By Alan Littlefield
We can't help it can we? Get two boats on the water and they race. I can remember my early days of sailing home in a Cole 23 under the Harbour Bridge. It was a beautiful sunset and as the various accompanying boats returned their crews to their respective moorings all that could be heard was the clink of champagne glasses, and the surreptitious clicking of winches as skippers slyly tried to increase the speed of their boat or moved crew to rest so nonchalantly on the boom thereby holding it out.
I haven't learned and recently was lucky to compete in two very different WAGS or Wednesday Afternoon Gentleman's Sailing. The first was at a very large South Queensland Yacht Club. I used to compete here when it was a very laid back affair. The average boat size was about 32 feet, a 40 was considered an overkill. Now there is a start boat, the average boat is some exotic European production racer cruiser and the atmosphere is more tense than a Brisbane to Gladstone. I thought the idea of these races was to introduce people to sailing. This would be like teaching someone to drive in a Formula 1 car. The starboard rule is employed to its full effect here, no Mr. Nice Guy and no place for the timid or the uninsured.
The second WAGS was in a much smaller North Queensland Yacht Club. Here the atmosphere is more relaxed, although the Politically Correct have changed the name to the WAGALS which seems incongruous for the laid back Tropics.
Just In both cases though, the procedure is fairly simple. Turn up, sign on and get a handicap. It's a delayed start so that in theory all boats will finish at the same time. However, as the club is scared that an interloper in a liveaboard might actually steal the bottle of wine first prize, your handicap will ensure that you start behind Wild Oats. Protocol says that you should not turn up with a full compliment of crew as the idea is to meet new people. As you are new the handicapper will allocate the one person that no one in the club will sail with, whilst keeping all the female Swedish Backpackers for his own boat. Your new crew will then stand, hands in pockets to stop him from buying you a beer until race start when you make your way to your boat.
Just follow the leader
The course is easy, just follow the entire fleet ahead of you. There are no spinnakers allowed so that's at least one complication out of the way. Your crew, including your new chum will proceed to drink your boat dry of all alcohol, promising to repay you back at the bar. By the time they are hungrily eyeing the contents of the compass the race ends and the boat is put back into its pen. The crew then race off to the bar leaving you to secure it, clean it, remove for repair anything which has broken, and get it ready for next week.
I can't wait!