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A Match Made in Heaven

by Alex Blackwell

One weekend we were at our mooring minding our own business. It was early(ish) in the morning, we had opted for a lazy start, as Daria was off to Germany for a meeting, and I had boat projects galore planned. Suddenly there was shouting from outside and we were accosted by a big RIB full of sailors – friends of ours. They were stuck, needing crew and had come looking for crew (a cruiser?). "No, no, no," I protested – you know the story, and there I found myself an unwilling, willing crew member aboard one of the new NYYC Swan 42 racing machines. The day progressed in a blur and words like “wow”, “ohmygoodness”, and “oh sh#!” were ever present in my head as we blasted down the race course amid a really tight fleet of identical yachts. What an amazing ride! One day of bruises and pain was enough for me for some time, but quite certainly something I would like to do again – just not tomorrow.

Once back to port, damage assessments for the day were done, and the owners started to ponder how they would find this bit or that with which to effect repairs. What they needed (“some string and a lead weight” to pull a halyard and a wire coat hanger) but had no access to, we had loads of on board – hey we are cruisers, so I ‘volunteered’ again. I had done so before when they were trying to do some work on their fascinating hydraulic mast tuning – instead of adjusting turnbuckles, they lift the mast and insert shims. They have a different setting for different wind speeds. That time I had come aboard with (one of) my tool bags and we rerouted the hydraulics – piece of cake.

This reminded me of the one of the legs of a recent Vendee Globe race in which another friend of ours Tim Kent on “Everest Horizontal” was participating. Much happened and he desperately needed help in New Zealand. As it just happened, we had been corresponding with Pat and Olivia Murphy aboard ‘Aldebaran’, who were cruisers from Ireland , for some time. They also just happened to be a bit up the coast in NZ. We contacted them and they promptly diverted to Tim’s location. Having loads of spares on board (they owned a chandlery), they helped fix his ailing craft, and then towed him out to sea for daily sea trials. After a while, he was able to take off on the next leg of his most memorable voyage.

When we got into 'big boats' a while back, having ‘grown up’ from dinghy sailing, we became ‘cruisers’ and found there seemed to be somewhat of a rift between us and the ‘racers’ – not to mention the distinction between sailors and power-boaters. Insurmountable as these rifts seemed we simply ignored them and went cruising.  More and more of our acquaintances became friends, and we recognized kindred spirits. It appeared that the racing boats did have ‘some’ cruising gear. Ok, so they had only one anchor, no operational head, and sometimes only the bearest of amenities, but they were cruising…

Still our racing friends are unable to keep spares, tools and sundry supplies on their lovely vessels. Every ounce of weight counts, so everything is jettisoned. The race and the result are all important. When you are on one of these boats, you can certainly empathize with this. The adrenaline is absolutely amazing – call it a drug as it is presumably addicting.

Ok, so I am addicted, but only in need of small doses. I did after all grow up seriously racing in 470s while in boarding school, being fed maximum calories via steaks and big meals by my skipper's family to the chagrin of the school staff and my fellow students. Special treatment was not popular, but that is not why I was sailing, so it was not something I wanted. I had access to a boat and that was what my heart yearned for then as it does now.

Then there is the big secret among cruisers. In reality, even when lying on deck reading a book and relaxing, if another boat is heading in the same direction – look out. The race is on. Subtle and discreet moves are called for. Sail changes and sudden maneuvers are déclassé. But crossing an ‘opponent’s’ wake and passing to windward creating a devastating wind shadow are fair game indeed. Yes, we all tweak our rigs, after all we do love our boats, and they love us.

So what more perfect a marriage is there than between a cruising boat and a racing boat (and their respective crews). The cruiser has much to give in time crewing, sailing experience, tools, spares and sundry help. The racer finally has an outlet for all the old gear and other stuff no longer needed on the ‘machine’...

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