February 3, 2011

Why I don’t start races

I WAS RECENTLY TEMPTED to volunteer for the race-committee boat. Then I remembered that I had been there, done that, and had not exactly distinguished myself.

Many years ago, when I lived in Durban, I started the International Mirror Class Association of South Africa. I was a great organizer, even if I say so myself. At least, I was great at organizing the paperwork that resulted one sunny day in 78 little Mirrors with bright red sails racing in a large clump down a narrow channel in the busiest harbor on the African continent, in terms of cargo handled.

I would have been on the committee boat, but we didn’t have a committee boat, so I was standing on a sandbank near the wharf where the fishing boats tied up, and where the Royal Natal Yacht Club had a flagpole for starting dinghy races.

I had borrowed the club’s shotgun and a handful of blank cartridges for the start, which was divided into three classes 10 minutes apart, depending on the skill of the skippers: Expert, Normal, and Dummy. As we had no rescue boat either, the Experts were delegated to grab any Dummies they found in the water and tow them to the nearest sandbank.

I was rather nervous, because there were rather a lot of Dummies out for their first race, and I hadn’t thought to get permission from the harbor authorities for this race. I wondered what would happen if a large ship came down the channel. Large ships can’t stop or even slow down in the dredged channel. If they lose steerage way they get blown sideways onto the sandbank.

It was seven minutes to the first start when I nearly blew my foot off. I must have twitched the trigger nervously. A large hole appeared in the sand next to my right foot.

I was a little shocked, but the effect on the racing fleet was more dramatic. The Dummies thought the loud bang was their signal to start, so they started. The Normals and Experts, looking at their watches, shouted “No, go back! It can’t be.” But the Dummies weren’t going to be fooled by them. They were off, heeling and flapping their way to the weather mark.

After milling around in a large confused melee for several minutes and consulting each other with furrowed brows, several Normals and Experts sailed over to my edge of the sandbank. I considered reloading and giving them a new 10-minute gun, but I was still in shock and worried about those Dummies galumphing along on their own, so I waved them off. “Go,” I shouted. “Go, go!” And so they took off after the Dummies with a lot of head-shaking and loud mutters.

As it happened, there were no shipping movements scheduled for that Sunday afternoon and none of the Dummies had to be towed to a sandbank, but there was a solemn post-mortem at the club afterwards. There was some tart criticism, and a lot of mild abuse disguised as jocular comment. I had to buy an awful lot of drinks, which I couldn’t charge to the Association because it had no money. Nobody expressed any concern about the fact that I could have shot my foot off. Ingrates.

There were, of course, no official race results, and I dare say I would have been fired if I hadn’t been the boss of the class. In any case, I haven’t started a yacht race since. And nobody has asked me to.

Today’s Thought
Mistakes are at the very base of human thought ... feeding the structure like root nodules. If we were not provided with the knack of being wrong, we could never get anything useful done.
— Lewis Thomas, The Medusa and the Snail

A rise in Followers
Deb, of the sailing vessel Nomad, wrote to say:

“I believe you might have quite a few more followers than you realize. I've been following you through my Google Reader which doesn't use the ‘Follow’ button, so you'd never know.

“I did also have pity on you though, and hit the ‘Follow’ button :) Thanks for having the Seaworthy Offshore Sailboat on the Kindle by the way.”

Deb, S/V Nomad http://www.theretirementproject.blogspot.com/

► Yeah, Deb, I did have a faint idea there were more readers than Followers. (Suddenly up to 42 Followers now, by the way!) The Google ’bots assure me there were 4,039 visits to my blog in the past month, and 7,282 page views. That is still a pathetically small audience, of course. On the other hand, there are just so many blogs and websites and bulletin boards out there, so many hundreds of thousands of them, that it’s hard to imagine how anyone at all would end up here, especially as boating is such a niche sport. Now, if I had only concentrated on cooking, football, pop music, movies, or sex, instead of boating, I’d be reaching a far larger readership.

Not that size matters (as they always claim, with nervous hope). I feel that my audience is distinguished more by its excellent taste than its size, and excellent taste is a rare commodity these days.

Oh, and thanks for alerting me to the fact that Seaworthy Offshore is now on Kindle, Deb. I wasn’t aware of it. They never tell me anything.

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #155
Here’s what you need to know about the handedness (terrible word) of a propeller. A propeller that screws forward when it revolves clockwise as seen from astern, is known as a right-handed propeller. Most single propellers are right-handed, but twin installations usually have one right-handed and one left-handed prop to neutralize their respective sideways thrusts.

In the revered words of the estimable Harry Stotle:
“Rather a full bottle in front of me than a full frontal lobotomy.”

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