I love boating of all kinds, but dislike yacht clubs.  The desperate smell of needing to be ‘cooler than thou’ is so rife in these places, which also tend to be filled with the idle rich parasitized by feckless youth.  Nevertheless, through a friend I had an intro at the Sydney Yacht Club, and this was the only way I was going to get out onto the water in anything larger than a surfboard – so I am grateful.

The CYCA has the pleasant, slightly brutal informality of the Aussies, but still has that competitive tinge to the air.  I am sure if I knew anything about boat classes, racing rigs, ocean passages and the like, I would be as insufferable as anyone, but the fact is I sail my boat, often alone or with a friend, and the watch comes off as I step on board.  I don’t really know what anything is called, settle for adequate rather than cinching everything down for maximum speed – it’s a holiday and a hobby, not a job or a sport.

I did my best to keep up with the yachties over a beer, but ended up wandering down the walkways between the slips in the forest of masts.  Mostly sugar-scoop sterns and racing machines with names like Rodd & Gunn and Wot Eva, though there was one sweet classic sloop named Samien – a rose among the thorns, as far as I was concerned, in this sea of frozen spit and aluminium.  Out on the ends were the ocean races that cross the Pacific, or at least The Ditch between here and New Zealand.  Signs – For Sale or ‘Crew needed bound for Tahiti” – spoke of the romance of the Pacific yachting life I once considered but was not destined to know.

After a bit of palaver, I was welcomed aboard the Cyrene with Bill and Mark and Sandy and Garda and Elena and Tim.  About the size of Tycha, but a racing machine, with the composite sails and ropes running everywhere through jam cleats.  They lent me a pair of those fingerless gloves and off we were.

The spirit of the Monday night race was cheerful but intent.  I took a station at the winch, which I know how to grind.  Where I am very reluctant to go to the trouble of changing headsails (they take up so much room), these guys had a surfeit for every wind and sea condition.  Of course on this evening, we were within Sydney Harbor, with a light to moderate breeze – hardly seagoing conditions.

We got everything up and shipshape, and maneuvered around the warning guns to be on the starting line as the seconds counted down and twenty boats argued for prime position.  We were pushed up (legally, but nastily) so that we had to turn around and run the line late.  We were soon settled, with the crew on the windward rail, and I could enjoy the view of the Opera House, the bridge I climbed (was it only last week?), and the Sydney skyline (that’s ‘skoyloin’).

There seemed to be about three captains among the older men, and a lot of lines, sheets, and halyards to control, with contrary orders stepping on top of each other.  Once we made the upwind mark, out flew the spinnaker (which I have never even used on Tycha – you need a crew of at least three to fly one, and for the race we were all fully engaged – topping lift, brace, two sheets, and the halyard, pole – arms and legs flying everywhere.  I tried to watch while helping, as I would like to add this to my sailing repertoire.

It was twice around the course, so it was jib to spinnaker to jib to spinnaker – we all got our exercise.  The sun set behind the Opera House and bridge in spectacular fashion, and it was deep dark before we cracked a beer back at the slip.  They were all very nice, and said kind things, but I slipped away myself not to invade on their dinnertime.  Churlish of me to be reverse snobby about yacht clubs when they so kindly took me on, but I prefer my leisurely approach to the Maine coast than tear-assing around a harbor in search of a sic transit gloria.


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