Weighing in at a sturdy 18 tonnes, Wildflower is built for comfort not speed (kind of like me!) – so we generally don’t take her out racing
The other weekend however, before the weather turned to custard, Paddy and I found ourselves right in the middle of the action at the Evans Bay Yacht Club regatta.
After a beer or three Paddy had his arm twisted into taking the weekend off boatwork to act as flag marshal and somehow mine got twisted too.
While neither of us were crazy about losing our weekend sleep-in, it was really great to get back out on the water – and it certainly gave me a whole new appreciation of the complexities of yacht racing.
We joined race officer, and Evans Bay Motorboat and Yacht Club stalwart Mike Appleyard aboard the launch Pania (another club stalwart) and headed out on to the bay. I think Mike pretty quickly worked out we were starting from scratch in terms of racing after his first conversation with Paddy, which went along the lines of:
“Do you know how all this works?”
“Nope, we’re cruisers!”
So we were given a brief Flag Waving 101 course and set to our respective tasks – Paddy was dispatched to put up the boat class flags at the stern of the boat after we worked out the flagpole was taller than I was and I was in charge of hoisting the P (preparation) flag – which signaled the race was about to start.
Luckily there was a handy timer that beeped urgently when you needed to do your job, so there were only a couple of minor scrambles to get the things up in time.
Lidgard Sails ensured we were waving flags in style by providing support crew with sponsors t-shirts. Although these were slightly anatomically incorrect (for the female sailors at least – of which there were many) they certainly got the point across and I spotted yachties of both genders wearing them with pride.
The weather on the Saturday was gorgeous – if you were sitting on a boat drinking coffee and reading a book –not so much if you actually wanted to sail anywhere. For perhaps the first time in Wellington’s history the wind didn’t turn up, at all. So the first race was pretty much a controlled drift. The frustration was palpable as we watched people desperately willing their sails to fill and a number of boats were unable to make it round the course in time to complete the race. Luckily the wind picked up later in the afternoon (though it took its time making up its mind which direction it was going to blow from) and the racing started in earnest.
It was pretty intense – and Paddy and I had the easy jobs! There were 63 boats, but there were different types that went at different speeds and so sailed different courses. We were starting four different races one after the other, with a different coloured flag for each class of boat (Catamarans, centreboarders, trailer yachts and Hartley 16’s) – How Mike managed to keep an eye on what was happening with them all was well beyond me.
Then you had to factor in the length of the course (would all the boats be able to complete it in time?), the direction the wind was blowing (which necessitated a little bit of up-anchoring and moving marks) and whether any boats had dropped out between races.
Pania was the starting boat so once we’d sent all four groups on their way we had a bit of breathing space to watch the race and enjoy being back out on the water again. Our boat also served as a marker point and it was rather unnerving how close some of the boats got when rounding it!
No sooner had one race finished then the next group were circling like vultures waiting for the next race to start– and woe betide anyone who gets the flag timing wrong – it could throw the whole race out. Luckily Paddy and I managed to keep things on track and so didn’t have to face the wrath of thwarted yachties.
We were also introduced to the concept of ‘protests’ where participants take any issues they have with fellow racers up after the regatta and seek redress if they feel they have been hard done by. It all seems to be done pretty good-humouredly though and from what I saw issues were sorted out amicably. I was also informed there was a similar arrangement with the cruising division (the bigger boats got a race of their own), which they call “having a whine”.
The wind picked up again on Sunday with a more usual 15 to 20 knots and changeable wind conditions. A few more boats got up close and personal with each other and a couple ended up in the drink – but the smiles all round afterwards said it all.
I had great fun adding new monikers to my ‘interesting boat names’ collection too. They ranged from the short and sweet - Bob and Bill to the children’s book inspired One fish, Two fish, Hairy Maclary to colour themed Tickled Pink, Simply Red
One thing that was really lovely was the number of people who stopped Paddy and I at the event prize-giving. They’d spotted us out on the start boat and wanted to thank us for donating our weekend to them. It was really nice of them and much appreciated. We both had a ball and enjoyed the excuse to get out on the water for the first time in ages.
Unfortunately with last week’s weather being grey and ghastly plans to get Wildflower back in the water this week were thwarted – but I am sure we will get there soon. The poor old girl must be desperate to feel salt on her steel again, but I am in no doubt she will be appreciative of the many hours of hard work Paddy has put in.