When I finally decided to hang up my life jacket, five years ago now, I thought that it was for good. Oh buoy, how could I have been so wrong? When the call came in for any able-bodied volunteers, willing to take to the high seas (reservoir), in a desperate bid to defend our college’s pride and naval territories in this year’s sailing cuppers, I knew the time had come. As my old kit no longer fitted me, I donned my dad’s old life jacket, which had a retro and ‘hip’ (so I am told) style to it; it wouldn’t look amiss in Cellar. But in all seriousness, I did learn during the day that for yearly ‘initiations’, the Oxford Sailing Club goes out to Park End in their wetsuits and buoyancy aids.
So, early on Saturday 2nd May, we caught a bus over to Farmoor reservoir, a relatively large basin of water, split in two by a sizeable concrete wall. Whilst being initially confused as to why the reservoir had been divided in two, we wouldn’t have to wait long before our question was answered. As we stood in the clubhouse, staring at the great wall with confusion, we were called over to a dark corner of the bar by an old and mysterious man who we hadn’t noticed before.
“Beware ye who take to the waters on Farmoor reservoir. Beware ye of the killer shrimp! The only person to have encountered the killer shrimp and lived to tell the tale is old Mr MacPherson over there.”
But when we attempted ask this man more about his unfortunate encounter, we were met by screams of sheer terror.
Despite the warnings, we had come to sail and sail we would do. From the start, we knew we would be up against it, with only one of our team of four being an experienced regular Blues sailor. For Sailing Cuppers, as for regular training and inter-university competitions at the club, we were sailing the two-man Firefly dinghies. The Firefly has two sails, the mainsail and the jib, the smaller sail at the bow. Whilst the crew trims the jib and assists in ‘hiking out’, the helmsman steers the boat and controls the mainsail. In the morning, the group stages took place, in which we had eight races, which would decide which of the leagues we would start in for the afternoon’s racing, either bronze, silver or gold.
The short course made for some very close and exciting racing. Before the starting gun goes off, a three minute warning is given, during which time each boat strategically tries to determine if one end of the start line is favourable, and also time their approach to the line.
After a slow start, it was clear that my sailing prowess had gone somewhat rusty. The first leg of the course was up-wind, so you had to sail in a zig-zag pattern up towards the mark. After rounding the mark, there was a short reach (across the wind) to the second mark, followed by a long run (with the wind) down towards the bottom mark, then across to the last mark and up to the finish line.
Although we may not have fared too well according to the results, we brave few were definitely able to draw some personal satisfaction from not having capsized and avoiding an ugly death at the antennae of the killer shrimp.
After a fierce battle in the bronze league, we managed to scrape a respectable result with a nail-biting, yet very amateurish, finish to our last race.
But that’s enough about the minnows; in the Gold league some very strong boats from Lincoln (whose sailing stash was the envy of all the sailors there) and Brasenose battled it out for the coveted title of sailing cuppers champion. In the end, it was all smooth sailing for Brasenose, sinking their rivals and cruising to victory.