Racing Across Sydney Harbour in a Sailboat

Racing Across Sydney Harbour in a Sailboat
 Middle Head Yacht Club

“Tuck! 3…2…1!”

whoosh goes the boom overhead. the team scrambles across the 8-9 foot deck over moving lines and slippery floor. We fling ourselves over the starboard edge of the boat with only a chain fence at our hips, keeping us from flying over the edge onto the waves below.

Let’s rewind to 2 hrs prior
“Have you ever gone sailing before? No? All right, here are the pre-boarding instructions.”

Like a boarding flight demonstration Bob, the team captain guides my sister and I through the safety rules of sailing. Today my sister and I are joining a 9 person crew in a twilight race across the harbour and back. With no sailing experience we’ll be primarily serving as live ballasts for the team, shifting weight to counter the winds.

“When the wind changes we will adjust the sails accordingly. The boom right here swings from side to side when we yell ‘Tuck!’. If your head’s in the way you have an equivalent of a 4 ton anvil coming at your head. Needless to say, keep your head down.

These here blue/white lines and the grey lines are moving lines. When we yell Tuck and you shift across the deck, avoid these lines at all costs. If you get caught in a moving line, fingers and clothes will be ripped clean off,” says Bob.

Seeing our faces pale by the second he reassures us, “It’s better to know than to not know right mate?”

Let’s rewind another 1 hr prior
Aunt Judy used to be a member of a yacht club and every week there are crews that race on various days of the week. Sometimes a crew will lack the necessary number of people to race so they’ll bring on board a few people to join either as crew members for the race or as ballasts. Ballasts are essentially weights that help stabilize the boat and prevent from capsizing in high winds.

These races compose a season long competition where racers try to have the most points by the end of the season. While some are extremely competitive, many are baller folks who have ships and love the sea. The teams range from friends to corporate teams, our team today were outfitted in light blue uniforms so we knew were on a semi-serious team. This was not going to a simple ride along.

Course around the Harbour. Circles in orange were areas where “tucking” was performed. (1) Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge(2) Shark Island (3) Middle Head (4) North Head (5) South Head

Back to the present:
“Pressure in 3…2…1!”

My sister and I turn to each other a bit confused if we should scramble to the other side or not. It seems the rest of the crew is stationary so we wait. A crew member turns to me and explains.

“Pressure is wind. When you see the glossy reflection of the sea and a dark patch, you can tell a gust is coming. We offset the gust by ‘piking’ (leaning further overboard to throw as much of our weight as possible).”

Our ship is rather large at 40.7m and we find that it takes our ship longer to catch the wind compared to other ships. Still we keep moving along and find ourselves in the thick of the race.

At one juncture I look over my back and catch the most breath-taking view of the harbour. The Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge against the backdrop of a sunset. How I wish I had my camera, but with the dangers of the sea at hand, it’s no time to get lost in my thoughts. 

At 46:07 we finish the race, a bit slower than the majority and losing to Aunt Judy’s boat. No matter though, as the team is in good spirits about finishing the year strong and looking forward to continuing the season in 2011.

We sail for a good 1.5 hours including set up, racing, and clean up. The sun sets and the winds turn frigid. They call a smaller ship to come out from the yacht club to pick us up, and my sister and I disembark. Looking back, what a priceless experience.

Disembarking FIEST with a finishing time of 46:07

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