Home' Afloat : AFLOAT December 2015 Contents 22 AFLOAT.com.au December 2015
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§ SEMCO teak products,
§ All boats - all sizes.
Located at The Sydney Boathouse
U6, 2 Waterways Court (off James Craig Rd)
Rozelle Bay, NSW, 2039
02 9810 9030
Non-sailors won’t appreciate the significance of those
words. First they mean noise, constant noise. Noise so
wearing that even in bed earplugs are a godsend. On deck
in a gale the noise is surprisingly tiring – the wind’s constant moan,
howl, whistle (for us this time no shrieking, heaven forbid); the
background hisses and gurgles of the rushing sea; the staccato
rattle like gravel thrown hard onto bathroom tiles, as sheets of
spray hit the deck, the thump of seas hitting the hull.
The other thing about the noise on deck is the unbridled
pleasure of coming below and closing the hatch. That surprising
silence – at best only relative – is warm, extremely comforting. It
is like escaping a rock concert to sit by a cosy fire in the library.
You don’t have to shout.
Hand in hand with the noise comes the motion, which tends
to highlight the cacophony. A devilish mix. Let me talk about
First, with reaching and shy running, there are the deep shocks
when waves slam broadside into the hull. Noise and motion
indistinguishable. They are often surprising, because they come
unexpectedly. If too frequent, or if they throw the boat over on
its side, they tell you it is time to slow down, to turn off the wind,
or both. Even if it takes you in the wrong direction.
Second, when sailing hard (which we were) on the wind
(which, yesterday, we weren’t thank heavens) you have those
bone-jarring crashes each time the bows fall off a wave. These
are distressing because they can shake the boat to its very core.
You worry about splitting the hull up forward, although that’s
very unlikely because the bows have the strongest compound
curves the old girl has to offer. They are the primary reason for
all those elegant lines, practical first and aesthetic very much
second. These crashes distress also because they don’t come
The harbinger is movement – a sudden upward sweep of the
boat followed by a transient sense of weightlessness which has
you think – “Oh no! Here comes another one. Hang on, quick!”
After time at sea you acquire some ability to anticipate
these seemingly random movements. There is some pattern
and predictability to them, even when they are chaotic. And
wedding them to the mental images you have of the sea outside
is satisfying. Because with that process comes your sense of
oneness with the boat. And that is what it is all about.
Off the wind, the forward surge as you accelerate is
exhilarating, even down below. You can hear the bow wave change
pitch and move aft along the hull as this happens. Yesterday ours
was a splendid roller-coaster ride. By turns your weight seems
to double and then plummet and your heart rises in your throat.
And always with sound-track, remember.
Endless wonderful swooping and soaring – in which you can
feel the boat’s essential purpose, her unshakeable intention. It is
when that swoop gets subsumed suddenly into lateral movement
– a n alarming increase in angle of heel as you harden up, as the
noise of the wind rises and the boat shakes its very bones with
the furious rattle of sails – that you know the Aries is not coping.
It is time dial-in more weather helm, ease the mainsheet, or
reduce sail. And if you are sailing off the wind, perhaps all three.
The other, more worrying uninvited change comes when the
boat suddenly stands upright, the wind seems to drop, all goes
quiet and the boat feels leaden. This has you leaping to the
steering lines or, if need be, naked up into the cockpit to bring
her back on course before she gybes all standing.
After a couple of weeks at sea it is surprising how well you
get to know what’s going on outside, as you lie there snug in your
bunk listening and feeling. Avoiding that midnight struggle in a
wet, cold cockpit is a great stimulus to thoughtful, pre-emptive
Anyway, as I was saying, we had a fast, wet, uncomfortable
sail ... h
*John Vallentine is a Sydney doctor from RANSA, who spends half
his time practising medicine and the other half sailing the world’s
oceans on his yacht Tainui.
“ We had a fast, wet,
uncomfortable sail ...”
by John Vallentine*
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