Recently, a work colleague (let’s call him Stu) invited me to crew his boat for the annual Table Cape Cup sailing race. Normally I’m happy to assist a friend, but the problem is that Stu is a disaster magnet.
You might recall Mr Magoo, the cartoon character who caused mayhem for everyone when he lost his glasses, yet himself remained blissfully unaware of the carnage because he couldn’t see it. Stu is Mr Magoo with permanently lost glasses.
In fact, Stu’s disaster-ridden reputation is so notorious that work colleagues wince whenever asked to accompany him anywhere. Several years ago, unaware of his reputation, I assisted on a Year 9 camp to Maria Island. Stu was in charge and despite the island’s generally hospitable climate, we arrived on a blustery day with rain lashing down as we struggled to pitch our tents. After becoming throughly soaked, we soon discovered that the water pump had broken, and there were no showers or toilets with running water for the entire week.
It was on this same camp that one of the students had an epileptic fit in the middle of the woods, in the dark, where Stu had unwisely taken a group to play hide and seek. Shortly after, I nearly fell off a mountain when he offered his hand to haul me up a large rock but let go before I’d secured my footing.
Another time I was cycling down the highway when I saw several surfboards flying from a car roof and scatter across the busy road. Somehow, even though the drama was unfolding in the distance, I knew Stu had to be involved. Sure enough, as I drew closer I saw him dash from across the highway in a desperate bid to save his surfboards from being flattened.
Despite all this, I agreed to crew even though I was nearly sliced in half on a previous sailing adventure. A barge had failed to give way and Stu’s wife and I shouted ‘tack, tack, tack’ so that he swung out of the way as the captain of the barge glared at us in horror.
It was no surprise, then, that I waited for the inevitable disaster when I climbed aboard his boat for the Table Cape Cup. Sure enough, Stu didn’t disappoint.
Also crewing for the race was Stu’s teenage son Matt with two of his thirteen year old friends. At first everything went smoothly. We got the boat into the water, beating other sailing craft off the ramp and were in plenty of time to get to the starting post at the red buoy marker. As we waited, Matt began tying knots, working out the wind direction, rigging, steering the boat and generally emanating a reassuring confidence. Unfortunately, Matt had to contend with his father remaining on board.
The gun went off and the sailing crews around us began pulling at ropes and manoeuvring the sails for an advantageous wind direction. The boats took off and as Stu grabbed the rope to hoist the sail it became stuck and then broke away entirely. Now, I don’t know a lot about sailing but I do know you don’t get very far when you no longer have a sail attached. As all the other boats glided past we remained stuck at the red bouy for the next 20 minutes. Matt desperately tried to reattach the sail and Stu told me to ‘steer the boat sort of that way’, vaguely pointing ahead as he went to help his son.
By the time Stu and Matt managed to get the sail working, the wind had mostly died and the boat didn’t move. Matt suggested using paddles and suddenly three teenage boys were paddling furiously trying to gain momentum.
Alas, we still weren’t going anywhere and could only watch as the crews on other boats used their skill to continue racing in little wind. “I’m much better in high winds,” Stu said as we sat there for another hour only to move 10 metres past the red buoy.
Soon the boats were coming back for the second lap of the race and we were directly in their way. One particularly large craft with a red sail was on a collision course, and I thought that this time I really was gong to be sliced in half. Luckily, it veered out of the way in time and we overheard the captain scream at his crew as to why they hadn’t warned him we were there.
I also began to wonder why we were there and wanted to get off the boat as soon as possible. I was relieved when Stu turned on the motor and agreed to return me to the shore.
I should have known the drama wasn’t over when he failed to tie the boat properly and it hit the jetty. As the boat scraped along the side I imagined the passengers on board the Titanic heard the same screech when it was pierced by the iceberg.
I hastily jumped off the boat and took off while Stu, Matt and his friends ventured back out to sea.
I don’t know who won the Table Cape Cup but I was thankful to be alive. And Stu, if you ever want me to accompany you anywhere again you better start wearing a pair of oversized glasses.