienced than me, and sometimes it felt like I was an impostor on my own boat. I suspect that if I had enough time and persistence to stick with it and maybe forget about being competitive for a bit and concentrate on the basics instead of overthinking everything, I’d eventually get to the point when sailing my own boat would entail more fun than fear. As it happened, the boat sat on a trailer for a bit until I finally got the keel replaced, got back on the water… and then I got pregnant and sold it. My consolation is that the new owner is taking better care of the boat than I could and yet regret lingers.
My experience racing on other people’s boats somewhat changed, too. I lost my desire to prove myself to everyone and started concentrating on the actual sailing with people who already knew me. I can’t say I’m the best trimmer out there but I can do a decent enough job and did so on a few boats. I didn’t entirely lose my competitive streak and sometimes I did wonder if I could sail on a bigger boat – yet the effort required to strategically socialise with people to claw my way in and then try to prove my worth was too big in my head to even try.
My break from racing changed it even further. I got back on a boat that I sailed on for a while previously and I love the owner and his partner as well as the crew, old and new. It might not be the most competitive boat but it’s also entirely free from politics. There’s no “easing” off the boat, no power struggles, no blaming or shaming, no desperate drive to win at all cost and do everything within your power or else feel like a failure – it’s just fun. Easy-going banter, trying out ALL the sails, laughter and booze. We will get more competitive soon I’m sure but for now I am just enjoying the feeling of sea breeze on my face, the camaraderie and being back on the water – that’s what it’s all about, after all.