Gateway Drug

I did my first twilight race for the first time in almost 3 years. The club – probably the friendliest sailing club in Sydney, the place where I started sailing – has changed a little: there’s more open space and the facilities are much improved. There are still a lot of familiar faces around. Some have new boats. The boat that I used to own lost a mast a few months ago and still requires a lot of work. The main thing is that the place has the same wonderful welcoming atmosphere. It’s still very easy to get on a boat. There is always someone to chat to. The food is simple but satisfying and so are the drinks.

I was on a boat I used to sail a lot on (and helmed on a Lady’s day race once). When I messaged the skipper, I wasn’t sure what I would be allowed to do during the race, seeing that I haven’t sailed for a while and the boat has always been quite competitive. Turned out that there were a couple of experienced people on the boat, a bunch of complete novices and a French guy who claimed that he knew how to sail but could not understand any of the instructions in English so I ended up doing most of the headsail trim and strings.

Breeze is always temperamental in Balmain. It bends around islands and changes speed and directions in ways that make it tricky to predict what’s going to happen next sometimes. The forecast was for 20 knots yet it died completely towards the end of the race (that’s when the entire fleet caught up with us as we were sitting in a hole).

I loved it all. The unpredictable wind, the feeling that I know exactly what I was doing, using my muscles, joking around, having a beer on a downwind leg (it’s thirsty work!), chatting after the race. The breeze itself. That my foot got wet. That I was asked to do the rest of the season and then asked to crew on a dinghy again.

It’s easy to see the appeal of twilight sailing – it’s social, mostly relaxed (although not without its own dramas) and it’s great to be on the water on a nice summer day. Sunsets are spectacular. All in all, it’s a perfect way to wind down after a week at work. For me it was also a gateway drug to more serious sailing that requires more skill and commitment and longer offshore races with their sleep deprivation, seasickness, lack of showers, risks of serious trauma or (if you’re very careless or/and unlucky) even death. When trying to explain the appeal of offshore racing (which could be very similar to explaining the appeal of climbing icy mountains – “because it’s there!”), I could only mutter something about the sense of accomplishment after you’ve finished the race while in reality I was mostly craving more of what I was getting at every single twilight: the feeling of mastery of a complicated skill, letting go of everything but the race, breeze on my face and the feeling of belonging right here and now, on this boat and with this crew. It’s unlikely I’ll be doing offshore racing any time soon (life is too busy!) so it’s great comfort to know that twilight sailing is still here for me. And it’s still magical.

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