My day as a Sailor

By on septiembre 23, 2012 — Leave a comment
I was invited to be ‘guest sailor’ on the Audi All4One  boat in the Valencia Cup 2012 TP52″ Super Series.  The helmsman was Jochen Schumann (3 Olympics golds, two Americas Cup plus loads of other stuff).  The team was made up of America’s Cup and Olympic gold medalists from France, Germany, Spain, Italy and just for yesterday from Northern Ireland, although I wasn’t actually in the team and I couldn’t actually do anything.  I imagined that for these top pro’s having a guest on board must be as welcome as chewing gum stuck the sole of your shoe.  Still they were very helpful.
Best racing day of the summer, strong NE winds 15-20 knots and big choppy waves.  My instructions were to stay at the back and move when told to move, sounds easy, and don’t stick my fingers anywhere you can lose them, be careful of of grasping a slack rope because the speed at which it can tighten can throw you off the boat.  Today my body is broken, cut to pieces, bruised to buggery and sore as hell. The order goes ‘tack’ an in an instant the boat racing up wind, into a strong NE wind, swiches from 70º one one side to 70º to the other.  The big guy next to me in the foto Jorge, one of the grinders, told me to time my move to when boat flattens out for a second or so then you literally leap through under the wire to get your weight on the edge of the boat.  Jorge told me that he loved these boats because it is all action, he was not wrong.
Down wind we are going at  20 knots the boat nose diving into the waves, up wind half that speed but boy way is rough, smashing through the waves and at the back of the boat it is bumpy.
That was all I had to do but the crew of 13 worked at speed in harmony and precision pumping like a well oiled engine, brilliant team work beautiful to witness so close.  High level of concentration and physical strength and dexterity required by all.

First race the fight to the finish was thrilling we were leading going straight for the line, then the Italian Azzurra boat came was coming in like a train from 10 o’clock with better wind and managed to steal the victory by seconds.

Second race the Italians won by 90 secs, but we were in a fight with the Quatum (Ed Baird, USA) and Gladiator,GB for second.  All three converging on the line at once and we go managed to get second place.  The crew were pleased enough.
Then it happened.  Into the third race, by which time I am very tired, concentration and reaction times are slowing.  Danger levels are rising.  Lost fingers, serious gashes are all to frequent occurrences on these beasts. I didn’t hear the call to ‘tack’, swung my legs around late, got caught in cables all in 5/10 secs. I am stuck the boat is now 70º upright and I am on the wrong side.  ‘Move, get up here’ someone bellows, I move, the boat hits a wave and ditches, i was thrown onto the deck (at the back of the boat the deck is rough with a thick sandpaper type texture) bounce on my knees, smack both ankles against the deck, am catapulted forward hit the safety wire at eyebrow level, haul myself through the gap, supporting my weight using my left underarm on the top wire.  I am safe, blood is pouring out of both ankles, knees and knuckles with the  my left tricep looking  like it has gone 10 rounds with Mike Tyson.  Still three legs of this last race to go and we are now sailing into an oncoming black squall.  Now I am bleeding, tired and very wet.  With each ‘tack’ which seemed to more frequent, I seemed to get slower and the danger of moving too quickly rather than as smoothly as possible increased.  Suddenly with full sails out and going like the clappers something snapped and one of the sails went flying, they worked liked crazy to bring in the broken sail and fix whatever they could and get  a new sail up but we had lost too much time.  It was just like in F1 cars, puncture, broken valve – race over, just one of those things.  Still they raced on and knicked 4th place out of the 5 boats.
Overall after the day’ racing we were second, in spite of me being on board.
Everyone looked shattered by the end.  Back at port I bumped into my mate Andrew, a big Kiwi, from the Swedish boat he looked exhausted and sort of grunted at me, ‘today was tough’.
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