8 August 2008

Going About – It’s Cowes Week

There’s not much I miss about corporate life now I’ve retired. Drinks and dinner with my mates Steve and Dee after a day of fraught negotiations with clients is one thing I miss. The annual BT sailing competition is another.

It was held in Cowes the week before the world-famous sailing extravaganza when the yachtie world descends on a very small town on the Isle of Wight. In the world of sport, or anything else for that matter, never do so many visit something so small, inhabited by so few.

In the first few years in my division, I was given the option of taking a boat with some of my colleagues, not many of whom had stepped foot on a racing yacht before, let alone sailed one in competition. We did however have a guy (Mike) who was a sailing enthusiast and he became the skipper. Because of my organisational abilities, or more likely because nobody else could be bothered, I became captain and quartermaster, which involved two key responsibilities; hand over my credit card to cover the insurance for the boat which was chartered on our behalf and to ensure a good supply of easily cooked food and a plentiful supply of beer.

Needless to say, we never did very well in the competitions, generally coming in about 26th out of 28 yachts. This was put down to the fact that most of the time, most of the crew were completely wrecked and didn’t know a spinnaker from a mainsail. Nevertheless our boat was the one everyone visited when we tied-up at night.

When I left the division, I managed to convince my ex-director that providing me with a yacht and allowing my crew to continue to take part was a good move, given that we were extremely good losers. He agreed and for a further 3 years, the yacht was chartered, the mooring fees paid and we continued getting wrecked, however, the rails were coming off, if I can change modes of transport for a second. The crew became even more interested in drinking rather than winching, and sunbathing rather than racing but we still had a blast.

Finally, my ex-director said enough was enough. If we wanted to continue we had to fund it ourselves. The thought of paying £750 for two day’s charter of a yacht became too much for some and the crew started to change. Our skipper left and I, as captain and custodian of the credit card was tasked with finding a new one. I remember some guy calling me when I was in my car one night applying for the job as skipper. He asked what sort of yacht it was and when I replied that it was a white one and that we didn’t anticipate stopping the more social side of the event, he hung up ! The yacht was, as I was to find out later, a Jeanneau 36….so there !

The next few years were a struggle to get crew and to keep our place in the starting 28 yachts as there was always a huge demand for one of the places but we held on until one year when virtually everything which could go wrong, did. We gate crashed the official pre-regatta dinner and managed to get the waiter to bring us 6 cases of Bud which we stashed under the table. This was noticed by the other competitors who couldn’t get a drink but maybe if they had tipped the waiter a tenner like we had done, they would not have gone thirsty ! We hit the starter/judges boat amidships (that means right in the middle) at the start of one race – in yachting, an unforgivable sin. And then the final straw. As we dropped off our replacement skipper at Ryde harbour, we heard someone shouting at us on a megaphone. Turning round we were confronted by the Southampton to Ryde ferry waiting impatiently to get into his berth at Ryde pier. An official complaint was made and that was the end of my racing career however when Cowes week comes round, I start to get itchy feet and start barking instructions to my crew – sorry, family.

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