Having reversed out onto the lake we chugged out of sight of the boatyard before stopping for a quick run through of the safety instructions before breaking out the alcohol, stuff like what to do when one of your crew-mates falls overboard (highly likely), how to treat the capstan with extreme caution while using it (like someone would ever get their hand stuck in it – pfft!), (yes me, I did), how to duck when someone shouts “Lee-ho” (there’s a heavy boom with your name on it coming your way shortly thereafter)and how not to tread on various ropes that may or may not suddenly become taut while you are standing astride them, not if you wanted to use the male vernacular for the rest of your life anyway.
We also learned that this yachting lark was actually quite a lazy way to spend a day and our greatest fears of having to run about the slippery fibreglass decks or shin up masts like little monkeys were quickly replaced by awed voices speaking “you can raise all of the sails just by sitting here and winding THAT ?” and indeed it was true, everything on a racing yacht is controlled from the cockpit, forget those scenes of yacht races that you’ve seen on TV where dozens of people scramble around pulling ropes while dangling over the edge of a boat, its simply unnecessary, a person can easily sail one of these mothers while quaffing on a can of lager, easy.
We also quickly learned what the keel was, in fact it was the first job we did, “Wind down the keel boys” our captain cried, “for tonight we sail for Botany Bay” or words to that effect, for those landlubbers among you the keel is the pointy bit that sticks out underneath a yacht, the bit that you’ve probably always wondered what on earth its for, well, you need the keel to stick down into the water when you’re sailing with real sails and wind instead of motors and the yacht tips over in the direction of the wind – the keel is the only thing that keeps you from tipping right the way over, or so our captain explained, “If you ever see the keel coming out of the water then for fucks sake tell me” is what he said and within half an hour we had cause to tell him.
The mainsail was raised, we turned to the wind and off we went, boy this was fun, the jib was raised (its all coming back to me now, thats the sail at the front), we all had a go at winding the ropes back and forth using the capstan, within half an hour we were seasoned sailors, half an hour before the mast and we were ready to sail the seven seas, but first the grog ration boys.
After inhibitions were loosened somewhat our skipper decided to show us what the boat could really do, sails were primed and he explained how to watch for gusts of wind approaching from further down the lake, we just sat and wondered when the next beer was when suddenly the sails puffed out and we were off again, this time with the boat laying on its side, as instructed we all scrambled to the topside of the cockpit and sat dangling over the edge while our skipper stood proud and tall at the back of the boat grasping the huge steering wheel (its probably not called a steering wheel but I can’t remember that bit, true sailors have different names for everything on a boat).
This was fun, we were flying now, the boat still laying on its side, us all hanging off the other side simply because we’d been told to and thats when Burty said he could see the keel coming up out of the water, we all looked and sure enough there it was almost breaking the surface of the lake we stared at each other and I could see that he was thinking the same as me, “What was it he said about the keel coming out of the water ?”