Cool, salty air and the gentle movement of ocean underfoot during the skipper’s run-down of man overboard protocol make the prospect of time over the guardrails entirely more appealing than dealing with my overstuffed email inbox.
Before we’ve even untied Rob Tape’s 38-foot racer-cruiser Riot from the Royal Victoria Yacht Club to take part in the William Head Trophy Race, something about the impermeable pants, the closeness to the sea and the anticipation of the unknown, of a pelagic place very close to my daily wanderings, but so different, melts into one maxim: nothing’s better than a day on the water.
Marni Fedoruk, a sailor of 15 years, commodore of the Turkey Head Sailing Association and my mentor is in pit, meaning she’s responsible for all lines leading to the cockpit. With an instrument around her neck to measure speed and her eye on the clock, Fedoruk counts us down to the start. The crack of air horn shatters the calm before the 10 boats circling Cadboro Bay depart for Metchosin.
Clinging to a handrail I expect to be more frightened by Riot’s lean. Fedoruk tells me the hull is infused with lead, that the angle we’ll ride the water is entirely safe. My feet dangle over the high side of the boat in a position that feels more like carnival ride than marine transport.
The wind catches the main sail and all the day’s anxieties, the clatter of the morning hustle-bustle, are blown away by the rushing wind and surf.
In front of us, Oak Bay from a new angle: the hotel, golf course, rocky shoreline, coastal birds. Porpoises and a pod of orcas rise from the depths, slide along the surface long enough to catch our eye and dip back into the deep.
A couple of avid sailors visiting from the UK, Jennifer MacGregor and her husband Bruno De Deckere arranged to join the race and both offer tips along the way. With a brief tutorial on how to crank a winch and trim a sail, MacGregor pulls me into the action. De Deckere is the first to underline the importance of shifting your weight to the edge of the boat, a balancing act Fedoruk calls “on board pilates” and what I will come to see as my primary role here: movable weight. Every so often Daragh Nagle, a sailor who has left his own boat to winter in Maryland, emerges from his post inside the cabin with a digital view of the course, thanks to a GPS and navigation software. Assisted by Paul Jenkins – a man with some 50 years of sailing experience himself – Tape stands at Riot’s steel wheel and sets us out on good footing for the first leg of the race.
I’m perched on the starboard side where the final crew member in this cast, Jan Schorer, a German engineer studying at UVic explains to me velocity made good, a measure of the boat’s speed in the direction of the mark, in our case a buoy in the waters off William Head. We tack back and forth towards our destination and with each move, I clamber overtop the deck, below the main sail and set my movable weight back down. For a couple of hours, I succumb to the meditative nature of the experience: the wind, the waves, the tranquility – untainted by a growing awareness that we have fallen far from our place near the front of the pack. At one point near our destination, I believe we actually went in reverse – funny to me only because it didn’t affect the attitude of the crew or their desire to keep making the best moves possible at the time. A change in wind direction saw a delay in deploying the spinnaker until well past our turnaround – but still early enough to experience Jenkins’ smooth manoeuvring with the parachute-like sail in full effect, around the inside of Race Rocks in the afternoon sun, delicately past a competitor without falling victim to its wind shadow and back to the marina.
Riot may have spent five hours and 13 minutes to cover 36.76 miles, at a speed up to 9.3 knots. She may have charted a course map reminiscent of three-year-old with a Spirograph at our mark and she may have technically came in last place. But she also underlined Fedoruk’s claim that people are so generous, because they want to spread the word, that the sailing community, though often perceived as elitist, always welcomes prospective crew – even the ill-equipped. So long as they share the view, that nothing quite tops a day on the water.
Have your own high seas adventure. Visit rvyc.bc.ca for a list of events and information on sailing programs and crewbank registration.