Monday, April 16, 2012

Sailing Communities Around the World

Nobody wants to die doing something they love. They want to live doing something they love.

One of my favorite views
There are good days and bad days in sailing, but the good far outweigh the bad.

After a lovely sailboat race and post-race debrief session over several beers, I had trouble sleeping. I woke up about 2:00 a.m. I was feeling tense, but for no reason. We had a great time; we had met a whole new group of sailing friends. Everything was fine. After three hours lying awake, I heard Mark’s alarm say, “It’s time to wake up. The time is 5:20.” It was Sunday morning, and the first day of the UAE work week
As usual, I rolled over and picked up my iPad to check Facebook. The first post I saw was from a San Francisco sailing friend: “I just heard a boat crashed on the rocks on the Farallones Race! So nasty out there. If anyone can fill me in . . .”

The conventional wisdom is "No wind inside
the Gate means wind outside." This year was a
windless start for the crewed Farallones Race.

The post time was about three hours earlier; Saturday afternoon in San Francisco. Had I picked up the iPad when I woke at 2:00 a.m., I would have witnessed the tragic events of the Farallones unfolding in real time from halfway around the globe. The next posts were from worried spouses and friends onshore about boats that were out there. Were they safe? What was going on?

I quickly learned how bad it was: one confirmed dead, three missing, three rescued alive. (The number missing has since risen to four.) The stricken boat was the Sydney 38 Low Speed Chase, a well-sailed competitor in Wildcard’s San Francisco PHRF fleet division.

There are many stories on this tragic incident, including this one at

This story isn’t about the Farallones disaster, though; it’s about the bigger picture. It’s about the worldwide sailing community, about what we share in our dedication to the sport we love, about safety at sea, and about how we strive to keep watch over one another, because bad things can happen.
ADCA guidone
ADCA burghee
Earlier this month, Mark and I became members of the Abu Dhabi Cruiser Association (ADCA.) ADCA is a small “paper” club with about 35 members. According to their Google site: “ADCA started in 1982, was founded in 1985 and has purpose to promote and encourage offshore sailing, racing and social activities out of Abu Dhabi. ADCA is affiliated to the R.Y.A.”

At the ADCA annual meeting, everyone pays their dues for the coming year. There is no initiation fee. A family membership is Dh300, which is about $82 U.S., most of which is spent on the buffet dinner following the meeting. I attended the April 4th Annual Meeting and Dinner solo because Mark was sick with the flu that I had unfortunately passed on to him.

Sailing clubs in the UAE suffer from the transient nature of the expat population here. Without consistent membership, it’s hard to start programs and keep them going strong. It’s also hard to have a consistent fleet and consistent leadership. ADCA is not large enough to have a committee boat or even a race committee onshore.
Bull 7000 Dr. Yalla Yalla in 2009,
sank in March 2012.
Photo: ADCA
There was quite a bit of discussion at the meeting about a Bull 7000 named Dr. Yalla Yalla that had sunk a few weeks before during a race. Nobody who was racing knew about the sinking at the time it happened. Days later, they learned that suddenly the boat began to take on water, sank, and broke up. The skipper and crew swam to shore in the warm, salty waters of the Arabian Gulf. Nobody will ever know why the boat sank.

ADCA members were concerned about how to know if another boat needs assistance, and what to do in the event of an emergency. Communication between competitors out on the water is by mobile phone which is no good in the water. VHF is not used because there are licensing requirements here that aren’t yet clearly understood, but club members are doing research.

Call the Coast Guard? No; chances are they would not be of help. The Coast Guard crews do not speak English. Could we have a “buddy boat” system? What if a boat fails to return to the dock when expected? Should we go out and search? Would that even be practical?

Lulu Island Race 006
Yalla Yalla Jr. is well sailed
and very competitive.
Sailors join clubs like ADCA for camaraderie and support. We compete in races, we relax and party on cruises, we get together after racing for beers, we trade tips on boat maintenance, rigging and sailing. We spend a lot of time talking about our adventures, the good, the bad, and the ugly. We want to be better sailors, and we love our sport because no matter how long you’ve been sailing, there is always something to learn.

The race we sailed on Saturday was part of the ADCA Commodore’s Cup series which runs from September through May, with races every three weeks. So far we’ve sailed on Unwind in two races of this series. Courses are announced by Marc Brugger, ADCA Racing Secretary, the week prior to the race. The first race we sailed was a simple up and down course in the channel, which we won. It was Unwind’s first win.

Our second race was more interesting and much more scenic.

