boat-builders, sailors, stories of the roaring 40’s
Suhaili – skippered by Robin Knox-Johnston – in the 40’s
He looks at me with the unerring vision of an archer behind his bow, like his target is through and beyond my eyes – which he stares through. This steady vision that does not waver and he does not blink.
Tom B. He is a sailor, a yachtsman, and has only just returned from the last Volvo Ocean Race.
Tom B is sometimes hired between his races by the yacht-building company as a Project Manager and today we are sat in the company’s canteen amongst the hubble and tumult of twenty boat-builders and their apprentices and the marine plumbers and electricians and all the artisans that build fast sea-boats. Some of the older men sit around their table in ragged armchairs, the walls are covered with pictures of boats and women. This place is rarely visited by anyone from the office.
Tom has no hair, anywhere – and when he is not sailing he’s biking around the Pittwater in his lycra shorts or running the roads – he’s foolish that way.
The Volvo race skims the lower latitudes, that part of this earth that allows sea swells to travel unimpeded around its girth – here be raceways of speed where sometimes the rocketing momentum of a fast yacht on a massive swell can overcome the wind, and where sails sometimes limp up despite that the boat is clocking over 30 knots.
They stow all their sails as ballast on the weather side and Tom B. sits up there on the canvas mound on iceberg watch with a wholly black night hiding everything until it is only yards away.
He tells of nights when the boat is running into the sea and it rises and falls ten times a minute for hour after hour and how the echoing bangs and compressions as the bow smashes back into the sea denies them any rest. They eat reconstituted food and drink calorie water, below decks is awash with sea water – nobody is dry.
He tells of sighting a ‘berg, a tombstone, and how the only alarm he was able to give was a frightened ‘FUCK!! ..’ as the grey black ice island loomed up just yards away from the side of the boat. That silent waiting cold bastard, just sliding away.
He is building his own boat right now and he invited me aboard to admire the skill of the build and the lightness of the carbon-fibre construction – and he talked of oceans and winds and worlds of travel – how men get along in the dark and wet and close confines of a racing yacht where gales blow for days and the seas never relent.
They are unlike surfers though these men, they never talk about loving the sea.