Sunday, February 18, 2007


One of my life mantras is “no regrets”. And if I’ve made an error in my past that still haunts, then to make peace with myself. But I have one memory that still niggles. And it still has the power to embarrass me because I didn’t have the courage at the time to make a simple tactical decision.

When I left New Zealand in 1989, I waved goodbye to family and friends from Westhaven Marina from a 50-foot double-masted racing yacht, Saudade. I was off on my “big OE” (the Kiwi’s ubiquitous Overseas Experience) as one of six women crewing on the inaugural Auckland-Fukuoka 14,000 km yacht race. The race was to take us two months with stopovers in Suva and Guam. We certainly had a few adventures along the way – one particular occasion I was a wee bit tardy in getting a wrap around a mast-step winch when hand-raising the spinnaker. An unexpected gust of wind caught the sail and before I knew it I was 50 feet up the mast – then swung out, my back brushing against the inside curl of the sail, the Pacific Ocean roaring along way beneath me. No way was I letting go! But before long, the wind died, and I was slowly lowered right back from where I’d started. And I got that wrap around the winch pretty jolly smartly.

Five days before we were to cross the finish line, I was watch captain early one morning with Margaret, a Canadian who’d worked with the same firm as me in Auckland – she’d joined us in Guam when we’d found ourselves a crew member short. Needless to say, everyone else was fast asleep down below. Sadly, during the voyage, tensions had crept up a bit, especially with the finish line so close after so long. And there had been times when we’d made tactical decisions that had been criticised by our cabin-bound male skipper who had really only surfaced when we’d reached a stopover.

0300 and the wind’s veering. We really need to put a tack in. But the last time we did, we got growled at. So we didn’t. 0415 and the wind’s gone further around. Now we really need to put a tack in. But we didn’t. Dawn breaks and the next watch stumbles up into the cockpit. Where the heck are we? Way off course. We put a tack in. It takes us a full day to make up the lost ground. Nobody really speaks to me for the rest of the race. And because of my indecision, and lack of courage at that crucial time, we miss the race end’s prize-giving.

May I never lack that courage to make a tactical decision again.

* Top photo: China is somewhere over there. About half-way between Guam and Fukuoka we were totally becalmed for four days and nights, and drifted backwards 25nm.
* Lower photo: Normal watch captain attire, at least for the camera.


Dawn (aka SandyBottom) said...

The sad part for some of us is knowing that 18 years later you can probably still fit in that damn bikini :)

Kristen said...

I still have it, but there's no way I'd wear a bikini again!

David said...

The story of the vagrant spinnaker sheet sure created some images in my mind's eye. (I understand sailing a little better than kayaking.) Strange way to go parasailing though.


Michael said...

Kristen - is that decision final? Always wear water-skis when working the winch, just in case you take off suddenly... (Just kidding!)