Most of my accumulated knowledge about this masochistic sport we call sailing (formerly yachting, for snobs or traditionalists) has resulted from mishaps, screw-ups or just plain dumb headedness.
My issues with sailing began as a youngster. I will never forget my first race and rigging our Pelican dingy on the sandy banks of the Swan River at Royal Perth Yacht Club in Western Australia. I recall Dad saying “here’s how you set the spinnaker boys”, as he pulled on the halyard, then snapped the pole (a wood broom handle with handmade fittings) to the brace line and mast. The process seemed simple enough.
We had a good start and reached out through the white caps to the first mark at a fast pace in the heavy wind known as the “Fremantle Doctor”. We were lucky on the jibe by staying upright and headed off downwind, but this was not so for the half dozen boats that capsized. “OK Scott, time for the kite!” I yelled at my brother, as he went forward and attached the pole to the mast. The tiny purple & white kite cracked open as the stiff breeze caught it and we were off like a rocket. Imagine a pocket handkerchief size of nylon fabric straining at the seams as our boat skimmed over the waves.
Water started gushing from the centerboard like a geyser; spray hit our eyes, a rooster tail exploded from the rudder, as the whole boat shuddered with vibrations under the strain. Next thing we knew we were in the lead and pulling away from the fleet at an impressive rate, as most of the chicken livers did not set a chute. Somehow we managed to keep that little dingy on her feet and we were soon rapidly approaching the leeward mark and a rocky lee shore. “Time to douse” I yelled and irreverently released the spinnaker halyard, with the adrenaline still raging through my veins. The wind caught the sail and promptly blew it into the water in front of our bow. We spent much time shrimping to clear the chute off the centerboard and created a big tear in it before we packed it away. Meanwhile the rest of the fleet rounded the mark ahead of us as we slowly clawed away from the rocks. We spent a miserable hour floundering our way upwind in a semi submerged state before Dad finally took pity, threw a line and towed us ashore.
To this day I recall this hard felt lesson each time I control a halyard, by giving it a turn around the winch.