Monday, 19 March 2012

A little guy on my shoulder

I ran down the hot sand pausing on the way to undo the line that anchored OB’s bows to a stake. Having squandered the preparation time there was work to do. The race was on and other boats were leaving the beach as I stuffed superfluous gear into lockers and untangled lines. The oars I lashed inboard, lengthways across the thwarts. Each would serve as a brace for my legs when the time came to get my weight out over the gunwale.

OB's nose slid off the sand as I hauled up the stern anchor. Boats jostled on the water, raising sails and crowding each other as they entered the buoyed channel that ran between the moored craft. It was as well to stay clear. Drifting on the gusting offshore breeze I hoisted the mizzen and then the main and just before avenue of buoys turned the bows off the wind.

On OB’s fastest point of sail, particularly in double reefed conditions and in flat water we kept to windward and began catching up. I felt calm and comfortably in control as my boat accelerated in the gusts. The only thing that matters, I thought, is sailing my boat as well as I can. But no sooner was the thought formed than a little guy in a devil’s suit appeared on my shoulder, ‘No Ben,’ he said, ‘the only thing that matters is winning.’ And poked me in the neck with his trident.

Sailing through the pack as we came up to the first mark—the stone tower on the rocks—I looked into the water to judge the depths. We’d been told to give the reef a wide berth, many a year there’s someone who cuts the corner and gouges their bottom. It wasn’t going to be OB, the centreboard was raised and with just the rudder in the water she needed scant depth. All the same I took my time before carefully gybing, lowering the centreboard by half and reaching off for a buoy somewhere on the other side of the bay.

The boats had separated and I was coming up behind a knot of smaller craft. Just as well as I had no idea where the buoy was. The map of the course was floating in the bilges and although I’d paid close attention at the briefing the tensions of the start had wiped my memory. But I wasn’t the only one feeling my way. As I came up with the other boats someone shouted across ‘Where’s the buoy?’ ‘No idea. I’m following you.’ Then a shout went up from the forward most boat and they bore away. Presumably they’d spotted it.

I loosen the sheets and eased away from the wind. There were two boats immediately ahead of OB looking beautiful with their arcs of taught lateen sail bellying towards the briny and windward hulls rising high out of the water. But they were not sailing quite broad enough. I felt a jab in my neck. ‘Cut through on the inside at the mark.’ Said the fellow in red. I was bang on course, it would be a fairly aggressive move but I could nip between the boats and the buoy with a tight, tidy gybe. I looked at the devil on my shoulder and winked.

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