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Airlie Beach (pt. 2) – A Ride on Optimus Prime

Written 24 November (about 13 August)

Amending the plan for Whitehaven to a general desire to get on a boat, the most likely option seemed to be offering a deck-hand to one of the racing vessels. Returning to the marina I scanned the boats for the most likely candidate. I walked directly to the third boat on the right and asked if they needed an extra set of unskilled but strong and eager hands to help with the race tomorrow. A simple, “Yeah, sure, why not?” was the immediate response from the captain of Optimus Prime.

My depression was sidestepped. I had made it work. Instinct and luck had come together. And tomorrow morning I would be back with sandals, shorts, a jacket, and a hat.

The day started out slow. When introduced to a new group, being conversational and entertaining is usually the right answer. But as they are preparing the boat for the race while listening to the frequent announcements, chiming in with anything seemed just a distraction. I sat politely out of the way, as much as one can be out of the way on a small yacht with nine other people. And I smiled. And applied sunblock. And smiled.

The boat headed out to open waters along with a fleet of others. The specifics were confusing and not really relevant. Yachts, catamarans, huge, small, all littered the bay. Groups would leave at various times and the times would all be calculated at the end. You were racing against time more than just the boats around you. And as the start of the race kept being pushed back twenty minutes at a time due to dead winds, we had floating time to get to know each other.

The captain told me of his four year plan to sail around the world, heading from this boat race to that one, always in the state of either boat repair, travel by boat, or racing. He pointed to the various patches of water and told me how to tell the wind strength by the color of the sea.

Another deck hand discussed retirement accounts and how to invest properly.

The race itself was a fairly simple affair for me. I didn’t have to chart the course. The choice of sails was not mine. The timing of changes was not for me to decide. I had a very short list of duties.

Hoisting sails. When I get the go ahead, start pulling the rope as hard and as fast as I can. Keep going until it can go no more.

Bringing in sails. After the new sail is up, the old one will come down. Frustratingly, sails don’t fold themselves after auto-retracting. So when the sail is let fall, I would be one set of hands pulling it in as fast as possible.

Ballast. The third task was also the easiest and most fun. Exist. Have mass. The only requirement is being that mass in a designated place to keep the boat from tipping over with strong side-winds.

The first task was easy enough. The rope was pointed out to me each time, and I pulled with all my might. The captain, a generally laid back guy, was worked up during active transitions in the race. It is understandable in the moment. I needed to pull harder. I needed to go faster. I needed to keep going, it wasn’t there yet. But the sails got there.

The second task was the most difficult, and at one point almost a game-ending one. One of the sails was coming down and I was pulling it in as fast as I could, but it was not feeding through the chain of hands correctly, so it stopped moving. The sail was caught on the rigging and we were yelled at to stop pulling it further to avoid extending the rip. Ceasing pulling it into the boat until there was somewhere for it to go after the snag, the sail continued to drop. Lower and lower until it hit the water. It was the active pulling from several strong guys that kept the sail from being lost to the sea. It was lucky to be a gap in strong winds, as they would have been taken with the sail into the water if the timing were slightly different.

The captain was understandably upset. He showed it rather vocally through a stream of vulgarities and in his volume. I felt that he was a bit over the top but I also had a sinking feeling. It was in my stomach, fortunately, and not external. I had been a part of the error. Without knowing more about boating, I can’t actually say the extent to which I was part. But I had failed to get the sail in fast enough. I had failed to ensure it fed through correctly. When yelled at to stop what I was doing, I did completely, and rather than freezing with a tight grip, I let go of the sail momentarily.

With the sail stowed away for future repair, I went back to my third job. Sit. Sulking and feeling remorseful weren’t part of the requirements, but they came naturally. I had further conversations with the crew depending on who I was sitting next to. Travel. Accents. Working in mining. Changing careers and industry. Art. The topics were remarkably varied, as was the makeup of the crew.

We played leapfrog with another boat for much of the race. In the end we pulled ahead and beat them. And, as it turned out, most. Out of many boats, we had finished in third. Despite the sail error. Despite me knowing nothing more than the general principle of buoyancy. We had finished third in a race, and I was a part of the team.

Now to get a nautical-themed pashmina afghan.

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This entry was posted on December 8, 2012 by in Australia.

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