(The Revenge of Flying Tadpole II)

Fired by delusions of grandeur from Flying Tadpole's performance in the second half of the 1993 Milang-Goolwa race (pity about the first totally windward half), and with egos inflated by accolades in Wooden Boat Association newsletters, the Light Schooner entered the 1993 "backward" race - Goolwa to Milang.

We though that a little bit of judicious voodoo would bring us south to south-west winds, so we wouldn't be eternally tacking while all the legs-of-mutton sailed off into the eye of the wind.

Octopus imitationFlying Tadpole II, a.k.a. "There's that bloody little s..tboat again" and "Hey, you're in the starting area", left Goolwa on her 20-mile voyage at 10.50 am sharp on the late summer morning with strategies all in place, stopwatch ticking, courses laid out and target times written up--but with her absolute minimum crew of two. This meant a race of octopus imitations (15 running rigging lines and one tiller--work it out).

The voodoo was working, with moderate winds on a broad reach, our second- across-the-line start was a sheer fluke, and this time there weren't any catcalls as we hoisted our hi-tech black-plastic-garbag-and-ducting-tape staysail and headed east at 12 knots through the water.

The cruise all the way up-River was the stuff of dreams. Almost all of our division faded into the distance behind us, actually behind us, as Flying Tadpole II steadily ate up the two race divisions in front. Her crew kept checking that, yes, the pointy end was indeed the bow and that yes, she was sailing in accordance with both compass and chart, in the right direction.

cut along dotted lineWe passed through the narrows at Clayton village with five boats in front of us, all but one belonging to earlier divisions, a sea of sails behind, and our mobile cheer squad doing cartwheels on the cliffs. There's no doubt about it--on a reach in a good breeze, schooners rule!

Coming out onto the Lake Alexandrina approaches, the race ceased to be a walkover and started to become a little sticky. Sailing dead before the rising wind and with a following chop starting to resemble a side of lamb, our speed fell steadily, Flying Tadpole II was getting cross and trying to broach, and the fleet was beginning to creep up on us.

sinking feeling... Crazed by the adrenalin overload, FT2 tried a chinese gybe which left the foresail wrapped around the foremast with the gaff on one side and the boom on the other, and a totally out of kilter boat sailing at 90 degrees to the course. Never mind, it didn't take long to fix and we didn't lose much time.

As we rounded Pt Sturt and turned for Milang we knew we had the race in the bag and so did our cheer squad. The maxi-boat a few hundred yards in front might take line honors, but we'd romp in on handicap hours ahead of anyone. Hubris, hubris.

stormsOut onto the Lake proper, and our weather voodoo had worked so well that Sunday's weather had arrived on Saturday -- howling south-west winds, freshly-posted strong wind warnings and gales in the offing. Flying Tadpole II let us know we were pressing her too hard so we hove to and reefed. Then on into squalls, square waves and horizontal spray.

Halfway across the lake, Flying Tadpole II came out of the squalls. The wind dropped, the whitecaps became browncaps then disappeared, and even the sun put in a brief appearance. So we fell into the ultimate beginners' trap -- we shook out the reefs and hoisted all plain sail, just like all the other idiots who were catching us by then.

Flying Tadpole did her best to warn us to desist. The jib went over the side and became a sea anchor, the boat tripped over her main boom, the fold-up rudder folded up --but did we take any notice? Of course not.

oilrigNaturally, the wind rapidly picked up, the waves went from bad to worse, and shortly after we'd passed a catamaran doing oil platform imitations, disaster struck. Under too much sail, in a 40 knot gust and a pack of four-foot waves, Flying Tadpole II just gave up, lay down, and waited for the fools on board to ease her a bit.

With the boat on her side, the masts in the water, the lee deck disappearing into the rabid brown depths, the crew up to their fetlocks and trying desperately not to fall out of the now vertical cockpit, we were wondering just a little bit how we were even going to reach the necessary ropes (now invisible in the murk) let alone get her up again.

FT2's strange attraction for police launches and rescue craft was also coming into play, with a rescue craft approaching rapidly. We know that no-one believes the boat can be kept upright even in normal conditions, and we now suspect that half the Lower Murray boating fraternity had been impatiently waiting for us to sink ever since our brilliant debut on the lake. It's nice to know, though, that the rescue boats were watching.

self-sailing sidewaysAnyway, after some terror-stricken fumbling the sheets were let go, and with a sigh of relief FT2 sat up again by herself. There followed a quick and dirty reefing and a bit of pumping out, during which the rescue boat departed to check the other half dozen who'd also fallen over. Back to the helm and the realisation that Flying Tadpole had still been gallantly sailing in the right direction on her own!

Not so gallant her crew, however. We limped chastened to the finish line, crossing at 2.30, surrounded by the glass reinforced plastic that we'd left so far behind so long ago.

Across the line and into the sanctuary of the Milang anchorage, where our crestfallen cheer squad asked her deflated crew what on earth we'd done. The answer was simple. We had the race in our hands and we blew it, through the one stupid action of throwing off the reef. Ah well, its all part of the learning process and no pain, no gain.

Through the rest of the afternoon, as we slowly emptied the boat of sodden camping gear and got our adrenalin levels down and our sugar levels up, total strangers kept bounding up and saying "I heard you capsized!" Bad news does travel when you're a cockroach..

We hung around till evening waiting to find out just where we did come, hoping in our heart of hearts that Flying Tadpole might have built up enough of a margin just to squeak into a place despite the ultimate disaster. And, it turned out, we had just squeaked in--first on handicap by all of 24 seconds.

cockroach(There's a moral in there somewhere, if only you can find it.)

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