Mark Smith, Japan, Yacht Racing and the New Skipper.
I’m Mark Smith of Japan these days and I wrote these words about sailing Japan back in 2009. I never did publish them but came across them today as I was cleaning out some files. Since writing these words I have skippered ever bigger boats and today drive an Adam’s 11.9 mod., named “Roschana”. Roschana carried me from Australia to Japan in 2012 and has competed in several races in Japan. These days we mostly race Double Handed. The feelings I wrote of back in 2009 have not cooled at all. In fact I love sailing even more today.
Here are the words of a very new skipper. Mark Smith in Japan.
It is the end of 2009 racing season and as the year ends here in Japan I, Mark Smith am happy. I am the skipper of a racing yacht. It is true I have have only been a race skipper for one year, the boats I drive are not the best boats in the world and our crew is made up of amateurs and beginners but to me when we set sail that all is left behind. Our beautiful boat will carry ask wherever we ask her to and our crew is brave and fair. I am not a good writer however I do have emotions and am filled with pride in our crew. I am going to write these words before being a skipper becomes ordinary. Although somehow as I sit here today every time I step on the deck of our boat and sail with this crew I really don’t think sailing race boats will ever become ordinary.
The world is swirling. Economic. Religuos. Racial. But on our yacht once we drop our lines and set sail we are a team. We have men and woman of different nationalities and different religions but on board we are one. We take on whatever nature gives us. Light winds, strong winds, Freezing cold days or “keep your hat on” scorching hot days. Rain or sun it doesn’t matter to us we are out there sailing. The race and the ocean the wind they bind us togther.
We see competitors as comrades. We call their names “Rosetti just tacked!” “Lucky Too coming up hard on starboard” We try to beat them as hard as we can but we always respect them because we see ourselves in their boats.
Our crew is a new band of sailors. Some of us have sailed before others had never set foot on a boat before they joined out team. We are not rich nor exceptionally skilled. We are ordinary guys with families, girlfriends, boyfriends and jobs. When our boat sails we need to have anywhere from 4 to 11 guys on board depending on conditions and race venue. Because of everyday life commitments to be able to field this many sailors on a regular basis we need a crew pool of about 20 men and woman. Before every race “join us” invitation email goes out to all and we never fail to crew the boat. Yes we are ordinary people just like anyone else but out there on the water we do amazing things.
From sending the committee boat staff scurrying for cover with our bungled spinnaker drop to joining the lead group in the over night long distance Osaka Bay race we always do our best. We arrive at the harbour set up our boat and join the race.
This year I felt many emotions as we sailed the race courses of Osaka Bay. Joy, frustration, happiness, sadness, elation, fear, triumph and many more. But one feeling was very, very deep. I looked through the dictionary to find adjectives to describe one feeling and could not find one to fit what I felt. This feeling happened one night at about 12:00 midnight. We were racing within the Kansai Yacht Club Osaka Bay overnight race. I had spent days pawing over weather maps and tide charts. I even asked a crew to run the same race course the week before the race to see what it was like. On June 6th 2009, at 7:00 pm we joined the start line for this round Osaka bay race. Our boat for this race was a 30 foot Holby Takai T301 named SpinDrift. Our target was to sail about 49 Nautical Miles round trip from Nishinomiya down to Sumuto and back. The said we had to do a Spinnaker set start and after a little setting trouble we manged to take off last over the line. Sunset led to darkness and pretty soon all we could see were the aft masthead and stern lights of the boats in front. They were strung out in a perfectly straight line almost dead on course for the bottom rounding mark in front of Sumoto. It was very obvious we would come last if we stayed in this procession. Our wind calculations told us to turn to starboard and run down the shore line where we might pick up some good strong wind that could possibly gain us some ground. We gybed over to the coast line and as the lights of our fleet disappointed we felt quite alone. I know, “Never Leave The Fleet”, but we were last.
Bingo 18 knots true jumped up and we all had to hang on to Spindrift and settle into a long hard Spinnaker run. As a crew we make technical mistakes all the time but when it comes to sheer guts to hang on I will never forget the guys trimming those sheets and guy lines. We had no rest at all as our crew was short but still the boys never gave up. Holding onto a 10mm Spinnaker Sheet or Guy in 18 – 20 knots true is tough at anytime. Holding on and tuning for 4 hours non stop is incredible.
One of the crew picked up the flashing light on top of there Kansai Yacht Club committee boat. We were close to rounding the mark a little after 12:00midnight. Amazing our little boat and crew had made the downwind run in just over 5 hours. I saw the first red and greens coming up the hill. First one, then two and a third. As we got closer I could make out the boats. These were top boats. The usual winners of KYC events. Could it be? Were in the top end of the fleet! Well done lads. Now let’s get around the mark and work home as fast as we can.
Then it happened. The emotion I can never describe and will never forget. The lead boats came in close and we could see them working hard back up the bay. Our boat little 30 footer was still being hammered by heavy winds so we knew they were beating into that same wind and on board their boats they were under the pressure of the ocean spray and cold night wind. Their boats looked so serene and under control as they proudly beat their way northwards. The crews hiking out quietly in the darkness of the midnight sky. Shadows clawing their way up the bay. Boats sheeted on hard and heeled into the windward leg home. I knew those were well drilled crews fighting for every inch they could grab away from the wind and ocean and to watch them filled me with pride for every sailor on every boat. Then I realised we were a apart of this remarkable group of men and woman. We too had joined the ranks of yacht racers.
My deepest thanks to the crew who helped Spindrfit make it through the year. See you all in 2010 aboard our rebuilt X-99. ROXY.
P.S. This year 2014 Mark is sailing Roschana.