A boat by another name, by Liesl King.

Despite trying to keep myself firmly away from sailing by doing really silly things like breaking my foot, come the holidays I was utterly and truly desperate for a sail. Anything would suffice, I just needed to get out on the water with the wind in my hair and the sting of sea spray on my face. Out on the water is my happy spot, where the wind literally blows away cobwebs, worries and an assortment of dramas that life seems to be so good at throwing my way. Only problem being that I was nowhere near RCYC and my regular boat, the lovely Amarula, was happily bobbing about in Kraal Bay.

So, what is a desperate sailor to do? Well, you find an alternative of course. And in this instance, my only option seemed to be the colourful Hobie 16 of my host. I had in the past firmly declined to sail anything with the word Hobie attached. Mainly, due to losing a relative in a Hobie accident and the fact that these mini catamarans seem to spend a lot of time on one hull, with somebody hanging in the trapeze.

Trapeze, me? No, I don’t think that is quite my style. I would much rather be on the boat, than dangling over the water attached to the mast by a thin steel cable. I have seen enough steel cables snap to know that they are most definitely not infallible. But I was desperate, and it was going to be the Hobie or nothing. The lure in the end was the offer of trimming the jib rather than dangling over the side as ballast. Now jib trim I understand and tell tales are my friends, or so I thought.

From somewhere way back in a cupboard I dug out my son’s half wetsuit and suitably attired made my way down to the shore of the lagoon. The rigging process was somewhat familiar and yet also new. Two travellers for the jib and a variety of bungy cords seem to be in action. Old habits die hard though, and I automatically picked up the sheets and lines lying on the Hobie and one by one popped a figure of eight stopper knot on the ends. My host was slightly bemused. Still, a sheet with a knot at its end, cannot disappear through the cleats.

Sails rigged, it was time to walk the boat out over the sand bank and start sailing. First though there was the slight issue of getting on. Having never been on a Hobie, I had no idea how one should or shouldn’t approach this exercise. It was only once the order “hop on” was given, that I suddenly realised I had forgotten to ask what the correct way was. Could one step on a hull and up? These tiny hulls, compared to Amarula’s ones, looked decidedly flimsy and hence I decided to just heave myself up onto the trampoline by my arms.

Note to self – never ever do that again! After not sailing for more than 10 months, my arms were not as strong as I had assumed and what ensued was an undignified scramble, which ended with me rolling onto the trampoline. At least I was on the thing! My only other instruction was to stay low and avoid the boom, especially when tacking or gybing and to remember to get my weight forward in a tack and back in a gybe. Oh, and to basically trim the jib as I saw fit.

Off we set. Skipper (my host), a young friend for ballast and me. Ballast was decidedly required as of course I wasn’t having my first sail on a Hobie in a gentle 5 to 8 knots.  As with my first lesson on the Cape 31, so long ago, we went out in 20 knots of gusting and shifting wind that was mostly Southeast. So, there was no gentle start here either. Once I had done my undignified scramble, the skipper and ballast crew member leapt on, and off we flew, literally.

Thankfully, I had the jib sheet in hand for trimming purposes of course, but truth be told, it was much more useful to hang on with.  I had been told that under no circumstances was I to knock the skipper off the Hobie. This sounded far better than that interesting first lesson on the Cape 31, when I was told what to do in case my skipper went overboard, and I found myself alone on the boat. Drop sails, throw things, push buttons, start the engine and call for help on the radio.  And me full well knowing that I had no idea how to do any of that except that I could throw things and call for help.

Not knocking the skipper overboard was a far easier mission indeed, or so I thought.  What he had however failed to mention, was that trampolines are slippery suckers, as I soon discovered. Especially when you have waves of spray flying over you as the hulls dig in. Still, one can get very resourceful if required and I managed to wedge a heel into the bungy cords of the trampoline. That, together with my death grip on the cleated jib sheet seemed to do the trick.

In the gusting wind we flew, bounced up into the air a few times, got our bums wet with waves hitting the bottom of the trampoline and got hosed with salt water. On one particular downwind run, I was sailing with the right side of my face completely in the spray the entire run, as I leant out backwards to hold us stable. Can’t see and no point in wiping your eye every second? You simply close said eye and jib trim with the other.

The first tack was interesting. I had not registered that the jib pulley must be hard against the traveller at the start of the tack. Only half in, our tack failed, and with the wind blowing us backwards, skipper had some nifty manoeuvring to do. A second attempt was much better. I was getting the hang of sliding forward to the mast on the slippery trampoline, hauling on the sheet to get it into position, then holding the hulls down with my weight, waiting till the bows had turned through the wind and everybody was in position, before releasing and pulling the jib in hard again. Doing all of this on your hands and knees while avoiding the flying boom is interesting. I will just say that I was very happy that there were no cameras on board.

It didn’t take me long to get the hang of the Hobie though. Tacks and gybes came and went, with me automatically sliding in the right direction, before setting us off again. Up and down we went, in crazy weather, having the time of our lives. I have to admit that the adrenaline junkie in me had found a new passion. While we were apparently far from sailing on the edge (nobody was on the trapeze, we weren’t flying on one hull and we didn’t capsize), I absolutely loved the thrill of sailing in that gusty wind.

Hobies are sensitive beasts and I loved feeling the effect subtle changes of weight had on the boat. Sailing became an elegant dance with the Hobie, the wind and the waves. And it was a dance I utterly and completely fell in love with. I simply couldn’t get enough. More sails followed over the coming days, prudently with gloves firmly on, after some first sail blisters. Some almost champagne sails, others immense fun. I got better and better at trimming that jib and even had a go at steering. Am I in love? Absolutely. I can’t wait for the next sail and am even planning the purchase of a full wetsuit, for winter sailing, you know.

Have I had enough of sailing the lovely Amarula or my darling Rolls Royce? Definitely not! I will still be out on the water whenever possible.  I have merely added a new mistress to my collection, if you please. She is capricious, mischievous, challenges me and lets me fly like I have never flown before. I guess it’s called living life to the fullest, many mistresses and all! Till next time.

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