Thursday, November 11, 2010

Why Worry

The place where I grew up has a deep water port; it also has a healthy population of sharks including Great White Sharks… big sharks! It has so many big sharks that many background scenes for ‘Jaws’ were filmed here. (yes really)
There has never been a person confirmed as taken by sharks in our waters, though there have been more than a few people disappear without trace…presumed drowned! (yeah Right!)

A lifetime ago when I was a teen, my brother was one of the youngest people to ever sail the local blue water sailing races, he fancied himself as a very good sailor… and probably was!
I had no interest whatsoever in sailing, I spent a lot of time snorkeling with my best mate Bucky . Of course we fished, both from land and in Buckys parents fishing boat, we waded the shallows for Blue Crab, and searched for the pretty Blue ringed Octopus among the rocks, but sailing had never been an option.
One day, bumming around the house during school holidays we got our chance…

My brother had access to a new racing yacht but needed crew. I didn’t really want to go but Bucky was keen and so it was decided that we would crew this small racing yacht.
My brother was adamant that it would be really easy, we were just ballast you see, and sailing would be even better if we moved from one side of the boat to the other from time to time, that’s all we had to do…easy!
There was no mention of capsize, there was no mention of changing sail or swinging the boom. Funny enough, he even forgot to mention that it would be necessary to re-float the boat from time to time.
The first thing that I noticed was the name of the boat… ‘Why Worry’
The next unsettling thing was the proper fitting of life preservers, not the usual chuck it on and go; but the correct weight and strap settings…like your life depended on it!
The disconcertingly small yacht was usually manned by 4 blokes who all knew how to sail, and were trained and practiced to man these twitchy little racers, this time it had one sailor and two complete novices aboard.
It was scary how much rope there was on this tiny plywood coffin, hanging from every corner there were ropes everywhere forming a spider web above and around us. The hull was so thin you couldn’t stand in it on land, and even in the water the thin plywood hull moved and buckled under foot. Most alarmingly, there were actual holes in the bottom of the boat… “To let the water out”, I was told. All I could think was, “Why would there be water in the boat?”
It took ages to set the mast and ropes, centre board and steering thingy, but when we left the boat ramp things began to move fast. The boat felt like a wind blown twig on the surface of the water, skittering across the surface like a leaf in a gale.
Commands were shouted as if we knew what they meant, the boat turned sharply and Bucky and I nearly lost our heads as the boom swung across the deck like the Reapers scythe. I don’t remember if either of us got hit that first time, but we sure got hit many times that day. We carried bruises and bumps for weeks afterward…
The boat turned to face the open sea with the wind at our backs and we powered up to speed…WOW, this thing moved fast, the water sizzled under the boat, crackling like I’d never heard before. With no motor and the silence of the wind, the water was the only thing you could hear… apart from our heart beats.
The water under us was deep, the shipping channel came right in and past the launch ramp we had left just moments earlier, and this area was well known to be a regular haunt of some very big Great Whites. They were seen daily lounging in the harbor by dock workers, and the stories about the size of these giants were common knowledge.
Ripping along at great speed and having covered quite some distance we apparently did something wrong, Bucky and I didn’t follow some rule we’d never even heard before and in the blink of an eye we were all in the water with the boat on top of us.
This was before JAWS the movie...but you will remember the scene where the little yachts were all capsized and the shark was circling them? Yeah, just like that…

It was bad enough for me, tangled in ropes and several metres under water, I freed myself and easily swum to the surface a few metres from the up-turned hull.
Bucky though, came up under the sail and there he was trapped; I could see him struggling as he swam along under the sail trying to get out. Eventually he did, about 2/3 along the gigantic plastic banner he popped out and took a huge breath, he looked as freaked out as I was. He later told me that he thought he was going to drown there and then.

It was only now that we learned about the boat righting bit, how we had to swim around to the bottom of the boat and stand on the bit that should be under water to swing the boat upright again…Oh, and try not to let the boat fall on you as it comes over, that can hurt. We turned the sodden hull away from the wind, flicked out the tangled ropes and straightened the sail, my brother yelled , “It’ll go fast!”…. Whatever that meant…and the hull lurched forward dragging us as it took off.
As we scrambled into the completely sunk yacht the sail snapped tight and the water moved aside as we again picked up speed and climbed onto the waters surface, the water inside the boat did indeed pour out of the holes in the hull and in just seconds we were as before.

Sadly, it seemed that every turn was to be a lesson in boat righting, standing on the underwater bits and trying to get in before it left without you. One time the boat went completely downside up, the mast vertical underwater...and still it didn’t touch the bottom.
Truthfully, we spent a few thrilling minutes running before the wind at great speed and what felt like several hours trying to get back to port against the offshore wind. We spent as much time in and under the water as we spent skimming across the surface and the remaining time was spent trying to dodge the Boom so as not to have your brains smashed out. The Boom swung at shoulder height with us sitting on the side of the boat, if you didn’t duck it hit you in the chest flinging you into the brine, if you did duck it either ruffled your hair as it passed overhead or hit you in the head if you didn’t move fast enough.
It began to worry me that we were doing a lot of thrashing around out there, moving a few hundred metres then thrashing around the hull again…
I guess we were halfway back when it happened….

I'll be away for a few days and I'll post part2 when I get back



Pearl said...


“Why would there be water in the boat?”

I live in MN -- as landlocked as you get -- and still fear open water. Big things! Big hungry things in the water! Ack!!

Still. :-) Looking forward to Part II!


Kal said...

That was a terrific tale of the sea. I was with you the whole way. I sailed a few times at cadet camp but we mostly hoisted the Jolly Roger and swamped the other boats until we were banned to the shore.

Tempo said...

Hi Pearl, Ive never been away from the sea for more than a week or two in my whole life...I love the smell of the sea. (rotting seaweed and dead fish)

Hey Kal, Your sailing adventures sound so much better than mine, Id swap you anyday.