Failing at Sailing

The Gate Crasher tackles a new sport, and takes part in a regatta

On The Town | Johanna Sebauer | September 2012

For a start, I thought I was pretty cool to be competing at all in a sporting event like this. The fact that I knew nothing at all about the sport, made me, well, badass.

My friend Elisabeth, on the other hand, was a pro and had convinced me to accompany her on a regatta. She dismissed my lack of expertise. "Come on," she said. "It’s going to be fun!" This was the beginning of the end.

We began with a crash course. "You see that red rope over there?" Yep, I did. "That’s your best friend. Whenever I tell you, pull as hard as you can."

This was the last time she used the word "rope". There are no ropes on a sailboat. There are halyards, and sheets, and lines, and guys. Ropes are for amateurs.

Strolling through the throng of sailors spouting new vocabulary, an official-looking woman with a flawless sailor’s tan and clipboard came up to me: "What yardstick number does your boat have?" I had no clue, but tried to keep a straight face. "I’ll have to ask my skipper," and bit my lip. But the clipboard-lady seemed satisfied. "Well, let me know as soon as you know," she smiled. Mental high-five for my first exchange in sailor-speak. I was warming to my role.

Just then, a very sporty racing boat pulled up to the dock. Enter the opposition. You know that scene in high school movies, when the popular cheerleaders walk towards a cleverly placed wind-machine, shiny hair flying, casually waving pompoms? Well, there they were, stepping out of their boat in full sailor-regalia: neoprene wet suit, lifejacket, and mirrored sunglasses. They ran their gloved hands through their damp hair, shaking it out in slow motion. Very Baywatch. What was I doing here in jeans and sneakers? Envy and spite throbbed at my temples. Mostly envy though.

We had just begun cruising behind the starting line, when suddenly: Bang! My skipper jammed the tiller, sending us flying over the starting line, and me over the railing. The oh-so-cool Baywatch clique was quicker. Just quick enough for a false start! Ha! We pass our disqualified opponents sporting mischievous grins. Suckeeeers!

Our boat started leaning sideways – "keeling", that is – one rim of the deck dangerously close to the water. "Don’t worry, the boat can’t flip over," Elisabeth reassured me "Unless the centreboard breaks," she added, "which is very unlikely." Yikes!

"Ready about!" came my cue from the stern. I jumped for the ropes – sorry, "sheets". I climbed awkwardly from one side to the other, banging my knee in the process, and then pulled as hard as I could. "Damn!" I heard Elisabeth say. Although I didn’t have the slightest idea what had happened, I looked at her apologetically. "No, no. It was my fault." She said. "You did great!" Surely a lie.

In a cold driving rain, we slid over the finish line, third out of ten. Relief! And high-fives all around! Dripping wet, exhausted and slightly dizzy, I finally stepped off the boat onto terra firma. But we had done well, and Elisabeth was pleased. Good enough for me. Time to hit the after party.

At one time or another, we’ve all wondered what to do with a drunken sailor… and tonight there were a lot of them! After what felt like at least 10 spritzers, my vision blurred. And then, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a bell hanging above the bar. I leaned over, grabbed the cord and rattled the clapper. Ding-a-ling-a-ling!! (I couldn’t help myself.)

The whole crowd went silent. I froze, and slowly turned around. And then suddenly, they all started cheering and patting me on the back.

"Lokalrunde! Hurray!" "Drinks all around!" What? This was a tradition I had been sadly unaware of. I tried to protest, saying I had lost my wallet to waves...

No dice. I had been told sailing was an expensive sport. Now I knew.

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