Lulu Island Race
We raced clockwise around Lulu Island.
It was a beautiful clear day, which has been rare here lately because of the increasing humidity and sand storms. The night before the race a rainstorm blew through, and the wind was from the southwest and clocking to the northwest, blowing 10 to 20 knots. The course was around Lulu Island. We got a good start between the flagpole at Heritage Village and the end of Lulu Island, sailed around the west end of the island and cracked off to a reach (wind blowing from the side,) heading north along the rock wall to the first rounding mark, a channel buoy.

Knowing that the Beneteau 7.5 Dr. (Jr.) Yalla Yalla (the new boat sailed by the sunken Bull skipper and crew) was faster on a reach we rigged a barber hauler (to improve the sail’s performance for the wind angle) for the jib, and it worked well. But Mark wanted to try the asymmetrical spinnaker, so we were the first boat to hoist, which meant sailing close to the rock wall. It was a tight reach (the wind was coming more from ahead than behind), but we were able to carry it. The Mumm 30 Idefix was just above and ahead of us and hoisted their symmetrical spinnaker, but promptly rounded up, fell behind, and ended up taking it down. We were in front of everyone, including the big Swan 42, working up to the channel mark that (we thought) we needed to round, feeling pretty good. We had to collapse the spinnaker once to work upwind and stay away from the rock wall, but that was no big deal, the water was flat. And we have a new, flatter spinnaker on order.
Lulu Island Race 019
Yalla Yalla Jr. and Saeeda saili along the Corniche.

The two other sport boats in our fleet, Yalla Yalla and a Cork 1720 named Saeeda, were behind us, following our line to the buoy, but the Swan and Idefix were far below us, as well as the F27 catamaran Ocean Breeze. That’s when we realized it: we were headed to the wrong mark! We had to jibe and sail downwind, giving up the lead. At least Yalla was still behind us. They’re the guys we want to beat.

Of course, as Idefix later told us, they were happy to be in the race again. The fleet then entered the channel and sailed between Lulu Island and the Corniche to the finish – a triangle course.

Idefix tuning before the race.
Then there was some more confusion about the course; the crew of Idefix was yelling at the F27 and us to round a green buoy, and we could see why: shallow water. But Emiliano believed that it was not a mark of the course, and we could make it over the shallow spot, so we kept going. The F27 turned back and rounded.

This cost us the race. If we had rounded that mark, we would have won. Instead, we were disqualified. How I wished Mark and I had studied the sailing instructions! Yet since we are still getting to know the boat and the waters around Abu Dhabi, we weren’t upset. It’s all part of the learning curve. We learned a lot about the boat and what it can do.

Emiliano said it best: “The boat is getting better, without any changes or new sails. Now we are getting new sails. I am happy.” Yes, we have a new set of sails on order from Quantum South Africa, arriving in May in time for the last race.
Lulu Island Race 015
Ocean Breeze finished just behind us.

The downtown Abu Dhabi Corniche is a very popular venue for weekend activities. People stroll, run, bicycle, and ride in rented pedal cars along the sidewalk. I can imagine how we looked to them, sailing gracefully along the beach toward the Abu Dhabi Theatre. It was a beautiful sight to look at Lulu Island on one side and the city of Abu Dhabi on the other, from the water.
Lulu Island Race 020
Abu Dhabi Cruiser Association at
the unofficial clubhouse in Al Bateen Marina.

After the race, ADCA members gathered at Al Bateen marina. This outdoor bar and restaurant is the perfect post-race venue, with comfortable poolside seating overlooking the marina. The beers were flowing, and the conversation went from the day’s racing, to the course and sailing instructions, how to increase the racing fleet, the Bull sinking, and an upcoming cruising rally in Croatia.


Lulu Island Race 030
Emiliano has the right attitude.
Toward the end of the evening, Emiliano was philosophizing about racing versus cruising. Sometimes people don’t understand why we spend so much time racing. “But it makes us better,” Emiliano said in his charming Italian accent. “I have learned more about sailing from a few years of racing than I could learn if I went cruising for my whole life.” And it seems to be true. In racing we push the limits. We bond as a crew, working together and solving problems that make us slower or present a hazard.

When we’re out there racing in a fleet, we are not alone. Low Speed Chase was not alone. That they surely knew, and this was hopefully some comfort even in the direst of circumstances. My heart is broken for the skipper and crew who will live on as survivors of their disaster and suffer the loss of their friends and fellow crew members. At times like this, families and non-sailors ask how it could have happened. Why do we risk our lives?

Unwind Regatta 007
People who sail together bond quickly.
Crews that sail together for a period of time become soul mates. Those bonds are never broken. It’s the shared experiences of the sailing community that continues to draw us to this sport. Yes, it’s the wind, water, sunsets, and adventure. But even more, it’s the people we meet that keep us stepping onto boats and throwing off the lines.

May those who have perished rest in peace.
Lulu Island Race 022
There's nothing so gratifying as meeting, having a beer and bonding with a group of fellow sailors.

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