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Nancy is the not-quite-so-proud recipient of the not-quite-so-coveted Mermaid award.  This unique and rarely conferred prize honors the person who goes overboard during a Hopetown Sailing Club race.  OMG, I FELL OFF THE BOAT.  Not just any boat – I fell off the Abaco Rage.  She’s a 28’ traditional wooden Bahamian racing sloop, built 38 years ago at Man O’ War Cay (the island immediately to our north).  Here’s the story.

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Since we love racing on Rage, we worked hard to earn our spots as crew.  Rage was up on the hard at the local marina before the holidays, in need of paint.  So Goldwin sanded and filled and Nancy painted the second coat of white on her topsides, and the blue stripe.

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Rage was launched and the mast went up Christmas Eve morning, with the aid of a big forklift.

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Saturday’s Boxing Day race was postponed due to high winds and re-scheduled for the following Wednesday.  Meanwhile, a Rage fundraiser on Tuesday – invaluably aided by Chopper Goldwin – included BBQ pork chops, beans and rice, and coleslaw.  Yummy.

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Goldwin helped put on the mainsail early Wednesday – race day.  With 16 on board, Rage sailed out of Hopetown harbor and practiced tacking with her new crew.  It was blowing a steady 15, so the main sail had one reef.

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Rage has a 38’ boom – lots of mainsail – and an itty bitty jib.

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The crew is needed for ballast – to keep us from flipping over.  The ballast, a/k/a crew, balances on 1 x 10 foot wooden planks called “pries” that are pulled out over the water on whichever side the sail is not – sail on one side of the boat and the weight of the crew on the other.

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The goal is to keep the edge of the side of the boat with the sail just at water level.  The side with the peoplepower is up in the air – you fly along over that gorgeous blue-green water, having a ball.  I love to ride the pries, especially the outside slot.  That’s me leaning out hard on the middle prie.  Goldwin is in the foreground, wearing a navy t-shirt and beige peak.

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When the boat tacks, i.e., turns through the wind so that the sail moves from one side to the other, the crew scramble across the boat to assume their positions on the opposite side.  “Scramble” because the huge, heavy boom sweeps the deck with just 2 feet of clearance during this maneuver and the boat is shifting from one tilted position to another.  And the pries are being dragged across the boat and shoved out the other side and please don’t put your hands or knees or feet on the jib sheets.  It’s not pretty.  And you have to do it fast.

Here we are on starboard tack, so I’m outside on the middle prie, wearing my special Abaco Rage t-shirt – I match the logo painted on the side of the boat.  Goldwin is forward, in a navy t-shirt with the name of our granddog on it – Crew.

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On port tack, I was inside on the middle prie.  So starboard tack was my favorite.

Goldwin likes to work the foredeck:  tending the jib, helping it across during a tack, and setting the pole.   Even standing off the boat, on the pole gye, to keep the jib flat on the downwind leg.

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Rage had a beautiful start.  She has great boat handlers – helmsman, tactician, and mainsail and jib trimmers.

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We moved smartly through the water, which had enough of a chop to splash the pries riders every few minutes.  We were totally soaked.

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Rage is fastest on the reaching leg.  It’s her big main sail.  The boom goes out perpendicular to the boat and the crew has to use its weight to keep the boat heeled towards the boom, but not so far that the boom goes into the water.

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Oops, there goes the boom.

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Like an anchor when that happens.

So here it is:  We rounded the mark for the last leg onto port tack, going to weather (into the wind).  So I was on the inside and impatiently waiting for my turn on the outside of the prie, on starboard tack.  We finally tacked to starboard and as the prie came across and out over the water, I lunged to take my seat – as fast as I could.  Suddenly I wasn’t touching the boat anymore and then I hit the water, butt first.  I was so surprised that I never closed my eyes and could see the green-blue water closing over me.  When I popped up, Rage’s transom was gliding past.  They threw a rope, but it had sunk too deep by the time I got to it.  The main sail was dropped immediately, stopping the boat, and I easily swam to it.  Hands came down to pull me in, with Goldwin the most motivated.  He was sitting on the edge of the boat and pulled me right up on top of him; everyone laughed and said they hoped we knew each other.  Other than swallowing some salt water, I was totally fine.

As soon as I was out, the main was raised and Rage was sailing again.  I don’t think I was in the water 2 minutes.  And even though we finished fourth in the race, we were so far in fourth place on that last leg that my falling off didn’t affect the results.  Although, for those of you who don’t know, the boat would have been disqualified if she had finished the race without the same number of crew she started with – not to cast any doubt on the good intentions of those who stopped the boat to pick me up, but just FYI.  Actually, they were all super nice about it.

And I didn’t lose my sunglasses, (tied around my head), or my camera (tied around my neck).  Just some dignity.  That afternoon – after a boat shower and dry clothes – I humbly accepted the Mermaid award at the Sailing Club’s post-race party.

P.S.  The spectacular off-boat pictures of Rage were taken by Will – a skilled and talented photographer, who generously gave me copies.

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