I needed something to lift the gloom. And a Kiwi reader did it in spades for me yesterday morning with links and photos from the 2022 Harken Young 88 National Championships down in New Zealand run by the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron. What gripped me was the storyline framed around Dean Barker pulling together an old band from the America’s Cup to see if they could still get a tune. And like the very best garage bands, boy could they play.
The team, usually replete with their sons and daughters onboard to encourage the next generation, found that term time school commitments and far more important dinghy sailing elsewhere meant the lads were all at a loose end so they formed a dream team of Deano, Tony Rae, Jeremy Lomas, Ray Davies, Richard Meacham, James Dagg and Chris Ward – and that’s the equivalent of the Rolling Stones combining with the Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Fleetwood Mac for a supergroup hurrah at Madison Square Garden.
A gun to a knife fight? Well the dream team didn’t quite have it all their own way and started the regatta on the back foot with a penalty meaning they couldn’t put a foot wrong thereafter. And they didn’t. Five bullets and a third secured the title but this line from Deano really piqued my interest:
“It opened another opportunity to sail with a bunch of guys I have sailed all my life with, really. It’s incredibly special to get out with them. It’s all the people I did match racing and the America’s Cup with over many years. You get to really cherish doing things like this. You get to go out in a relaxed environment but at a reasonably high level. There’s a huge amount of banter on the boat. You certainly can’t afford to make any mistakes because you hear about it.”
And there, in a nutshell, is sailing. It matters not a jot how high you fly in our sport – you can be an Olympic champion, an America’s Cup winner, a Whitbread veteran, a Vendee demi-God or just your very average club sailor (like you or I) – what this sport offers is a lifetime of banter, fun, collective endeavour, social life, marriage, friendship, connections and interest.
When you come back together as friends, the years roll back and the inevitable banter ensues. When it matters, but not desperately, it’s the greatest fun on earth and if, like me, you’re lucky enough to sail with family and great friends there are times when it’s more special than words can say. Those feelings of camaraderie and shared experience – good, bad or indifferent – are what this sport is all about. It gives far more than it takes.
Last season I was competing in a double-handed race out to the ugly, distant Nab Tower which marks the eastern approaches for shipping to the Solent and let’s just say, I absolutely aced the timed-run into the start. I was Nathan Outteridge with Jimmy Spithill combined. If Terry Hutchinson was there he would have high-fived me. Russell Coutts might even have acknowledged the sheer brilliance with a “nice one.”
Committee boat end, running-start, I was on the ‘B’ of the ‘Bang’ with spinnaker halyard in hand, tiller between my knees, pole set and all ready for the glamour start that is very much not my trademark. Only problem was, some idiot (me) had reeved the halyard between the shrouds and the ladies and gentlemen of the Royal Southampton YC Committee vessel audibly groaned at the rank amateurish of the situation. Luckily I had someone with extraordinary talent with me who sorted the issue in double-quick time but as banana-skins go, it was a whooper. And it was caught on camera.
Did we shout? Nope. Did we laugh? Yes. You can see me bent double. Some pesky quarter-tonner snuck under me and it was catch-up from there on in. It’s only a sailboat race. It’s not life and death. It’s a Saturday morning with a great mate and life’s far too short. But the banter continued well into the off season…emails, texts, calls. Relentless. Fun.
And will we do it all again next season – you bet your life. Sailing is so much more than just winning and as a Corinthian you remember the bad moments (probably because there are far more of them) more than the good. Winning at a canter, pleasurable and satisfying as that may be, is just a small part of the reason why we/I do this sport.
And looking forward to the season ahead, yesterday I entered my club’s annual regatta, Cowes Classics Week squeaking under the radar of inclusion as my International H-Boat was designed in 1967 by Hans Groop. The Royal London Yacht Club’s stipulation is for GRP boats designed before 1970 so the classic scene is a whole new opening now for my racing.
I’ve done the regatta before, sailing in the Cowes fleet of Darings and very nearly won it once with everything coming down to a final mark rounding in horrendous gusty Solent conditions. I finished second and was pretty proud about that. But it’s a brilliantly fun event with socials at supporting clubs all around Cowes and beyond and the Royal London, one of the true hidden gems of the Cowes club scene, goes the extra mile year after year with this, their flagship event. This year there’s even a classic car show on the Cowes Parade. It promises to be awesome and something very much to look forward to straight after the Island Sailing Club’s annual Round the Island Race on Saturday 25th June.
And as Dean Barker says, I’m looking forward to the banter…