One of the first skippers I crewed for in the mid-sixties was a stickler for getting everything absolutely right, especially when it came to safety on board. He wouldn’t let anyone on until they could demonstrate they could tie a bowline using only one hand and, preferably, behind their back. He reckoned that one day you might have to do this while holding onto some part of the boat to avoid going overboard. It’s not as easy as you think – try it, loop a rope around something fixed and give it a go.
Another owner I crewed for was my boss who introduced me to sailing at the grand old age of 28, and I’ve been sailing ever since, and loving it. I started on a YW Diamond, an English design and, in my opinion, the only decent boat Jack Holt designed. It was a good boat to crew on. It had a big, deep cockpit so that nearly everything you did standing up with all the sheets coming into the cockpit at nearly shoulder height. Also, there was a small fleet of this class which made for good racing as they were governed by one-design rules so it became a matter of crew work, rather than yacht design.
We graduated for one season to Scout – C2, a gentle classic, but a bit of a submarine in a good blow. The following year the boss bought Patiki, the original Stewart 34 and what a different kettle of fish she was. Designed and built in 1958, she was a big roomy boat for her length and surprisingly quick – much faster than most boats of her size. We raced against other Stewarts – a good-sized fleet by then and even though Patiki was probably the heaviest boat of all the Stewarts, she made many later designs such as Rainbow 2, the great one tonner, slow by comparison.
Those were the days when Kiwi yacht designers such as Spenser, Young and Warwick designed boats to be quick and were somewhat disdainful of the international racing rules. As John Spenser used to say, “Those rules are made to get every boat sailing as slowly as every other one”. He declared, often, that he designed his boats to sail fast!
After a couple of years crewing on Patiki my sailing career changed – I tired of crewing on someone else’s boat and decided to get my own – a small sailing dinghy was the best I could afford but it was mine and I spent the next year or so honing up my sailing skills. I persevered and a year later upgraded to a Cherub, which was much livelier but with the advantage that I could get my kids out on the water with me – a big plus for family life.