The event was the Nora Barnacle Challenge in aid of the Irish Hospice Foundation, in which experienced crews join with complete landlubbers (that’s me, that is) to crew yachts in a race from Dun Laoghaire Harbour out around Dalkey Island and back. One of the guys at work put a notice up asking for both sponsorship and volunteers, and seven off us forsook the delights of the office on a Friday afternoon for the opportunity to vomit violently in front of our workmates.
We arrived at the Royal Irish Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire and were allocated to our boats – four in one, three,including me and the guy at work who’d organised us, in another. We had four other crew members, all real sailors, which meant only my Closest WorkBuddy, GoldenEyes (a girl from a land-locked European country) and I had no clue. Everyone was alloted a job, and CWB and I were on ballast – or ‘rail meat’, as it was charmingly explained to us.
Basically, whenever they ‘tacked’ (see, I was listening) or changed direction, the boom would swing to the other side of the yacht which would dip viciously in that direction, and our job was to dive under the boom, slide across the cabin roof and drop to hang ourselves over the other side, so that our weight would help balance the boat. All of the others had really complex jobs involving steering, moving ropes and shouting unintelligible instructions. One girl spent the entire trip at the front, lifting and hauling sails and ropes and taking a lot of sea-water full in the face, all the while swearing like, well, like a sailor. I’ve never seen anyone looking happier.
The weather was lovely, there was wind but not too much, and it wasn’t cold. As the horn sounded and we left the harbour, the swell strengthened noticably, but we were far too busy & adrenalin-pumped to feel queasy.
It quickly became clear that we were with a very competent, and very competitive, crew. It also became clear that our deck-scramble, which we had practised a couple of times in the harbour, was a lot more difficult out at sea in rougher waves. CWB and I were completely unprepared for how quickly the boat would list, and our first attempt found me holding on by one hand, feet up and almost totally vertical, with my head inches
from the sea. I didn’t feel that I was going to fall in, but couldn’t see any immediate way of improving the situation, either. Someone grabbed me and pulled – nothing happened – but eventually about three people grabbed me and I was uprighted. A couple of minutes later came a calm remark from the back of the boat: “you might want to run them through the tacking procedure again”. I gathered we hadn’t been great.
But we got better, and really started to enjoy ourselves. Ploughing over, and sometimes through, large waves, looking at all the enormous homes of Dalkey, occasionally being slapped unexpectedly in the face by a giant wave – usually when we had our mouths open. The wind and waves got really strong as we turned around the island, and then we were in Dalkey Sound, eveything became much calmer, and with the wind now behind us, we sped back toward home.
I could now see that there was one yacht ahead of us, and it was now that the skill of our crew really showed itself as they changed things, tried things, moved things, and gradually hauled in the other boat. But the harbour arrived just too soon, and even as we were making our final attempt by cutting inside them to shorten the turn into harbour, the horn sounded that they had crossed the line, and we’d been beaten by less than a boat length. On the bright side, though, the rest of the office finished eighth.
After that there was a terrific evening in Fitzgerald’s in Sandycove, with free food, a giant raffle, pictures of the whole event, and prize-giving. We won a lovely glass trophy, while the winners got a big perpetual cup which they filled and passed around. I declined, having learnt back in my football days that warm-beer-and-other-people’s-spit is not an especially pleasant drink.
This morning, in that brief second when you’re not totally awake, I could actually sense my lungs as two cool, clean spots inside my chest, and I could picture them as two light-blue patches.
Then I woke fully, and found the reality to be slightly less pleasant. My bum is sore in strips, mirroring the lines on the deck, I’ve a massive bruise on one hip, and my ankle-bone feels as if it’s been chipped.
I can’t wait to go again next year.