Bowman under pressure

My last blog was about the Cape to Rio race but there is a bit more to that story. There always is, isn’t there? My first transatlantic crossing was the ’79 race from Cape Town to Punte del Este, Uruguay. Because of sanctions against South Africa, the race could not go to Brazil, so it went to Uruguay instead. I was 20, young, eager and very green. And the pressure was on.

I was racing on Dabulamanzi, a boat that at the time was considered one of the fastest in the country. It was a Camper & Nicholson 55, center cockpit, owned by Gordon Rennie, one of South Africa’s most prominent businessmen. This was the second transatlatic race for Gordon and Dabulamanzi and we were considered among the favorites to win.

My job was bowman, the guy that got to work the pointy end of the boat. Dabulamanzi was a complicated boat to sail. This was in the days of conventional spinnakers with spinnaker poles, guys, sheets, foreguys and topping lifts. Too many lines and too little time to get them all straight. But as I said the pressure was on.

Four years earlier, with a stiff breeze blowing in Table Bay, the bowman had committed an unforgivable act. Dabulamanzi was a famous boat and all eyes were on it as they crossed the start line and readied to hoist their full size red and white spinnaker. The bowman clipped the lines on, attached the halyard and signaled to the helmsman that he was ready. Up it went in a flurry of activity. Back aft the man manning the sheet started pulling like crazy to take in the loose line. It seemed as if there was too much line. Suddenly, and you can imagine his horror, he saw the corner of the spinnaker all the way aft to the turning block on the transom. He looked aloft to see that the sail seemed to be only half way up the mast. Then he looked closer. Now you look closer, at the picture below. Dabulamanzi is right there just to the left of the boat with the white spinnaker. It’s the boat with the red and white spinnaker. The boat with the red and white spinnaker that was set sideways!

The start of the '77 Cape to Rio race.

So, the pressure was on me to not screw up. This was my first big offshore race ever. I was on a top boat in a critical position. I attached the lines, attached the halyard, crossed my fingers and signaled to the helmsman to call for the hoist. The sail shot out of the bag and up the mast. The trimmer trimmed on and …. the sail set flawlessly. Dabulamanzi rolled out of Table Bay and across the South Atlantic without a hitch. We quite literally carried a spinnaker all the way to Uruguay. Twenty-eight days with a following sea and a following breeze. It’s no wonder I was hooked.

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