So what’s it like to sail a classic yacht in the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron’s Doyle Sails winter series?
To sum up, it’s a hell of a job.
Imagine a yacht that has no winches, perpetually sinks and has more sail area than most cruisers twice its size. The rudder is heavy and slow to react, not to mention that the tack system regularly leaves me in a state of anxiety. I once screwed up so badly at the bow that Skipper Bobs only comment was “are you trying to knit me a Stiffy Sweater” (Yeah, of all the sailing nicknames I could have had, that one is remained very quickly).
But my God, they are addictive. Nothing can beat those moments when Rawene, the Logan-designed Gaff Cutter, heels into a good breeze and takes off. Gliding through the water effortlessly, as if she weren’t 10 tons of solid Kauri. Although you’re quickly snapped back to reality when a call is made for more mainsheet, one that results in at least three crews firing in unison to get every inch of the mainsheet over 30 yards all balancing precariously on the toe rail of the boat, often ankle-deep in the water.
Rawene, launched in 1908, is one of the last classic yachts still maintained in her original condition, free from all the modern upgrades that her sister ships have acquired over the years. The halyards are bounced and locked on sturdy wooden pins at the mast and as much as a winch or two would help, a kite sheet wrapped around a cleat with three ladies bouncing the sheet to cut is the best that you will get . There really is something fascinating about sailing Rawene as she was built to be sailed but with an all female crew (plus of course our notorious skipper Bob).