I wrote a few weeks back of the preparations for the regatta that was taking place at the end of December. After having taken every spare minute of Neu’s time (Christmas didn’t get a look in), the regatta day finally dawned. Neu was out of the house at dawn, leaving me with instructions to meet him on the beach around nine thirty. There was a little confusion over whether the actual racing was to begin at ten or eleven (time is very flexible here), so best to get there early to be on the safe side.
Arriving on the beach, I could see Kai, sail unfurled, sitting by the waters edge in all his splendour, no sign of Neu. I asked one of my brothers in law if he had seen Neu, he pointed to the boat and said “There’s the boat”, too busy to think that I might have already seen it, then rushed off to do something on the boat he was racing on. Everywhere was a hive of activity with men, often gesticulating wildly, trying to make final adjustments before the start.
I finally tracked Neu down, he, the rest of the crew and assorted helpers where having a fish stew before the race, cooked over an open fire and eaten from a communal tin dish. Finished and fingers licked, it was back to the boat. The starting position numbers had now been put in place on the beach and Kai had to be moved down the beach to his position, number 9.
Neu’s older brother Kito was acting as Master on Kai for this race, Neu often asks Kito to take charge for the regatta’s, respecting Kito’s experience and technical know how. Kito was unhappy with the mast, the sail was big, the wind stronger than he would have liked for such a big sail, but his main concern was the wood used for the top of the mast was still green. I wont claim to understand the technicalities of the flex needed for the top of the mast, why it makes such a difference but I do understand that green wood behaves differently from seasoned timber.
Kito had decided to risk sailing with the sail as it was, he was banking on them getting off to a good start. Even though their starting position wasn’t that great, he still thought they could come in somewhere in the top three.
The beach was beginning to fill up with spectators. People come in from other communities to watch their boats competing and inter community rivalry is very strong. The regatta’s are great entertainment and a very good excuse for a beach party, also offering a commercial opportunity to vendors, selling everything from food and drink to sunglasses and toys.
Around eleven o clock the order came to line the boats up, The fifteen boats were pushed into the shallows, each boat with one non crew member to hold the boat straight in the water, our friend Corote always does this for Neu if he isn’t racing himself. The rest of the crew return higher up the beach to wait for the start signal.
When the fire crackers go off, the men race back down the beach push the boat into the water and away. Kai got off to a good start, as they reached the breakers Kai was clearly in front but then disaster, a wave hit them broadside as they were trying to put the rudder in place and Kai began to turn over, his huge sail dipping into the water. In the short time it took for them to regain their balance, their advantage was lost.
Two other boats further up the beach collided, one causing considerable damage to the other and putting them both out of the race, much to the fury of the boat owners and crews. I felt very sorry for them, knowing just how hard they would have worked to get the boats ready, there will undoubtedly be some heated arguments over that collision.
By the time the boats reached the first marker buoy, Kai was in seventh position. We were still hopeful that they would be able to make up some distance, they would have to be in the first five boats to gain a prize, but they were a long way behind.
At the final buoy, Kai had made it into sixth place, everything depended on the final run. The first boat came in with a good lead, just under a minute in front of the second which was a minute in front of the third. The fourth placed boat was now just seconds in front of Kai who was jostling with another boat for fifth place.
The two boats where neck and neck, Kai’s sail just fractionally in front. In order to create greater surface contact with the water, (and therefore make the boat go faster) the men lean out over the water, bouncing their weight up and down while pulling on ropes attached to uprights on the boat deck. Neu and Dolla where pulling so hard the upright snapped, they where lucky not to end up in the water.
As they ran onto the beach the boats were side by side, Kai’s sail was in front of the other boat’s but it’s the prow of the boat that counts. The judges decided that the fifth place was a tie, giving the two boats a share of the prize money, R$75.00 each, not a lot when divided between the crew, but enough for a drink and more importantly the men maintain a level of pride.
A couple of days later Neu told me there would be another regatta in February, one just for the small boats, he has already put down the names of our two smaller boats, Valente and Luar De Prata, here we go again.
©Claire Pattison Valente 2009