A cruis­ing man pon­ders the rac­ing life

Yachting Monthly - - COLUMN - DICK DURHAM

Apuff of smoke is snatched away on the wind then a bang. Is it the 10minute gun or the five-minute? If it’s the five-minute, should the en­gine be off? If I shut the en­gine down will I be car­ried over the start line on the fast-run­ning ebb? Where is the start line ex­actly? What is that flag flut­ter­ing fu­ri­ously on the com­mit­tee boat mast? Is that course one or two? Ac­tu­ally, is that the com­mit­tee boat, or is it that yacht with the bunting, an­chored ad­ja­cent? Which class are those boats down tide of you in? Have they started?

Watch out, where the hell is this boat go­ing? We’re on a col­li­sion course. Is he up­wind of you? Yes, then should he give way? Not sure be­cause he’s on star­board. What is the first mark? Where are the sail­ing di­rec­tions? Drat… in the bilges.

And so an­other re­gatta be­gins for me, my crew and Betty II, my 25ft gaff cut­ter. I’ve en­deav­oured to com­pete in sev­eral this sea­son be­cause the boat has a name for be­ing slip­pery. But each time I’m con­fronted with pure chaos on the start line and a recipe for break­ing the rig, stov­ing in a plank, or putting a tear in the main­sail. The whole ex­er­cise goes against good seamanship, com­mon sense and a happy life.

A for­mer ed­i­tor of Yacht­ing Monthly, upon tak­ing the helm of this au­gust or­gan, put a strapline on the cover: ‘Guar­an­teed no rac­ing,’ Des Sleightholme knew a thing or two about his read­ers and he watched the cir­cu­la­tion rise. So, at least I’m in good com­pany.

At school I was a wimp on the play­ing field: cricket was a non­sense, rugby for bully boys and foot­ball beyond the pale. ‘I don’t like sport,’ I com­plained as some en­thu­si­as­tic master forced me to cross-coun­try at speed in plim­solls. ‘You do,’ he puffed. ‘Don’t you go sail­ing?’ ‘Sail­ing isn’t a sport, Sir, that’s rac­ing,’ I said.

Sport, sport, mas­cu­line sport Equips a young man for So­ci­ety

Yes, sport turns out a jolly good sort

It’s an Odd Boy who doesn’t like sport

So sang Vi­vian Stan­shall, the ge­nius lead singer of the 1960s pop group The Bonzo Dog Doo-dah Band and I agree whole­heart­edly. I was and still am that odd boy.

For me it’s a re­lief once the race has be­gun, not that I’m ever cer­tain when that is, and the boats tear away for the first mark. Then we can get the boat in trim and fol­low in their wake. Not the idea at all, I know, but it’s the tak­ing part, not the win­ning.

The sort of ‘races’ my 97-year-old, one-off cut­ter can en­ter are hardly se­ri­ous con­tests any­way. Lit­tered with a mot­ley col­lec­tion of con­verted lifeboat ketches, an­cient yawls and lu­di­crously over-can­vassed day-boats there is not a ‘match’ among any of the fleet. We rely in­stead on an al­go­rithm, de­vised by some old duf­fer who once ‘crewed on a me­tre yacht’, called a hand­i­cap.

And so round we go. Thrash­ing to wind­ward with an ill-set­ting top­sail, which when cruis­ing would not have come out of the sail-bag, or lurch­ing down­wind with an old dinghy fore­sail lashed up be­neath the boom in the spirit of com­pe­ti­tion.

What­ever tran­spires, the same fel­lows seem to pick up the tro­phies at the prize­giv­ing. And there are pots-aplenty in the name of in­clu­siv­ity – for seamanship, for the best turned out yacht, the Roderick and Chris­to­bel Main­wear­ing plat­ter for the pos­ter­ity of a long de­parted rac­ing duo. In one con­test there’s even a model of Old Harry, one-time spoof colum­nist of YM, the cre­ation of the afore­men­tioned Des Sleightholme, for man­ag­ing to bug­ger some­thing up. I haven’t even won that.

So far this sea­son I’ve dis­qual­i­fied my­self for go­ing the wrong side of the fin­ish line, started 20 min­utes be­hind ev­ery­one else be­cause the ba­con wasn’t ready and lost my de­posit by be­ing be­neaped in my berth.

But it’s the tak­ing part, right?

The whole ex­er­cise goes against com­mon sense and a happy life

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