When the big day came, we slaked the mooring lines, left the dock and slowly made our way out of the marina. The atmosphere on board was electric, a mix of expectations, anxiety and joy. Contributing to the tension on board was the explosive cocktail of eleven people, all from different backgrounds and packed in tight spaces, but also the unprofessional shadow cast by the crew.
During the week of preparations, the customers had the chance to see things we should have kept to ourselves and it had become evident that it was amateur’s hour. I was a mediocre sailor, Riccardo had never worked as a chef on a boat before and Carina’s sense of service was below par, but the big question that remained unanswered regarded the captain’s knowledge and dependability while sailing blue waters.
In everyone’s mind, there were no doubts that Andrei was a good man, even if he liked women and drink a tad too much, but was he a competent sailor?
The manoeuvres to leave the dock were the test everybody was waiting for and Andrei, not bothered by the pressure, steered the ginormous catamaran out of tight spaces as if he was driving a reasonably sized, utilitarian car. Once out of the marina and only after that display of effortless prowess, the tension started to drop, and as soon as we hoisted the sails, the breezy sea air reminded everybody of how grandiose sailing a boat was.
After a few tacks and jibes, the captain dismissed the sailing instructions, switched off the VHF to silence the incessant calls of rally control, and he made the boat fly past the start line. In a couple of hours, we took the lead, smoothly overtaking the other boats that were struggling to find the wind. All the crew became one, forgetting about the tension that had scarred the atmosphere of that glorious morning.
The sight of four dozens boats flying their sails was filling our eyes, and we were all swept by the enthusiasm of fighting through the start line of a regatta and coming out ahead. I savoured that moment of epic proportions trying to look like a proper sailor, leaning from one of the spreaders, sun on my face and wind in my hair, until I heard the Captain shouting my name, sending me to the galley to make some sandwiches.
In twenty-four hours, the novelty wore off, with crew and passengers slipping into a routine that was interrupted only by sail changes.
Hoisting the spinnaker, after several cock-ups, became (almost) second nature, but it was during what in marine lingo is commonly known as a “spinnaker clusterfuck”, that, with one swift move, I managed to change my reputation and gain the respect and trust of crew and passengers.
Spinnakers are huge, colourful sails that bring boats up to warp speeds in low wind conditions. They are usually stored in gigantic condoms (snuffers) fitted with a round toilet seat at the bottom end. The sail can live inside its condom for several days before being hoisted again, and slipping it out is always a bit of a lottery. A spinnaker clusterfuck happens when you lose that lottery and the sail gets tangled, looking something like this.
Factors that can contribute to the tangling can range from how the condom was deployed during the last intercourse, what kind of breakfast you had on that particular morning, continental or full English, or if a blue-footed boobie was spotted smoking a cigar off the coast of Santa Cruz, that particular day.
Sometimes the crew’s skills and weather conditions can also contribute to the unpleasant scenario of a spinnaker clusterfuck, but generally, the success of the operation strongly hinges on that nasty, cigar-smoking bird.
Spinnaker clusterfucks can lead to spinnaker double clusterfucks, when the sail blows up or rips along one of the seams, and the Captain curses all things on board, from crew to winch handles, thinking about the thousands and thousands of Euros that just went down the drain.
On the second day of our 800 nautical miles crossing to Cape Verde, we were witnessing a spinnaker clusterfuck in full swing. The huge sail was wrapping around itself and Vernon, one of the customers, had the brilliant idea of helping it become unclusterfucked by shaking it with his hands. As he held on to it, the sail slowly unwrapped and filled with wind. In slow motion, I saw the customer’s feet lifting up from the ground, and as he raised further up in the air, the fear running across his face kept him from letting go.
A second before the sail snapped with force, I jumped, grabbed Vernon by the waist and dragged him back on board, saving him from being catapulted to Morocco.
That night people patted my back, I had a double portion of beef stroganoff dished out by the Captain himself, and shortly after, during night watch, Craig offered me a job on a luxury charter in the Bahamas. From that moment on, I started wearing a mantle and I addressed Riccardo only using catch phrases like “To the bat-pole, Robin!” if I needed a broom, “I am the law!” in any situation of disagreement, “Flame on!” when at the stove, “My spider sense is tingling..” and “Up up and away!” during sail changes.
Cape Verde was almost in sight and my ego needed downsizing.
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