Fifty shades of grey, by Liesl King

Yes, I went back. I returned to the dark side, otherwise known as racing a catamaran in a fleet of yachts. And you know what? It was even better the second time around! A cat may not heel and certainly doesn’t go as fast as a Cape 31, but other than that it reacts like any other yacht, big or small. Mess up a gybe or tack and you pay the price, sail too high or too low and your hard worked for boat speed immediately drops. But when you get it right and the Southeaster fills your genoa and main, she sure flies along like the majestic beast she is.

Twilight racing for the season was actually already over, with the last race blown-out as often happens this time of the year. Yet this time around it was even more painful than usual, as due to this Covid mess we find ourselves in, I had sailed precisely once the entire year. And for a girl who craves wind in her hair and tired muscles after a job well done, that was a disaster. Sailing blows away all that life throws at me. Simply put, it keeps me sane. Yep you don’t really want to know me when I can’t sail.

Then came the announcement, the sailing committee was putting on one last race. Ok, it was smack bang in the middle of a nightmare week of getting ready for an important audit. I was mired in paperwork and deadlines. Should I have said yes? Probably not. But I did, I needed to be out there just one more time. So I left my office in an uncharacteristic mess, flew out the door and headed to the yacht club. Back to my post on the starboard genoa winch.

I had been watching Windfinder for a week already, us yachties do that you know. Everyone has their own favourite wind site that they staunchly believe in and follow religiously.  Wind in sailing is everything. Too much and it becomes dangerous out there. Too little and you bob around going nowhere slowly.  When you get that perfect wind though, nothing beats it, not even fifty shades of grey.  And according to my favourite wind site we were going to have a 15 knot southerly.  Trust me, unless you are sailing a Ferrari and live for adrenaline pumping, near disaster, hanging on by your fingertips sailing, then 15 to 18 knots is the perfect sunset sailing weather.

Thankfully my trusted wind forecasting model was right and despite the gloomy grey skies, it was perfect sailing weather. So much so that once we had cast off, I went and sat on the foredeck as we motored out. In the light breeze I could just sit, relax and soak up the view. A flock of seagulls on the harbour wall, a giant container ship loading up and an orange lifeboat on its launch ramp high up over the transom of a bulk carrier. Life in a busy port. Out in the bay the light breeze picked up and it was time to head back to my starboard winch. It was decision time. Are we going to fly the spinnaker, the code zero or just stick with our genoa, which on a cat is rather large in any case. The genoa won the lottery and it was time to hoist.

Apparently, my work last time was adequate and hence I got promoted to the starboard furler line for the hoist. Seems my gym sessions are finally paying off. Our course was pretty much the same as last time, except for an off-set mark, off the Milnerton buoy. Our start was picture perfect again. Sailing up the line, a smart tack with 30 seconds to go and we were racing. I had hoped that we would be on a starboard tack all the way to the Lewmar buoy, but the wind had backed in Southeast corner, and we weren’t able to lay the mark anymore.  Not useful at all, when you need to leave the buoy to port! It also meant I had to get that genoa sheet in right smartly as we tacked.

They say familiarity breeds contempt, but in sailing familiarity makes things second nature. I no longer had to think about what I was doing. My hands knew the sequence and while I may still need help to get the last few turns on the winch in a strong wind, my tacks were solid and much smoother than last time. The run down to Milnerton is always my favourite. A lovely long starboard tack means I get to head up front to take some photos of the fleet, Table Mountain and the crew on the main and helm.

All too soon though we reached the Milnerton buoy. With three classes on conflicting courses, in close proximity at the turning mark, racing now became a tad tricky. The super-fast Class A boats were either heading in the opposite direction to us or bearing down on the same marks, just from a different direction. And the one thing a cat cannot do is to turn on a ticky. Hence, when a Cape 31, complete with a giant spinnaker up, came bearing down on us at speed, we were forced to make plenty of room at the mark. They graciously executed a wide dog leg, allowing them time to drop their kite as they shot across our bow, rounding the buoy just before we got there.

The race back to the finish was pretty much a case of where is the most wind to be found. In spots the wind was pumping, yet there were bands of nothing in between. The wise men on board decreed that in such instances one heads to the mountain. And that is precisely what we did. A long run up, a neat tack as close to the wall as we could safely go, and we were on our way back to the Lewmar buoy. The wind however had other ideas, forcing us down again and seeing as Lewmar is not at Lagoon Beach, another tack was required. There was just one small problem, we had a yacht on starboard side a couple of boat lengths behind our stern and we had to wait for them to tack first.  Except they seem to have no intention of doing so.

When it became very clear that it was either beaching the cat or tacking, we tacked. They however, had not noticed us at all. Once we pointed out our rather large existence, some “polite” conversation was exchanged, during which they had the audacity to enquire whether we were racing. We, “politely” again, pointed out that if they had tacked in the room we had given them, they would be on the layline to Lewmar. By the time they had tacked however, we had been forced to take evasive action.  With flapping sails it took us a while to get the boat speed back up.

Still, we eventually got to Lewmar only to find we had to round a yacht and a buoy. One of the boats in front of us had managed to sail just a tad too close to the mark and found themselves firmly attached to said buoy. Having laid those marks once before, I had a fairly good idea of the many, many metres of rope, chain and cement blocks attached to it. Untangling themselves from it would neither be quick nor easy and I felt for them as we headed for the line. During the race the sky had turned through fifty shades of grey ending in a glorious burnt orange as we crossed the line.

There is a certain joy that comes from a race well sailed. Tired muscles, windblown hair, a job well done and a song in your heart. There is nothing quite like it. I will miss it, waiting impatiently for the next season to begin. She may be a cat, but she makes me work.  She punishes my mistakes and she teaches me what can and cannot be done. It may be a sail on the grey side, but I loved every minute of it. And for the record, we were racing! See you next season Amarula!




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