Feb 28

When Sailboats Collide

by in Adventure

“I pray that tonight’s race will be adventurous. I’d rather have an adventure tonight than a nice, calm, relaxing race.”

Those were the words that I muttered under my breath as our boat motored out of the marina for last night’s yacht race. You may recall that I went out for a similar race at the beginning of the summer when I first arrived in Tauranga. It was a nice experience, but I didn’t bring my camera for pictures, the race was uneventful, and I wasn’t given the chance to participate with the boat operations. But last night, last night was a totally different story!

Due to another commitment, I haven’t been made it to any other yacht races this summer. But since this is my last week in Tauranga, I decided to show up at the marina last night and try to get out on one of the boats. Fortunately for me, one of the boat skippers was short a crew member and he agreed to let me join for the night. I jumped on the boat, and Skipper Bill introduced me to the rest of the crew. As we shot out into the harbour, the clouds were clearing and the sun was starting to shine through. For anyone who isn’t used to yacht racing, the moments before the race begins can be terrifying. There were about 15 yachts, including ours, all vying for the best starting position within a very small space. Because the boats have to keep moving with the wind, it becomes a chaos of expensive sailboats all zig-zagging around each other, sometimes coming within inches of colliding!

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The bell rang and the race was off. Skipper Bill put me in charge of the main sail for the evening. He sat me down and showed me how to work the main sail line around the wench and how to move the traveler up and down the track. It was probably the job that suited me best as the least experienced racer in the crew. From time to time, he would shout instructions to the crew as we tacked and jibed and made our way through the course. “Ease the main, ease the main, EASE THE BLOODY MAIN!!!” “Sheet in the head sail, sheet in the head!!!” Who knew sailboat racing was so much fun! The skipper probably thought I was crazy for doing this, but I managed to bring out my camera while we were racing so I could take advantage of this incredible photo opportunity.

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The most exciting part of the race happened during the first leg of the course. As we were making our way towards the channel and out to sea, several boats were bunched together. We were approaching one of the markers, a huge post used to guide ships through the harbour, and each boat was trying to get the inside line. Skipper Bill started screaming, “Is there water, is there water?!” I’m not an expert on sailing terms, but I think he was asking if there was room between our boat and the one next to us. The situation turned frantic and before we knew what happened, the back end of the other boat came sliding in and collided with the front of ours! I always loved riding bumper cars when I was a kid, but playing bumper boats with million dollar yachts is a whole new game!

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Fortunately, the impact wasn’t very dramatic, and no damaged was caused to either boat; it could have been way worse though. The skipper was NOT happy about the collision, especially because it caused us to loose our spot in the race. We ended up placing 3rd to last, but this time, I didn’t care about the result. The sunlight was warm and pleasant as we sailed out past The Mount and back again. It was truly a surreal scene: the setting sun, the other boats sailing by, the surf spraying mist in the distance. There was no other place I’d rather have been. As we slipped back into the marina, I looked out across the sea of boats at a spectacular sunset.

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It seems that my prayers for adventure and uncertainty are being answered lately :)

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