Rapid & Reviving
Travelling light on a silvery day...
This short article was originally published in Sail Fast No. 7, spring 2000. Sail Fast is the official newsletter of the International Classic Yacht Association. The article was edited by Iain McAllister. I can't help but to smirk at my own choice of words, 9 years ago. Anyways, I put this out here now to complement my context page about classic yacht racing.
Alex Schneider takes a moment's notice from the heaving windward rail as 70 years old Alraune thrashes up the first leg of a race at the XI Veteranen Regatta, Laboe, Germany, August 1999. Most of the 250 classics from the north that took part were leaving harbour for their last race of the year. Among them was the Giles/Five 12-Metre Flica II having arrived from the Mediterranean.
A rough sea confronts us, darkly reflecting the low clouds that have rolled in from the north. Under a grey sky, in the pale morning light, we are treated to a cold and fierce north-easterly wind that turns the water white at times.
Proud, stirring waves jump at us and get split beneath the forefoot. The bow lowers into the rushing dark green to lift up again for the next forward thrust. I feel a wet smack on my neck: "Hold on to the deck - the battle is on!"
The elements are awake and Alraune is in her element as she carries us onwards to the first mark, her sails tensed to the gusty wind. Another wave hits the bow, scattering into jets of spray over the deck. Although the water is surprisingly warm, fingerns work slowly, numb with cold. But you keep your wits about you, washed clear and alert.
The vagueness of morning falls from us as soon as we realize our boat's vigor today, offering us a chance to dash along in front positions. The groove is found quickly at 8-9 knots. Soon our green crew sweaters cling to our bodies, limp and soaked. I glance back and notice some crew already slipping into their oilskins. I wait for a chance to reach down for mine, only if the thrill of speed allows for a second.
Now in full motion, we feel our quest is clear, all of us bound to the same emotion, clutching to the same craft, the hull being heeled by the forceful genoa, with the leeward side awash already.
"All crew up to windward!"
Back on the little bronze pedestal the sheet is being trimmed in anticipation of an approaching puff. It passes: a hard sweeping blow. In the cockpit they are deciding whether to shorten sail; the jib alone would do better now. But the first mark is not far off, so we take our chance with the genoa despite the increasing obligation to pay off to avoid stalling - until the next puff hits. The siren cry of the only female crew aboard, always aroused in extreme situations, makes us move: "Let's reduce canvas!"
Two men drag themselves forward; a third is already at the halyard. I involuntarily slide down the deck but pull myself back up through the spray to reach the forestay. As sheet and halyard are paid out six hands leap and struggle to gather. First the sail pops open then falls quickly until it has to be hauled down the last few metres. For a moment the overpower that had dominated is reduced to a vacuum as it apparently takes a long time until the jib sets and draws.
Leaving the lashed bundle of sail I catch first sight of those who had maintained way on during the change of sails. "Good going," our helmsman's grin indicates. A quick survey of our position in the dispersed fleet shows: many behind, less in front.
The bay is vibrating under the slicing keels, vibrating mainly in adoration for the heavy load of history and inspiration those yachts carry. A puzzle of large and small, old and earlier designs. We are crewing a prototype, Alraune, the first of its type ever.
From shore it must seem both pleasurable and somehow rather surrealistic to watch this play of protagonists from the past in such a lively setting of wind and water, but no pleasure is comparable to being amidst the action, right here and now, on the wet deck while racing.
Every neck is stretched further, and every eye strained wider now. Across the bay to seaward the mark grows more distinct, more sharply defined. Our effort's goal is in sight.
The clouds thicken and curdle to the southward while pouring out showers now and then. The wind holds steady, dashing the bay while we plough our way through, spray constantly stinging the face.
The crew is different today, motivated and more flexible in the company of a seafarer aboard who has known Alraune since childhood. The original good times seem present with him. You see the light of joy glimmering in the corners of his eyes while tobacco smoke fumes from the side of his mouth. Occasionally he glances beyond the main to the jib to assure himself it's pulling well. On an inspection amidships he moves carefully, almost unnoticed. You wouldn't imagine an old bone like him daring to crawl about a small ship in these conditions. One hand always reaches up to his chin, for the pipe. His other had touches this and that detail before suggesting better trim on the jib.
His experience is not read easily, as from an open book, and his speaking voice is low. But without doubt he poses the guidelines today, he carries the code; and his son is the executive power, acting quickly, swiftly, trimming in time, synchronising sail area to wind. Indeed we climb up on our course; Alraune is striving hard, rising and falling in the approaching waves, somehow succeeding in finding a balance between the rough sea and her tender motion.
Rounding the mark a quarter of the course is over. But whereas this calculation refers to navigation, on deck every moment is accomplished; they come and go with the waves. The mark rounding means a change of rhythm. Now the waves carry us on pulsing beats of strike and withdrawal, strike and withdrawal.
Anew we haul up and go for the next mark.
Published: April 04, 2009