October 11, 2017
Way back when I was preparing for this study abroad experience, I was able to talk to a few peers from my home university who came here last year. One of the things I took special note of was Twilight Sailing with the Townsville Yacht Club. Since arriving to Townsville, this has also been something that many other people have recommended I do. So, with my weeks feeling numbered, I figured that this was something that I better get up to before it was too late.
This afternoon, Uli and I caught the 209 bus at 3:45 and rode it all the way into town. Usually when we head to town, we take the 201, so we know that route well. It was very interesting getting to take a different route this afternoon through many neighborhoods. I am convinced that there are not any two houses in all of Townsville that look alike, which is quite different than suburbs in American that have duplicate houses and apartments for blocks and blocks.
Once we got off the bus, we had a short walk to the Yacht Club. The large bar and restaurant over looking the marina is open to the public, so we were able to walk right in. Uli spotted the sign-in table where we signed our lives away on an insurance form and paid $10 to add our name to the wait list. The way Twilight Sailing works is that anyone can come and pay ten dollars to ride along with a generous boat owner who has opened up a seat or two in their yacht to welcome someone aboard for the night. Uli and I crossed out fingers and toes as we enjoyed the view of the marina and waited hoping to get a spot. But, the lady who checked us in said it wasn’t looking very good. We half-heartedly tossed around ideas for a Plan B, in case we couldn’t go sailing. Then, about 45 minutes after we had arrived, we were approached by a smiling woman who introduced herself as the skipper of the Helena May and told us to follow her! Uli and I excitedly followed her down to the docks. “Just leave your shoes right here,” she said as she stepped from the dock onto a beautiful sail boat.
Once on board, she gave Uli and I a tour of the boat. There was a small bathroom, mini kitchen area with a sink and fridge, as well as a table to sit at and bunks to sleep in. We also met the three others who sail together regularly. We felt totally welcomed right from the beginning and so fortunate to have gotten a spot this evening.
As the crew prepared the boat to set sail, we were showed where the life jackets were and warned that the boat and lean quite far to the side at times and to not be alarmed. “It won’t tip over,” we were reassured. We were also told that while this is just a relaxing mid-week sail, there is always friendly competition along the way to see who can make it back to the marina first. From the marina, the route makes a triangle shape out in Cleveland Bay.
Uli and I were instructed where the best place to sit was for the beginning of the evening. And then we were off with wind in the sails and a sunset on the horizon. As I looked out towards Maggie Island, I felt like I was in a movie. “Two minutes,” someone called out. They were trying to make it to the starting line on time, but it was looking like we were going to be a touch behind. “We don’t usually do that well on the Wednesday evenings,” our skipper told us. But then they all started to tell us about other races that they had done recently and taken first place in. I think it would be so amazing to sail for days on end. Talk about an adventure! Once we were officially on the course, we could see other sail boats in all directions. There were about 16 sail boats out on the water this evening.
At one point, I turned around to look out the back of the boat. This was the moment when I realized how much the boat was leaning towards one side. I saw more water than deck when I looked straight down and looking out on the horizon made it very obvious how much the boat was tipping. Uli and I were both able to get involved as well. When the time was right, we both took a turn cranking a line in to move a sail from the port to the starboard side. When sails need to be moved, everything happens very quickly, and when you are learning for the first time, it can be quite hectic. Right in the middle of all of the commotion, Uli’s poor sunglasses flew right off her head and sunk down into the ocean. Unfortunately, there was nothing more that could be done other than comfort Uli on the loss of her favorite, and certainty expensive, sun glasses.
After this, it was smooth sailing for a while, which meant that it was a great time to have a drink. After discussing the options, champagne ended up being the choice for the evening, which was exciting for me because I had never had champagne before and I truly could not have thought of a better time to try it. We all raised our glasses in remembrance of Uli’s sunglasses and said cheers. Again, I felt like I was in a movie, sitting here on a sail boat in Australia, sipping champagne as we chased the sunset out to sea.
After we finished our drinks, it was time to get serious. Uli and I watched as the crew tended to the sails and sang out about the location of other sail boats around us. As we tacked back and forth, we started to pick up speed. It was so thrilling! I could see the speedometer read 8.7 knots. I made a mental note to tell Simon, so that he could help put into perspective for me what that really meant.
Uli and I hung on, smiling ear to ear as we gained on a boat ahead of us. And then we passed it. Then, the same thing again. As we were coming in on the final stretch, it was so neat to watch how everyone was working together, all on the same page, setting the sails and steering the ship in exactly the right ways. As we came up on the finish line, they were trying to pass one more boat, but couldn’t quite make it. In the end, they came in fourth place for the evening, but it was all just a relaxed evening of friendly competition, they said. If what we had just witnessed was them during a relaxing sail, I cannot imagine how impressive they are during a true race day. In total, our sail lasted about an hour. Once we were docked up again, we had another glass of champagne and learned more about Helena May. The boat was made in Germany and is 38 feet long. Our skipper, who grew up sailing from the age of six years old, purchased the Helena May 3.5 years ago and has enjoyed sailing her own boat ever since.
Once Helena May was all buttoned up for the evening, we all headed back up to the club for dinner. Uli and I didn’t have dinner ourselves, but we bought a couple drinks for our new friends as a thank you for being welcomed aboard. I felt so lucky that we got to ride on this ship. When we mentioned that we would like to come sail again, they told us to come back next Wednesday and tell the sign-in desk that we already had spots on the Helena May. “The only reason we won’t be here next week is if it is raining,” we were told. Rain is in the forecast and everyone is really hoping that it falls in Townsville. They have been on serious water restrictions for over a year now, so nearly everyone is doing rain dances in hopes that the forecast is true.
After thanking them all for taking us on such as incredible twilight sail, Uli and I assured them they would see us again soon. Again, I must say how incredible the generosity is that I have received here. Once again, I had experienced an incredible adventure due to the willingness of locals to share their favorite pastimes with me. Next time we go, Uli and I are planning to buy a bottle of champagne to bring as our thank you gift. This was truly a night I will never forget and one of the best $10 I have ever spent.
UPDATE: I told Simon that we got up to a speed of 8.7 knots, and he told me that that is the speed that they cruse around at when starting and ending patrols. He said that the normal speed they go is upwards of 20 knots. So, perhaps in comparison we were not traveling fast, but in sailing speed, it sure felt fast to me.